Documenta is an art exhibition held every five years in Kassel, Germany. Ruangrupa, an Indonesian collective, curated this year’s installment. Fitting for Documenta 15’s slogan, “Make friends, not art,” the exhibition is a playful return to a childlike mindset. Many of the artworks reflect the exchange of many opinions. Lumbung translates “rice barn” in Indonesian. As a custom, farmers share leftover rice with their community at the lumbung in Indonesia. This concept applies to Documenta 15, where the idea is to share and distribute intellectual and material resources.
Further, Documenta removed an artwork because of its antisemitic nature. This has been stirring up discussions within the art world. While fully acknowledging the importance of discussions surrounding the aforementioned event, Hiroyoshi Tomite reports on the artworks displayed at Mitte, the center.
The world of an art collective from outside of Europe
Fridericianum is a large museum that explores the possibilities of education in the city center. Aside from a space for artists to show their work, the museum has a living and working space for them. It also has a kitchen, a library, a workshop space for children, a nursery, and more. Visitors and artists alike can use the museum as a place to learn. Visitors can see the artworks of 17 artist collectives from Asia and Africa from the first to the third floor. One characteristic is that most of the video art can be viewed sitting down and lying on the floor, not only standing up. Another is that the space provides time to ponder on the artworks.
The first exhibition you see on the first floor is by Gudskul, a knowledge-sharing platform made of three Jakarta-based collectives. Anyone interested in creating art in a group with a focus on collaboration is invited to join the exhibition. Visitors can gather around a table or sit on seats to have conversations around sustainable art.
WAJUKUU ART PROJECT
One exhibition caught my eye: an exhibition by the Wajukuu Art Project. Founded in 2004, the collective is from a community space in Lunga-Lunga, the most densely populated slum in Nairobi. Made with scraps from the area, the collective’s exhibition is a recreation of architecture inspired by the Maasai Manyatta (a traditional homestead of the Maasai people in East Africa) and the everyday aesthetics of the slums. It’s worth seeing, as the collective successfully recreated the ambiance through materials from the area.
Cinema Caravan, the only participating Japanese collective
On the night of my stay, I attended the Caravan Hive Party. The location was a hideout-like building used for resident artists. With Kuribayashi-san at the center, the Cinema Caravan crew from Zushi and other resident artists danced at the event. “Genki-ro” had been moved, and I witnessed the integral role it played, as people talked to each other about where they came from and which artworks caught their attention inside of “Genki-ro.”
A permanent exhibition that matches the present
Grimm Welt is on a small hill. The exhibition makes you feel lost in a forest of dictionaries or words. The design made me realize how being too immersed in the world of meaning could make you feel dizzy in a whirlpool of words. That’s why it’s important to leave some space behind the definition of words. Once you think you know the truth, you’ll see another side from another angle. The definition crumbles down, and you’re back to being in the whirlpool of questions. You observe once again and regard the meaning you perceived from a distance as the truth. That was how the exhibition was built. I want you, the reader, to experience what awaits you beyond the letter z.
The things I saw and felt at Grimm Welt, the permanent exhibition encouraging its visitors to go back and forth between objectivity and subjectivity and macro and micro thinking, and Documenta 15 over two days expanded my mind. My visit came to a close after I finished going around the museum.
One tangible reaction of the world can be seen in the controversy surrounding freedom of expression, the censorship of antisemitic artwork, and the resignation of the director general of Documenta 15. For a second, I felt like the fact that it’s being discussed worldwide is a testament to Documenta documenting the times. Humankind’s extraordinary history and contemporary artists’ art can’t be truly understood unless you visit and experience the exhibition yourself. I’m left bewildered by how I still can’t verbalize what I experienced there.
Documenta 15 uses all its energy to show works from various countries that are outside of the influence of European art society. I enjoyed engaging in thought-provoking conversations with like-minded people through the artworks while maintaining a playful spirit.
I might sound like an elementary school student, but I felt that people trying to speak their minds was an imperative factor. The words, “Make friends, not art” cross my mind again. Perhaps this is Ruangrupa’s aim.
In contrast to the pertinent authorities and controversy, the atmosphere at Documenta 15 was buoyant thanks to the visitors observing the art. If any of the artworks in which the artists share the wisdom of lumbung piqued your interest, I encourage you to visit the exhibition. I hope we all can engage in the once-in-every-five-years exhibition without being too serious about it.