ART & CULTURE

An Easy Guide To documenta fifteen

We visited Kassel for the world’s most important — and controversial — contemporary art exhibition, and this is why you should go before it closes on September 25th

Atis Rezistans | Ghetto Biennale Atis Rezistans | Ghetto Biennale, ANN PASE’L PASE, MACHE NAP MACHE (WALK THE WALK & TALK THE TALK), St. Kunigundis.Photo by Frank Sperling
Atis Rezistans | Ghetto Biennale Atis Rezistans | Ghetto Biennale, ANN PASE’L PASE, MACHE NAP MACHE (WALK THE WALK & TALK THE TALK), St. Kunigundis.Photo by Frank Sperling

By Hamzeh Alfarahneh , edited by Tansy Kaschak on 08.19.22

Intrigued by the quote from former West German president Theodor Heuss, who famously said, “You can’t make culture with politics, but maybe you can make politics with culture,” we headed to Kassel to attend documenta fifteen. Germany’s world-famous art exhibition was conceived from the rubble of World War II — and as a tool to cement West Germany’s alliance with liberal values and spread them to the East during the Cold War. In turbulent times like these, we thought we’d have a thing or two to learn from the happening that only takes place every five years.

Like most of the art world and those looking for what’s next in culture and social dynamics, we made our pilgrimage to the grounds of Kassel. A 3h-journey from Berlin, the city became not only a cultural mecca but a historic rendezvous point where we — Hamzeh Alfarahneh and Tansy Kaschak, managing editor and editor in chief of A Hotel Life — met in real life for the first time after months creating together in world wide web ether. As we navigated the exhibition and learned about this edition’s governing principles, our meeting backdrop felt quite appropriate and serendipitous… Read on. 

Hamzeh Alfarahneh and Tansy Kaschak at documenta fifteen
Hamzeh Alfarahneh and Tansy Kaschak at documenta fifteen

What is documenta? 

documenta is an art exhibition in Kassel, Germany. It happens every five years and lasts for a hundred days — sometimes called the “museum of 100 days” — the fifteenth edition runs from June 18 to September 25, 2022. It was first established in 1955 by German artist, teacher, and curator Arnold Bode to bring Germany up to speed with modern art and rebuild its involvement in the global arts after the self-imposed boycott under Nazism. 

What makes documenta important? 

The art exhibition greatly influences artists, curators, critics, dealers, and more. It is often seen as an event that sets the tone for the topics and themes discussed in the global art ecosystem. As a result, even though it is held less often, documenta attracts more visitors than the Venice Biennale.

Dan Perjovschi, Generosity, Regeneration, Transparency Independence, Sufficiency, Local Anchor and most of all Humor, 2022, installation view at Fridericianum Museum Kassel. Photo by Nicolas Wefers
Dan Perjovschi, Generosity, Regeneration, Transparency Independence, Sufficiency, Local Anchor and most of all Humor, 2022, installation view at Fridericianum Museum Kassel. Photo by Nicolas Wefers

What to expect from the fifteenth edition of documenta? 

For every edition of documenta, the organizers invite an artistic director to curate the exhibition. documenta fifteen has departed from the tradition of asking an individual artistic director and awarded the helm to ruangrupa, an art collective from Jakarta, Indonesia. “When we were invited to make a proposal for the fifteenth edition of documenta, instead of integrating ourselves into the long-established documenta system, we decided to stay on our path. We invited documenta back, asking it to be part of our journey,” the collective wrote in a statement explaining their proposition for this edition. “We refused to be exploited by European institutional agendas that are not ours. We believe that we must make this experience of imagining an edition of documenta contribute back to our endeavors.” 

The collective manages to turn the systems of documenta on their head and re-establish a new language and “ekosistem,” centered around the theme of lumbung, an Indonesian concept utilized by rice farmers, where producers donate harvest surplus into a common pot that benefits the collective. The principles of lumbung — and its values of generosity, humor, local anchoring, independence, regeneration, transparency, and sufficiency — are felt through the exhibition and programming. However, lumbung is not only the organizing principle of the show. The result is an offbeat, experimental exhibition — from the artworks on display, the concept of diluted ownership, and the dissolution of authorship.

Baan Noorg Collaborative Arts and Culture, The Rituals of Things, 2022, skater on the half-pipe, Fridericianum museum. Photo by Nicolas Wefers
Baan Noorg Collaborative Arts and Culture, The Rituals of Things, 2022, skater on the half-pipe, Fridericianum museum. Photo by Nicolas Wefers
OFF-Biennale Budapest, Eva Koťátková, Daydreaming Workstation, 2022, installation view (detail), Bootsverleih Ahoi. Photo by Frank Sperling
OFF-Biennale Budapest, Eva Koťátková, Daydreaming Workstation, 2022, installation view (detail), Bootsverleih Ahoi. Photo by Frank Sperling

ruangrupa went on inviting further members into the collective, inviting even more artists, forming a complex network of collaborators, and ensuring that documenta fifteenth would not only belong to ruangrupa.

What makes documenta unique is its progressive and envelope-pushing concepts. “There are different forms of producing art. These practices are not (yet) visible, as they do not fit the existing model of the global art world(s). documenta fifteen is an attempt to clash these different realities against each other, showing that different ways are possible,” ruangrupa explains.

PAKGHOR- the social kitchen, Britto Arts Trust, 2022, documenta Halle.Photo by Nils Klinger
PAKGHOR- the social kitchen, Britto Arts Trust, 2022, documenta Halle.Photo by Nils Klinger

Scandal at documenta? 

Through the years, documenta has been plagued with scandals from hidden Nazi ties to funding crises. This year’s edition is no different and saw the exhibition director step down over an anti-Semitism scandal, the allegation of overworked employees, and vandals attacking the exhibition space of pro-Palestine artist groups — so not in line with the lumbung spirit. The last bout of scandal has pushed the German government to announce plans to reform the governance and the funding structure of future documenta.

What must you see, hear, and do at documenta fifteen?

Scroll right and left for our gallery selection.

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An Easy Guide To documenta fifteen Dan Perjovschi, Horizontal Newspaper (work in progress), 2022, Rainer-Dierichs-Platz. Photo by Frank Sperling

Dan Perjovschi, Horizontal Newspaper (work in progress), 2022, Rainer-Dierichs-Platz. Photo by Frank Sperling

An Easy Guide To documenta fifteen OFF-Biennale Budapest, Małgorzata Mirga-Tas, from the series “Out of Egypt”, 2021, installation view, Fridericianum. Photo by Frank Sperling

OFF-Biennale Budapest, Małgorzata Mirga-Tas, from the series “Out of Egypt”, 2021, installation view, Fridericianum. Photo by Frank Sperling

An Easy Guide To documenta fifteen Richard Bell, 2022, installation view, Fridericianum museum. Photo by Nicolas Wefers

Richard Bell, 2022, installation view, Fridericianum museum. Photo by Nicolas Wefers

An Easy Guide To documenta fifteen MADEYOULOOK, Mafolofolo, 2022, installation view, Hessenland.Photo by Frank Sperling

MADEYOULOOK, Mafolofolo, 2022, installation view, Hessenland.Photo by Frank Sperling

An Easy Guide To documenta fifteen OFF-Biennale Budapest, Ádám Kokesch, Untitled (Meander), 2021, installation view, Bootsverleih Ahoi. Photo by Frank Sperling

OFF-Biennale Budapest, Ádám Kokesch, Untitled (Meander), 2021, installation view, Bootsverleih Ahoi. Photo by Frank Sperling

An Easy Guide To documenta fifteen Nhà Sàn Collective, Nguyen Phuong Linh &Truon Que Chi, A Mangrove Apple Tree, 2022, installation view, Stadtmuseum. Photo by Nils Klinger

Nhà Sàn Collective, Nguyen Phuong Linh &Truon Que Chi, A Mangrove Apple Tree, 2022, installation view, Stadtmuseum. Photo by Nils Klinger

An Easy Guide To documenta fifteen Baan Noorg Collaborative Arts and Culture, The Rituals of Things, 2022, installation view, documenta Halle. Photo by Nicolas Wefers

Baan Noorg Collaborative Arts and Culture, The Rituals of Things, 2022, installation view, documenta Halle. Photo by Nicolas Wefers

An Easy Guide To documenta fifteen El Warcha, Clever ways of stacking chairs, 2022, installation view, Fridericianum museum. Photo by Frank Sperling

El Warcha, Clever ways of stacking chairs, 2022, installation view, Fridericianum museum. Photo by Frank Sperling

An Easy Guide To documenta fifteen The Black Archives, Black Pasts & Presents: Interwoven Histories of Solidarity, 2022, Fridericianum museum. Photo by Frank Sperling

The Black Archives, Black Pasts & Presents: Interwoven Histories of Solidarity, 2022, Fridericianum museum. Photo by Frank Sperling

An Easy Guide To documenta fifteen Instituto de Artivismo Hannah Arendt (INSTAR), INSTAR archive, List of censored Artists, 2022, installation view (detail), documenta Halle. Photo by Nicolas Wefers

Instituto de Artivismo Hannah Arendt (INSTAR), INSTAR archive, List of censored Artists, 2022, installation view (detail), documenta Halle. Photo by Nicolas Wefers

An Easy Guide To documenta fifteen The Nest Collective, Return To Sender, 2022, installation view, Karlswiese (Karlsaue). Photo by Nils Klinger

The Nest Collective, Return To Sender, 2022, installation view, Karlswiese (Karlsaue). Photo by Nils Klinger

Sustainability efforts and practices?

The exhibition’s production for documenta fifteen is mindful of the concepts of recycled, recyclable, or used material and objects. ruangrupa partnered with Prof. Dr. Christian Herzig and Kristina Gruber, Justus-Liebig Universität Giesen, to work on strategies to address sustainability, while maintaining an economically and socially fair exhibition.  

How to get there and purchase tickets?

documenta fifteen takes place from June 18 to September 25, 2022, across 32 venues in Kassel, Germany. 

For international visitors, consider flying to Frankfurt and catching a train to Kassel. Or also a little short than 3h train ride from Berlin. Various ticket options are available starting from $28, buy your ticket, and for more information, visit documenta fifteenth’s website.

Subversive Film, Tokyo Reels Film Festival / TRFF, Opening Night, screening and Q&A, on stage: Mohanad Yaqubi and Fadi AbuNe’meh, in the audience: Kassem Hawal, Gloria Kino. Photo by Nils Klinger
Subversive Film, Tokyo Reels Film Festival / TRFF, Opening Night, screening and Q&A, on stage: Mohanad Yaqubi and Fadi AbuNe’meh, in the audience: Kassem Hawal, Gloria Kino. Photo by Nils Klinger

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