*feature images by John Chow and Dory Cheng

**post first uploaded 18 July, updated on 20 July 2022 17:11 HKT

Invited by Gudskul to their project Sekolah Tempujalar (Contemporary Art Collective and Ecosystem Studies), Floating Projects (FP) is taking part in the fifth year of their annual collective study program, which takes place during Documenta 15 (18 Jun – 25 Sep 2022), currently at the Fridericianum and various locations in Kassel, Germany. Documenta 15 is modelled after Indonesia’s lumbung practice: the term itself referring to a community rice barn that stores what is surplus for shared public use, its Documenta adaptation upholds the redistribution of common resources within a community, an adhered principle for a variety of semi-structured open events of exchange.

Floating Projects Collective (FPC) members Dory Cheng and John Chow are now part of the current round of Gudksul’s 50-day co-living program, from 28 June to 16 August 2022, in which all participants generate events from their communal base inside the Fridericianum. And this is how they undergo the mandated critical collective learning processes together to discover the implications and importance of how to advance speculative and solution-oriented dialogues through direct actions and experiential-based learning.

Cheng and Chow will participate in knowledge markets, assemblies and object fairs, run workshops and present how the notion lumbung may also describe FP and the Floating Projects Collective (FPC). (**Cheng and Chow’s participation is partially supported by Goethe-Institut Hong Kong.)

The facade of Museum Fridericianum during Documenta 15, Jun-Sep 2022

Co-living. Daily Life. Assemblies. One-on-one Learning.

The living space inside Fridericianum for Gudskul’s 50-day co-living-to-learn program

 

John Chow (2022.07.16). “We will be having this public program called “knowledge market” later this afternoon, out on a huge grass field Orangerie. By then we will be exchanging a tiny knowledge with participants in a one-on-one style. Last time, I shared some of my jogging tips for beginners…”

A prominent feature of Documenta 15 (D15) is that invited collaborators invite more collaborators. Floating Projects, for example, was one of the collectives invited by Gudskul, one of the 72 official Documenta participating artist-collectives; and FP met Gudskul through Asia Art Archive, another of the 72 lumbung members. D15’s curatorial direction is meant to invite surprises out of its chain collaborations and extended assemblies. In that sense, the highlighted collective agency de-centers the standard top-down curatorial model and, instead, asks what possibilities there could be. D15’s artistic-curatorial team is Indonesian collective ruangrupa. Given their 22 years of track record as a global, collaborative, interdisciplinary art and cultural platform, it is no surprise that the group has been selected for this edition’s experiment for Documenta, the latter also known for rising above a usual biennale, each edition with specific critical objectives.

I recall, for example, Ai Weiwei’s Fairytale, a social sculpture that included a 1001-person tour at Documenta 12 (2007, Artistic Director: Roger M. Buergel, Curator: Ruth Noack), addressing one of the edition’s three leitmotifs: what is bare life? D12 also saw comparatively many artists from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe represented, 50 percent of them women. Joseph Beuys’ (planting of) 7000 Oak Trees (Documenta 7, 1982), a distributed social sculpture to go with the edition’s more museum-based works, is still alive in Kassel’s outdoor urban landscape. D15 is far from being the first to introduce a global, post-colonial perspective: one recalls Documenta 11 (2002) curated by Okwui Enwezor. Documenta 13 (Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev) alludes to the wounds of war (Kassel, WWII; and Afghanistan). In Documenta 14 (2017, Adam Szymczyk), I was most impressed by the Fridericianum filled with Greek artists’ works, annotated by a parallel site of works in Athens, that itself a thoughtful statement made in a time when the pressure of austerity measures on Greece (from Germany) was alarming.

Documenta has consistently highlighted artworks as documents. With a quick glance of Documenta’s history, D15’s uniqueness is not exactly about giving a voice to the Global South, but its emphasis of collectivity and semi-structured direct actions. But here also lies the edition’s greatest trial. Can grand institutions afford the required openness to make this ideal work? The avant-garde, the spirit that has fuelled the Documenta from its inception in 1955, may be much easier to achieve as aesthetic negotiations, but it is much more complex as visionary economic experiments and as a challenge of established political alignment. The concept of Lumbung embodies experiments in a kind of economy of contribution. But this specific avant-garde impulse doesn’t seem feasible when Documenta’s sponsorship model remains unchanged. D15 players have already trod the trouble waters of control as the edition’s funding sources remain the city of Kassel, the state of Hessen and Germany’s Kulturstiftung des Bundes on top of other individual sponsors, donors and from ticket sales.

 

Controversies: Anti-Semitism. Colonial History. Global South Articulations

Now opened for over a month, Documenta 15’s main controversy has evolved around the decisions to take down the work People’s Justice (2002, a 60-ft painted banner) by Indonesian collective Taring Padi, which has been alleged of including anti-Semitic imagery. The question of whether accusations of the work’s antisemitism was founded has proliferated into that of whether a stronger regulatory system, in other words, content control from a centre of governance, is needed. It was reported that after Documenta’s director Sabine Schorman’s statement of apology, artist-collective “Taring Padi also issued an apology and explained the imagery as related to Indonesia’s political context, [and] in no way related to anti-Semitism.” [1] The Taring Padi incident was preceded by a series of incidents months before D15, starting with “a fringe pro-Israel blog accusing the exhibition organizers of antisemitism over their inclusion of Palestinian artists aligned with the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement” and more, responded by a series of virtual talk panels announced to address related issues then canceled, and after that vandalization of the space of Palestinian art collective The Question of Funding, as well as Islamophobic stickers being pasted around Ruangrupa’s headquarter in Kassel. [2]

Hito Steyerl’s withdrawal of her work from Documenta 15 has been widely publicized, and represented by a singled-out quote: “I have no faith in the organization’s ability to mediate and translate complexity. This refers to the repeated refusal to facilitate a sustained and structurally anchored inclusive debate around the show as well as the de facto refusal to accept mediation.” She also pointed out D15’s “unsafe and underpaid working conditions” some staff have endured, [3] as well as Documenta’s long history of associating with anti-Jewish patrons.

Indeed, among other issues, little effort has been made to clarify the confusion between critique of antisemitism and pro-Israel viewpoints. Islamophobia is another nodal point in which politics and/versus art and the old question of art’s autonomy once again demand renewed engagement.

John Chow reported an instance of some artists being physically attacked, as a result of which there was the suggestion that they consider removing the artist’s badge they wear when outside art venues.

The quinquennial D15 by conception has all the good intentions of the avant-garde spirit that marks the inception of Documenta in 1955 — this time to give a voice to the Global South in order to magnify their long-term and first-hand experiences in conceiving art-making agents as collectives rather than individuals. Are German institutions ready to embrace historical realities that contradict binary thinking of political correctness? As a global leader for progressive thinking in art, how ready is Document (now and future) to defend the understanding of the complexity of world histories, to differentiate between contrasting (post-)colonial experiences and their present forms, and to stand by the fact that the art world must not, or does not need to, replicate the alignment of global and geo-politics?

This general report is not the place for an in-depth analysis, but to outline some key issues for future discussion. It would be important to keep track of the conflicting views and responses. For now, with felt accountability, I want to include three important pronouncements for readers’ discrimination.

*6 July 2022: Ruangrupa spokesperson Ade Darmawan’s speech at the Committee On Culture and Media, German Bundestag […full speech…]

The speech juxtaposes the effort to heal post WWII wounds among the nations with the Non Aligned Movement in Indonesia to project a post-colonial future, both in 1955.

Key points in quote (English translation)

“Coming from Indonesia, it was very vital for us to share our histories and context with our documenta public through Taring Padi’s body of works. Taring Padi’s work, especially the very early banners that were made around the time of the fall of the New Order regime (1998) and early Reformasi era post-98, when ruangrupa was founded, are a very appropriate way to show people this background.” … …

“The collectively made banner (meaning more than twenty people worked on it at once), including the problematic elements, is deeply embedded in Indonesian history and visual language. That history includes Western secret services propping up a violent and genocidal regime in the name of anti-Communism in 1965 where more than 500,000 to 1,000,000 people were murdered.

This history also includes centuries of colonialist exploitation by European empires, like the Dutch, and by the Japanese during World War II. Part of this colonialist violence entailed pitching different non-white people against each other. You undoubtedly know that in the case of Indonesia this involved playing Indonesians against Chinese minorities, and to do this, as you also may know, Dutch colonial officers introduced originally European antisemitic ideas and images to portray Chinese in the way Europeans have portrayed Jews, and to draw a connection. This in a shocking and shameful way has come full circle in the artwork. The image is of European origin, then transformed and appropriated within our own cultural context in an unacceptable way. This is certainly something we need to process and reflect upon.”

*16 July 2022: measures taken after allegation

Sabine Schorman stepped down from her position as Documenta 15’s Director General. Here’s the English translation of the official letter of Documenta 15:

Statement of the Supervisory Board

At the meeting of the supervisory board of documenta und Museum Fridericianum gGmbH on Friday, July 15, 2022, the supervisory board and the shareholders’ meeting made unanimous decisions against the background of anti-Semitism allegations against documenta fifteen and with a view to the future of documenta.  The chairman of the supervisory board, Lord Mayor Christian Geselle, and the Hessian Minister for Science and Art, Angela Dorn, as deputy chairmen of the supervisory board, declared for both bodies: 

1. The supervisory board, the shareholders and general director Dr.  Sabine Schormann mutually agreed to terminate their management contract at short notice.  Initially, an interim successor is sought.  

2. The Supervisory Board expresses its deep dismay that clearly anti-Semitic motifs could be seen on the opening weekend of Documenta fifteen.  The presentation of the banner “People’s Justice” by the artist collective Taring Padi with its anti-Semitic imagery was a clear crossing of borders and the documenta was inflicted with considerable damage.  In the opinion of the Supervisory Board, it is essential to clarify this incident promptly, to draw conclusions based on scientific findings for dealing with anti-Semitic processes in the cultural and art context, and to avert further damage to the documenta.  Due to the hanging of the banner and also in the course of crisis management in the past few weeks, a lot of trust has unfortunately been lost.  The Supervisory Board considers it essential that everything is done to win back this trust.

3. The Supervisory Board considers it an important social task to effectively combat anti-Semitism and group-related forms of enmity in art and culture.  He also reaffirms his expectation that references to possible anti-Semitic imagery and the promotion of Israel-related anti-Semitism should be investigated, taking into account the freedom of art protected by fundamental rights.  The Supervisory Board recommends that the shareholders’ meeting use specialist scientific support composed of scientists* on contemporary anti-Semitism, the German and global context and postcolonialism as well as art.  They are responsible for the initial inventory of the processes, structures and receptions around documenta fifteen, should make recommendations for the processing and discuss which aspects require an in-depth (scientific) analysis.  They would also advise on the analysis of possible further anti-Semitic (image) language.  The supervisory board considers a cooperation of the scientific support with the artistic direction to be expedient and should be designed in a joint process.  The supervisory board suggests that the selection committee, which has an advisory function for documenta fifteen, participate in the scientific monitoring. The shareholders’ meeting agreed.  

4. The supervisory board recommends that the shareholders’ meeting conduct an organizational analysis of the documenta und Museum Fridericianum gGmbH, which examines both the structures, including competencies and responsibilities, and the processes.  This in the benchmark with other important art exhibitions and with the involvement of external experts in order to develop proposals for the further development of documenta und Museum Fridericianum gGmbH as quickly as possible after documenta fifteen.  This was also decided by the shareholders’ meeting.  

5. The city of Kassel and the state of Hesse are united by the common goal of working through the misconduct on the subject of anti-Semitism and structural deficits and doing everything possible to ensure that the documenta will continue to have a unique position as an exhibition for contemporary art in the future.  The Supervisory Board is promoting documenta fifteen, as the first documenta curated from the perspective of the so-called “Global South” with over 1,500 participating artists, to be evaluated in its entirety and uniqueness.  Precisely because the documenta every five years becomes a focal point for artists and people interested in culture from all over the world and precisely because it has always been and still is a place of encounter and critical discourse, the Supervisory Board works together with all those involved to  to protect the documenta in Kassel.

 

*4 June 2022: the speech that Hito Steyerl would have delivered

[…read full speech …] “Hito Steyerl: Context is Everything, Except When It Comes to Germany” (trans. by Eric Meier, Zeit Newspaper, Germany, 4 June 2022.

“Here is a sketch of an argument. In the Documenta discourse, the “world” according to Haftmann’s façon was replaced for decades by postmodern globalization discourses, by liberal rhetoric of diversity and inclusion. Paradoxically, German identification with the West increasingly turned into identification with an Anglo-American academic critique of the West. One of these proxy-discourses was the so-called postcolonial theory at the last Documentas. And that sometimes tipped back into what not only we, 20 years ago, called “the often dangerously reactionary, anti-imperialist and anti-Western tendencies of postcolonial studies “.

***

Upcoming posts in the series will be daily events of the 50-day co-living-as-learning program from John Chow and Dory Cheng.

 

About Gudskul

Gudskul is the pedagogic umbrella of several artists’ collectives in Indonesia, including Ruangrupa, the official artistic directorial team for Documenta 15.

During Documenta 15, Gudskul presents a variety of planned and improvized events, including Hanya Memberi Tak Harap Kembali (= To Give and To Expect Nothing in Return), a free market from Gudskul and Friends:
Sunday, 3rd July 2022, 10 am – 1pm
@ Gudskul Area, 1st floor of Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany

The givers include:

Gudskul, Salikhain Kolektib (Philippines), BISCA (Kyrgyzstan), Pangrok Sulap (Malaysia), Bà Bầu Air (Vietnam), Scutoid Coop (Taiwan), Omnikolektif (Indonesia), Load Na Dito (Philippines), Arab Theatre Studio (Australia), Lifepatch (Indonesia), Sudut Kalisat (Indonesia), Hysteria (Indonesia), Tenthaus (Norway), Tokonoma (Germany), Pari (Australia) and Floating Projects (Hong Kong).

 

Notes / Citations:

[1] Valentina Di Liscia, “Documenta Controversy Continues as Hito Steyerl Withdraws Work,” Hyperallergic 11 July 2022. Read on 11 July: https://hyperallergic.com/746449/documenta-controversy-continues-as-hito-steyerl-withdraws-work/ 

[2] Ibid..

[3] Benjamin Sutton, “Hito Steyerl withdraws from Documenta 15 amid antisemitism scandal,” The Art Newspaper 8 July 2022. Read on 18 July: https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2022/07/08/hito-steyerl-withdraws-documenta-15-antisemitism-scandal

 

To follow all FP at Documenta 15 journal entries […]