(Un)learning from Jakarta
Conversation between farid rakun from ruangrupa and the students from the Work.Master
On the 18th of June, 2022, documenta fifteen will open its doors in Kassel. The Indonesian collective ruangrupa run this new edition of the German five-year event, seeking to embed it in its own community-based and decentralised ecosystem. In a long interview conducted by the students of Marie-laure Allain Bonilla’s seminar, farid rakun – one of the members of ruangrupa – details the collective’s working methodologies, how their singular concepts open up to new curatorial epistemologies, and the relationships that have been established between their base in Jakarta and Kassel.
This meeting with farid rakun, member of the Indonesian artist collective ruangrupa who was appointed to the artistic direction of documenta fifteen, took place in the framework of a seminar proposed by Marie-laure Allain Bonilla for the Work.Master. This seminar addressed the functions of the artist as curator, and the collective curatorship in a postcolonial globalized capitalist context.
In a series of working sessions and discussions conceived as moments of horizontal exchange, the seminar participants studied the various curatorial initiatives of past documenta exhibitions, and in particular ruangrupa’s proposal for documenta fifteen, which is based on the idea of lumbung, an Indonesian communal rice barn. How can local strategies be adapted to another context, and to a globalized scale? How will the principles of collectivity, equitable distribution, and resource building be embodied in documenta fifteen? What will be ruangrupa’s working methodologies contribution to Western curatorial epistemologies?
Starting from the Indonesian socio-political context, the discussion unfolds around the notion of the collective in contemporary art while focusing on the notion of unlearning, as articulated by decolonial thinking.
Work.Master (Marie-laure Allain Bonilla): documenta was founded in 1955, the same year as the Bandung Conference where 600 leaders and delegates from 29 independent countries or about to access independence in Africa, Asia and the Middle East gathered amid decolonization movements and the Cold War to form an alternative alliance to the two blocs, which became later the Non-Aligned Movement. 67 years later, you and your mates from ruangrupa, an Indonesian artistic collective, are at the artistic direction of documenta fifteen, trying to develop new forms of collaboration and collectivity within the contemporary art world, using the shell of documenta to rethink knowledge sharing, resource building, equitable distribution, and sustainability. Is there a legacy of the Bandung Conference in ruangrupa’s practices?
farid rakun: I hope I can give justice to your questions through my answers. Because as we are a collective, if you have different persons in front of you, the answer might differ slightly. It is just a disclaimer. To answer your question on Bandung, yes, we realized that. One of the first realizations that we had, after the Indonesian War of Independence, was that there was an answer to do something, which in Kassel was a documenta, and which has become the documenta we all know now. On the other hand, Bandung just happened to be in Indonesia but it is not only an Indonesian initiative. Sukarno, our first President, and President at that moment, had a lot of talks with Tito, Nehru and all those big names of history. They came up with something called a non-alliance movement to position those who were colonized before, and to particularly position ourselves in the geopolitical constellation at that moment. We did not want to be aligned with either the West or the East, or whatever you want to call it right now, the left or the right.
It has been big not only for us of course, ruangrupa or anyone in the art world, but for everyone. It influenced everyone, even the government that is in power right now or the one before, and even the 32-years dictatorship before. Everyone has been using the Non-Aligned Movement or the Bandung Conference as a history for their own benefits. For us, Indonesians, for example, it rings differently. It is different for us than for a scholar or an artist from European or Western background, knowing the Non-Aligned Movement afterwards. It is a different type of nostalgia, if I may say it like that, at least from my experience so far. But having said that, I think this history nevertheless has been very useful for us, so that we can also position ourselves as ruangrupa or as documenta fifteen. We can use that history: 1955 you bring the documenta, we bring the Non-Aligned Movement or the Bandung Conference. So, we deal with conflicts differently, and our perspectives can be heard differently as well. It is okay to not be pushovers politically, at least for us it has been useful that way.
Work.Master (Federico Nipoli): During Suharto’s regime, gatherings of more than five people who are not family members were prohibited by law, which made the practice of nongkrong1 illegal. As you explained in a previous conversation, establishing an art collective at the end of the 1990s and early 2000s was therefore a celebration of the fall of Suharto’s dictatorship, who was President until 1998, just two years before the founding of ruangrupa. Could you explain how art and cultural collectives (re)shaped contemporary art worlds in Indonesia?
farid: Thank you for the question. Yes, it is important because a lot of Indonesian artists form collectives, and it actually begs for more deeper research on why. We have our idea on that, but this is only our impression, and maybe there are some more trained eyes that can research on it deeper. Not only in the arts, I have to say. These gatherings of people were like a form of euphoria after not being able to do so. Although of course people still did gather, but as you pointed it out, the State had the right to prohibit gatherings, even if it was not always exercised. But yes, we lived in constant fear around those times which I hope are not coming back. Let’s see how political situations develop in the future because threat is there all the time. So, the fear is not exactly over yet up until now, at least for my generation for example, I’m 39 now. I was becoming an adult when 1998 happened2. So, for at least my generation or the prior one, the constant fear remains. We have experienced it, and therefore we never want to go back to that thing. Maybe it is different for the people coming after us which are the young artists now.
Then this euphoria was in fact an euphoria of ganging up together. I do agree with you, or at least with the direction in which your question goes, if I understand it correctly, it has had an impact, also practically in the form of the art and the artistic product that we have produced. Jakarta, for example, is one of the most expensive places in Indonesia. It is not expensive compared to Switzerland but it is for other people. Then it is not usual for young artists or upcoming artists to have a studio because it is almost unaffordable. So, by having a collective we rent a space together, we can work together in that space, although a lot of times the space is not big enough for everyone to have a studio. This has a direct consequence in the form of art that we can produce.
First I would say, it is becoming laptop based or desktop based. The screen is your work[place], that is why making music videos, or other types of videos, or video art became one format. Another form of production is to go on the street and make the street your studio. Thus, becoming street artist, or public artist somehow, and working in different formats. Taking this idea of collectivity further is the most interesting part for us. It is not only artistic authorship, it is not individual authorship, but it is rather about how to work together with others, and not to invent anything new but to work with what is already there. Hence for us at least that is how the use of concepts like ekosistem3 and lumbung4 came up. We realized that by working together not only the production process should be different but also the product. Therefore, the way it is being publicized, how to exhibit it, as well as the issue of ownership afterwards, like collecting, should be addressed. We have not been able to address it fully, collectively let’s say, which I think becomes sharper with the opportunity we have right now. But we still do not hold the answer to many of those things. Hopefully we will be able to at least experiment with all those different answers much more in the future.
Work.Master (Sophie Conus): This practice of nongkrong is the founding value of ruangrupa (“we hang out as a statement”) and a core value of documenta fifteen. As you said in 2016, you “overlooked it for a while”, but you started to strive “again for the importance of nongkrong“5. Why did you overlooked it, and what changed your mind back then to return to this value?
farid: Thank you for the question as it is an important one because it comes back to the New Order as well. There was a given moment during the New Order when Indonesia was perceived positively by the world because we took on the globalization agenda. So, productivity, never ending growth, extractivism, etc. happened in a large scale. I think corruption was or still is a big problem in the country, and if there wouldn’t be any corruption let’s say, or if the corruption was slow, I think as a globalized country maybe the New Order wouldn’t have had a bad reputation as it has right now. Because of that nongkrong is seen as wasting time. The direct translation is “hanging out” but I think “hanging out” is not sufficient because there is a further dimension of wasting time for us. This is a short cut, but it is a wasting time component which is against the nearly broken lease. At that moment my parents, my grandparents and all those people from that generation, always saw nongkrong as something bad. So, when we said nongkrong has a productive or no productive side, but it has a value that we hold onto dearly, then it is a political statement as well to say: “no, we refuse to be clock on the system or like a wheel in the machine, we just don’t want to repeat that logic.” So, what we are trying to do right now is to realize that it is what we have been doing. Nongkrong is a big part of what we are doing.
The first time I met ruangrupa was for nongkrong only. Nothing productive or no career-driven thoughts crossed my mind. I just thought that this is a group of people that has been talking about what I am interested in, and that no one else was talking about. It was also about stopping over to get drunk before going to clubs where it is much more expensive. For a lot of us it started like that. ruangrupa was not ruangrupa as it is right now, but it started like that. We overlooked nongkrong in the sense that we thought in another context that it rings through as well, like wasting time for each other, knowing each other well before you’re working together. We thought it would be easier to accept one another and its ideas, which is not the case. Up until now we do not have to explain it maybe, but to show by practice what we mean.
It always needs time because it needs to be wasted as well. Time is not something that can be given easily, especially when it is being put together with money like “time is money”. We try not to understand time as money, and this is not easy. And it is not only in the West. If you go to Japan, if you go to mainland China, if you go to South Korea, even if you go to our neighbors in Jakarta, they all accept time as being money. We all have this tendency to treat time as money. And by doing nongkrong actually we try not to or try to have an alternative to that worldview which is not always easy, and that is why it was overlooked by us. We thought everyone would agree easily to that notion, but it turned out not to be the case.
Work.Master (Sebastián Davila): It is actually your second documenta as you were involved in documenta 14 with your Internet radio for the decentralized radio project Every Time an Ear di Soun. Why did you decide to apply for documenta fifteen‘s artistic direction?
farid: The contribution for documenta 14 that we did was very minuscule. It was just our web radio station contributing to a big platform of hundreds of web radio stations from everywhere. We did not make a special project for that contribution. We just became RURUradio, and RURUradio’s program was aired on that platform. None of us came to Kassel or to Athens, so it was very small. That has been our contribution for documenta up until that moment. When one member of the Finding Committee approached us in the end of 2018 to ask whether we would be interested to talk about making candidacy, or if they could talk about the possibility of us being one of the candidates, we were laughing our asses of because we thought it was a joke. It took us several days I think, at least a day for all of us to think about it, and then to come up with a collective response to that question. We knew what documenta was from a distance, but we never thought that this world would also be interested in what we are doing. We just established GUDSKUL with other collectives in the end of 2018, so we had this trajectory already. But then we thought it was a long shot anyway, and for those of you who know Indonesian or Southeast Asian cultures, for us it is super difficult to say no. We thought that we might not get it anyway, so who are we to reject such a request.
Learning from past experiences, we agreed that we should not make ourselves available for something like documenta if paying the prize for it would be forgetting what we are doing already in Jakarta. That is the way we thought of being extracted or exploited, and we just do not want to let that happen to us. What we did was to invite documenta back to make it become part of our journey, which has already started before and will continue after. So documenta fifteen will not be the only thing that we are doing. That is how lumbung came about because we have played with that notion since at least 2016. Together, not only within ruangrupa but also with others and other collectives to share our resources. We explained what lumbung is, and by opening it up to documenta, documenta was going to be part of our ekosistem and journey. It will of course alter the journey, because the scale of possibilities would become different at that moment. Somehow the answer from the Committee was positive. So it was kind of funny as we did not know that it was going to be like that. We did not prepare ourselves to be in this position basically.
Work.Master (Arielle Tarzia): Insofar as various past exhibitions of documenta were partly (re)located in other cities, starting with Documenta11 platforms, then with dOCUMENTA(13) in Kabul, and lately documenta 14 in Athens, was it an option to relocate, or delocalize partly, documenta fifteen to Jakarta as your works outside Indonesia must be understood as a continuation of what you are doing in Jakarta? What will documenta fifteen afford you to do there then?
farid: That answer has been changing throughout the process. With Covid-19 most of us were forced to be in Jakarta anyway, even if we would have wanted to be in Kassel. The good thing was that Covid-19 made it impossible for us to forget where we are coming from, how we came up with lumbung. The reality is there, and even up until a certain point we do not need to think about ourselves as artists but as neighbors and helping each other, like a lot of other people. Therefore, we do not want to bring documenta to Jakarta, or other places, at least during the 100 days, because it could be seen as an extension from Kassel, whereas it is like the other way around, at least logically. It should be shared, and it is really difficult to do so with something like documenta because it is so strong already. For Okwui Enwezor’s edition for example, they brought things to different places on the way to Kassel, but Kassel still functioned as the end of the thing, although there is one posthumously platform6. So, for us, to expand documenta further will make it become like an octopus with one head and different arms, and still be a centralized thing. We are learning from the previous editions as well. It would become too ambitious and then kill every one of us because of the energy we would have to invest. If we need to host, or act as a host during the 100 days, we need to keep a high level of energy for the host. We cannot be tired or stressed out, we need to keep that in mind, and we need to be taking care of each other for that. By taking those things to different places, it doubles the work or even triples it. Given the resources that we have for energy, time and of course money, it is wiser to focus on Kassel for the 100 days. Not necessarily Kassel as a showcase, but also as a local. So, local would become like the lumbung members. Kassel is already one of our local in the same part with Jakarta, with Chocó in Columbia, with Jerusalem and all those places.
Work.Master (Arielle): As you are talking about this octopus with its tentacles, is it part of the after plans to continue to sustain the network of lumbung members you are building for documenta fifteen but with a direct redistribution to projects located in Jakarta?
farid: It is not only going to be in Jakarta, I think. If we could manage to sustain lumbung network right now, it will become richer than only Jakarta. It will become not an octopus but many heads with maybe multiple voices like Medusa… No, Medusa still has one big head, so rather snakes with multiple heads, or a dragon with multiple heads, or a hydra or something like that. Then it is just like a connection or maybe not even that. I think it is much more like mushrooms because there is a connection in mushrooms constellations. It is invisible to a lot of people, but mushrooms can never be bigger than they are supposed to be. ruangrupa should not be big, other lumbung members should not be big, but the network can be bigger, and bigger, and bigger. That is fine, and it can still be independent. Worse comes to worst, if ruangrupa closes after documenta, lumbung can keep on going. Losing one head will not have a dying consequence. lumbung members from Budapest or other places also have a kind of independence to imagine how they can use documenta fifteen and the lumbung network further. Therefore, in that way, we are looking forward to being surprised because up until now the lumbung process has been very, very locked as well on making what we understand as the 100 days of documenta fifteen, which still can be understood as an exhibition. Therefore, it might not be directly understood as network building, or lumbung building sustainability through exhibition, but as an exhibition that promotes sustainability. I think that makes a lot of difference, but this is where we are right now, and we must be honest as well. We have to be transparent because we are open to the process. The process has brought us here.
Work.Master (Federico): There are many resonances between documenta fifteen and dOCUMENTA(13) be it with the topic of ecology and environmental issues or with the one of commoning and rethinking non-capitalist ways of living. If dOCUMENTA(13) was the “most green”7 documenta until then, it also highlighted the challenges and unresolved contradictions of talking about ecology in the artistic context. As art historian T.J. Demos put it, it “tended more toward the hybrid aesthetics of sci-fi than political engagement, even while it included voices that insist on politicizing ecology. Its curators missed the opportunity to explicitly address and position the exhibition within the philosophical and political controversies surrounding the status of life today […]. In the present age of crises and emergencies, we need bold proposals, not fuzzy non-concepts. Consider the symbolic weight if such a high-profile exhibition determined that it is simply environmentally unviable and calling itself off or doing something sustainable in its place. Such an alternative has yet to be invented (…)”8. It seems that this alternative is currently being invented with documenta fifteen. Is it with these issues in mind that you wanted to create another model of curating large-scale exhibitions, and curating in general, or did it come from somewhere else?
farid: It is a difficult one to answer. dOCUMENTA(13) is the documenta edition which was kind of rare, from what we have learned from previous editions after we got the position, and it has been helpful. One thing that we learned from dOCUMENTA(13) is how they could make it non-deficit, because most documenta exhibitions have this challenge of being non-deficit in the end. And dOCUMENTA(13) was one of the rare occasions that it did not happen that way. How they did it, from what I heard, but someone needs to check the facts though, at least 50% if not more of the works being exhibited were already sold. The commercial galleries behind were immense. They worked with a lot of people. In that sense we thought we are not similar. From a content perspective, maybe it can be seen as similar, and we actually learned a lot from documenta 14.
Up until now the unfortunate thing about documenta 14 is that they were very little discussion about the content, about the exhibition in itself9. But we learned about the initiatives that it started with. Some of them never saw the light, but it started with the discussions between the curators: currency for example, or how documenta can start paying artist fees because before documenta 14 artists were not receiving fees by taking part in a documenta. I think we owe a lot to documenta 14 as well of course. Things that we want to do are not novelty in that respect.
On the curatorial side, none of us, at least out of the nine of us, were trained properly to become curators. So, sometimes we have to be humble enough that we know what we do, but we cannot say that it is properly curatorial. For us it is a positive thing that we were never trained that way, because there is no curatorial schools anyway in Indonesia, even if we wanted to do one. Right now, those who want to be curators can find their ways, but back at that moment there was no such possibility, even if we wanted to. There were different ways to get there but never through direct curatorial studies, even art history has never been that big. So, it needs to come from different resources, and then we learned by doing as well. We curate because there is a need to curate the shows that we do ourselves. We learn by listening to others that have already paved their ways through, they call themselves curators already or art historians. We listen to them; we invite them to come over to us. Because of that we also know what we do not want to do and what we do not want. This is also an important thing maybe to say, from the beginning we do not want to reproduce the usual power relations artistic directors have. That is why sharing further the imagination of what documenta could be, or how it could function with different localities, it is one way to do so, at least the way we know to do.
First, we extended the invitation to documenta. documenta said yes. After that, we knew we cannot only do it by ruangrupa, therefore we extended the invitation to others, to the Artistic Team, then afterwards to lumbung members, to lumbung artists, to Kassel ekosistem. The invitations kept on being extended, even the artists and lumbungs members extended their invitation to other artists they knew. Some elements that are going to be shown in Kassel during the 100 days are going to be surprising for us as well, because we do not know fully the picture. Whether it is successful or not, whether it is going to make a good exhibition, or what type of exhibition it will be, I think it needs to wait for the 100 days. What we call or understand as the public celebration of our process, our lumbung process up until that point, finally we will be able to share it further, and not only internally from the network and actors, but also by inviting the public. Hopefully it is enjoyable. I think for us the success would be if people enjoy it and learn something from it. No matter what they learn from it, whether we planned it or not. If what they learn from it, they can take it and make it theirs, then we are successful.
Work.Master (Sophie): You already have an experience of working in the context of biennials, as exhibiting artists or even as organizers (Sonsbeek, Jakarta). What was, or maybe still is, the main challenge by working within the scale of documenta?
farid: We were ready to take on that scale, and we were thinking that finally we could afford going to places or contexts that we haven’t been able to do before. Unfortunately Covid-19 happened, so it did not happen. Fortunately, our carbon credit for this documenta was actually okay, it is not that bad given the amounts of flights that we took. But I think the biggest challenge for us in the long run is to keep the mentality. What I am sometimes afraid of is that, after having done documenta we would not be able to come back on doing things how we did before, like with zero euro. There is an idea but we do not have money to realize it, so we just keep on doing it, somehow we find ways. Since we have experienced something like documenta, it could become a trap where we would forget how to do things like we used to do. I think that is the balance that would need to be checked. At least if you ask me right now, I think that balance is still in check, because with ruangrupa and GUDSKUL we keep on getting better financially, but we still keep on being on the brink of bankruptcy all the time so we still can and have to do things without budget.
Work.Master (Sebastián): Since documenta X (1997), we have noticed that the documenta exhibitions keep including more and more talks, more and more conversations, radio programs, symposiums on top of the actual physical exhibition in Kassel, and that these discursive formats to a certain degree have almost become kind of the centre of documenta exhibitions. You also have been developing quite a dense program of conversations since May 2020 with the Walkie Talkie series, the lumbung calling series, the lumbung konteks series and the CAMP notes on education series, and we were wondering how do you see the physical exhibition, and what is the role of the physical exhibition in this edition of documenta?
farid: We overlooked things even when we started to invite documenta to our journey. The fact that we all are aesthetes, we all love or maybe not all, but the majority of us really like experiencing artworks, sometimes we forget to say that. We forget to say that exhibitions will happen anyway. Even one of the Finding Committee’s questions was, after we had explained everything: “do you need an exhibition for this documenta if you get the position?”. And then we realized that we never had talked about exhibitions, although for us, in our head, it was given. I really love being in a space with physical artworks. The NFT’s for example do not really work on me so far, either as works nor as the experience. A lot of times we also realized that we do events including exhibitions to get together, to be able to invite others, other voices, as talking heads, or works, because works have voices as well. That is how we see it as well, it is a channel for voices, a channel for stories to get out. We use these opportunities as an alibi to keep on conversing with others, to keep friendship alive. I think that is why we flipped the logic or the way we understand the exhibition for the 100 days. It is not a museum of 100 days, but more like a public celebration of artists for 100 days. Because unfortunately I think exhibitions fall short for us. We are not against exhibitions but, it is just not enough, at least by the way we want people to understand it, by how we want to communicate it.
Work.Master (Arielle): Can we consider the organization itself of documenta fifteen as an artistic gesture?
farid: Yes. For us there are two things in the collective, and in other collectives as well, that we deem to be important. One is what we talked about before, or what I talked about before actually, how artistic arguments or aesthetic arguments are made because of its collective, so it is not like a collection of individual voices, but how to work together and then the result needs to be embedded. And then how to make this result public, and how to own it. So that’s one, for the face, we call it the face. But the other one is the kitchen, which is kind of like touched on by this question right now. When we were negotiating with the institution mid-2019, about how we are going to work, how to structure the way that we are going to work, how many people are we going to work with, how are we going to call them, how much money we are going to pay, what type of schemes, I was frustrated myself because I wanted to get to the fun stuff like talking about artists. And several times I got reminded that this is actually the work itself. It is not supporting position, it is not a pre-required work, but this is it, this is the work itself. And this is why we do what we do. This is why we call ourselves artist collectives.
Sometimes we, or not only us but others as well, have attempted to make this invisible work to be visible, as for maintenance works to become aesthetic works, and that is where the problem lies at least for now. I think those works need to be as they are, invisible, for us at least based on our experience. To make it visible or aesthetic is like playing the same game with the symptom that be. Instead of that, we should question this challenge and realize that coming from there, from that place, the challenge is how should we communicate that this is already the work. How art works actually have already been started from the get-go, how to communicate that, how to make people understand all those things, and therefore storytelling became one of the channels.
Work.Master (Federico): We find it very generous to have access to so much content online, and it was very useful to prepare this interview and get to understand more about documenta fifteen‘s project. You could have organized physical events that could have been recorded and then broadcasted, but you choose to hold all the conversations series online, live, and therefore accessible to the greatest number. Was it a direct consequence of the pandemic, as online meetings became the new normal in terms of social events, or was it already decided when you applied to documenta’s artistic direction which was before the pandemic?
farid: It was an option that had been given by the pandemic. The realization that cosmologically we need to explain where we are coming from, and storytelling as well were crucial. These are also decisions, choices, strategies that are not coming only from ruangrupa but also from others that we are working with, including the institutions themselves. They have been a big force and help in making this type of decisions. We have to give them credit for that, this way the institutions are not only seen as the big monsters while we are the Davids to their Goliaths. It is clearly because of the pandemic.
The way we wanted to do it originally was to travel to different localities, and hold something there, and then have a list of lumbung artist formed through those real-world visits. We did not want something like a platform maybe, and not really to make it public, but to make our research trips, our research processes sharable to a certain degree. We have thought about using the website somehow, although not in a particular format way before. We were thinking only in blogging or something very down to earth and in a cheap way. Doing something like lumbung konteks or lumbung calling in the end is not cheap at all. It requires a lot of work to prepare them. But we realized that we had to do so, because the storytelling and explaining where we are coming from was important not only for ruangrupa but also for others. And it needed to be done way earlier than the opening of the 100 days.
So, thank you for saying that because sometimes we question that as well: “has it been effective?”. As it is only online and it is on Saturdays not a lot of people want to go on Zoom again on a weekend day. Because of the view numbers, a lot of times we thought that we were underperforming, and that people were not interested.
Work.Master (Sophie): Education has always been at the core of ruangrupa activities; the cofounding of GUDSKUL with Jakarta-based art collectives Grafis Huru Hara and Serrum in 2018 is one of the best examples. For documenta fifteen you will develop an educational program, Fridskul, where the Fridericianum will become a “school” during the 100 days of public opening. Could you expand a bit more on what will be developed there? Are the visitors meant to be directly involved in the lumbung practices you are implementing, or will they be just spectators?
farid: This is also something that we have talked about immensely in the team. GUDSKUL came in as formal educational platform as it is right now, because at that moment we were thinking together with Serrum and Grafis Huru Hara, which are the collectives at Jakarta, about the role we could play further in the ecosystem after almost twenty years at that moment. Right now, it is twenty-two years for ruangrupa, Serrum is a bit younger, and Grafis Huru Hara is even younger. We should not be like a banyan tree that overshadows everything. We all take fundings, we all take other opportunities. How to think about ourselves as a bank of resources that we want to share, and that we can share further with others in the Indonesian artistic ecosystem. Making ourselves educational is one strategy we all agreed on, so that is why education became a thing. Because of that, and as lumbung was a journey before as well, education became a journey we needed to do in documenta as well, through documenta fifteen. And then Fridskul came about because of the conversation we had between us again.
Fridericianum has such a presence, such an architecture, such a history, the question was how to break it let’s say and make it ours. I think that was the challenge. We could make it into a market, we could make it into a street, we could make it into something much more approachable. That is what we want to do, because those columns in front are very difficult to break architecturally but also programmatically. So, one thing that we are trying is to make it not static for exhibiting static objects or static works, but to make it dynamic, so people have activities there. If you come to Fridericianum in the beginning of the exhibition, in the middle sometimes, in the second middle, and in the end, it will always be different. That is how we came up with the idea of a school, so that people actually can live there as well, maybe party there as students or as whatever because in GUDSKUL we do not have students and teachers but participants only. Then we invited artists – mostly collectives, only one is not a collective – who specifically have an educational element in their practice already to occupy Fridericianum. So, there is eleven artists plus the lumbung members as well. Some lumbung members, and some lumbung artists will also take the corners of Fridericianum. These eleven artists, artist collectives mainly, talk together. We explained why we invited them all together. For them it is nice, some of them are not even artists, so they did not even know what documenta is, and they also are not used to take part in an exhibition. This is the first time for them to stage an exhibition, so it has been a learning process for everything.
If you come to Friedericianum, there will be space for babies, for children, for parents. People will live there, participants from GUDSKUL itself, participants from other programs, taking turns. They will make parties, we do not know. We are open about it. It will be a dynamic space. How visitors, spectators, audience are willing to engage with it, it is up to them. We have to be aware that everyone has their choices. How big they want to engage? If they only want to be spectators, if they only want to see from afar, of course they can do it. But if they want to be part of an artwork, if they even want to be part of the lumbung process, there are ways to do so as well. Until now, unfortunately, I have to remain abstract because in a fear of overpromising if our plans are not going to be there. But the intention is there. From different levels of engagement, we have to be aware of it.
Work.Master (Sebastián): My question is a follow up to the one that was asked before. You said that artists had to adapt to this context in Kassel, and we were wondering if they had been any tensions because of this transposition from Jakarta to Kassel? Because you have collective values, and you are coming into a context that is more individualistic.
farid: Yes, “tensions” is the name of the game as well. Not only from the places we knew, or that we predicted that it is going to come from because if we could predict it, at least we could like warm up. So, we explained why we are doing it, but even for the artists themselves when we ask them for their collectives to make decisions together with other artists so that they are not competing only about space and who is going to be better. Our experience of being in group shows has been like that as well, so we want to experiment further with other ways. Therefore, tensions will always come from different places. It is our way as well because a lot of time we would not be able to have an overview on everything. And we are OK with that, but it also can be read as we are OK by being confused. For people jumping on the lumbung train afterwards, even from our artistic team who joined early, until our sobat-sobat = art mediators10 who joined the latest, it has been different levels of confusion. A lot of them are confused by us as well. It is OK with tensions, to sit down, and give them time, if we have time, and then to let the collective process kind of absorb them. That is where we learn a lot from. Contracts, for example, are difficult to do, especially with the ambition that we have, and the values that we have stated publicly. Then coming back to the same contract kind of bears certain questions, no? These negotiations because of the tensions will happen anyway. It is just how to make the experience positive so that after the tension people come out of it thinking positively, not depressed, not always depressed. Those tensions can be paralyzing as well sometimes.
Work.Master (Arielle): As you said in a previous interview, your practice is based on experimentation and processes of unlearning where one is allowed to fail11. We were wondering if you sometimes experience moments of frustration (i.e. within a collaborative workshop with other participants)? And if yes, how do you handle those moments?
farid: Even I am frustrated right now. How to sit down with the frustration, and not make it a paralyzing force? This is the biggest challenge Covid-19 has been putting. If there are tensions, if there are frustrations, and if we can sit down together in one room, and be human and talk about other things, as well as the things that cause the tension, a lot of time we find solutions, maybe not during the meeting, maybe afterwards. That process cannot happen unfortunately that smoothly under Zoom. We cannot waste time in Zoom. It is not made for that. It is not enjoyable. It is the biggest challenge as well.
Each of us were in Kassel two weeks ago for the first time again since 2019, and it made a lot of difference on how people work. Hopefully we can do it again in May – I am coming there again in May, and most of us are coming in different times as well in May. Again, it is about group morale. If it is up, if we can be a host, everything is going to be ok. For us the most important is for those who do it, if we feel hosted afterwards, then it is ok. It is worthwhile to do. If we become frustrated, then we should change something. We did what we did in documenta fifteen because of what we learned from Sonsbeek. We do not want to do anything like Sonsbeek anymore.
Work.Master (Federico): The last question is in the continuation of all these collective practices, and also coming from your own experience of working with large groups, we were wondering if you would have any tips about working horizontally in a collective, as well for us as a group? Did you develop useful tools in decision-making, or even in a more concrete way how to get people to speak during work gatherings, etc.?
farid: Maybe other collectives will have different answers, but this is us. We like to work more horizontally than others, especially if we compare it to corporations, institutions, which have certain hierarchies. But we do not really aim for horizontality all the time. Because it is human nature as well at least in the time we are in right now. Asymmetrical dynamics, social dynamics will happen. 1% will be much more eloquent than the others. It will take more space than the others. Instead of wasting our time fighting, looking for equality, we should just play with it. It does not mean that the loudest will be always right. We also learned from other people.
We made different majelis12 and people came up with their own ways. One way is to always bring food. Decision making can be made much more organically. Other times they came up with traditional ways, like Agraw brought by Le 18 from Tunis. There are traditional ways to make decision that can be translated to Zoom as well: it is like a game where it is basically who has the chair, it is their turn to talk or make decisions.
We learn slowly which one works, like bees flying around and crosspollinating to rotate the functions. Also the logic of hosting, the art of hosting: who become the host, who become harvester, who become the guardian of the tension, the guardian of mind, etc. The Occupy movement is a good example of how to deal with your question. We are learning a lot from that as well. You want to learn from them, how to make a human amplifier, and how to deal with people who do not know each other, coming up to decisions, they know better than us.
This interview was conducted online, on April 8th, 2022, between Geneva and Jakarta.
Participants to the seminar are: Rémy Bender, Sophie Conus, Sebastián Davila, Victor Delétraz, Mbaye Diop, Zahrasadat Hakim, Xheneta Imeri, Pierre-Kastriot Jashari, Federico Nipoli, María Fernanda Ordoñez Pinson, Clara Roumégoux, Alexandra Shéhérazade Salem, Alpha Sy, Arielle Tarzia, and Yul Tomatala.
Acknowledgments to: farid rakun, Giannina Herion, Krzysztof Kościuczuk, Juan Gomez, and Sylvain Ménétrey.
Transcription by: Arielle Tarzia and Marie-laure Allain Bonilla.
- nongkrong is an Indonesian slang term from Jakarta and means “hanging out together”. Casual conversation and togetherness, but also the sharing of time, ideas or food are anchored in this term”. Definition taken from documenta fifteen’s glossary: https://documenta-fifteen.de/en/glossary/ (Last Accessed May 2022).
- In May 1998, more than 1’200 people lost their lives in violent riots, primarily targeting Chinese-Indonesian ethnic minority, and including mass sexual violence against Chinese-Indonesian woman and girls. The Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, food shortage and mass unemployment led to these violent events. They occurred just days before President Suharto resignation, ending his long-lasting “New Order” military regime (1966–1998). To date, there has been no criminal investigation nor prosecutions. The 1998 riots remain a taboo topic in Indonesia and are rarely discussed publicly. See: Eunike Mutiara Himawan, Annie Pohlman, Winnifred Louis, “Revisiting the May 1998 Riots in Indonesia: Civilian and their Untold Memories”, Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, March 2022. doi:10.1177/18681034221084320
- “Ekosistem is the Indonesian term for ecosystem, developed in reference to, but not synonymous with, the ecological concept of ecosystem. “Ekosistem” or “ecosystem” describes collaborative network structures through which knowledge, resources, ideas, and programs are shared and linked”. Definition taken from documenta fifteen’s glossary: https://documenta-fifteen.de/en/glossary/ (Last Accessed May 2022).
- “lumbung is the concrete practice of ruangrupa for documenta fifteen and beyond. Translated from Indonesian, it means “rice barn.” In Indonesian rural communities, the surplus harvest is stored in communal rice barns and distributed for the benefit of the community according to jointly defined criteria. This principle stands for the living and working practice of ruangrupa and is used for an interdisciplinary and collaborative work on artistic projects”. Definition taken from documenta fifteen’s glossary: https://documenta-fifteen.de/en/glossary/ (Last Accessed May 2022).
- farid rakun, “Pe-nongkrong-an”, in Doreen Mende (ed.), Thinking Under Turbulences, Geneva, HEAD—Genève, Geneva, CCC Research Master and PhD-Forum, Pully, Motto Books, 2017: 46-55.
- See https://www.documenta-platform6.de/ (Last accessed May 2022)
- T. J. Demos, Decolonizing Nature: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology, Berlin, Sternberg Press, 2016: 229.
- Ibid.: 256.
- As this interview is being edited, Pierre Bal-Blanc, one of the associate co-curators of documenta 14, is publishing a book about the documenta 14 experience. See Pierre Bal-Blanc, The Continuum was performed in the following manner. Notes on documenta 14, Geneva, Centre d’art contemporain; Roma, NERO, 2022.
- “lumbung is based on friendship. In Indonesian sobat means friend or companion. The plural form is sobat-sobat. As friends, the art mediators sobat-sobat accompany visitors on guided tours through the documenta fifteen exhibition. These exhibition tours are called Walks and Stories and form part of lumbung knowledge. As an active part of lumbung knowledge visitors and art mediators alike create encounters and access through their practice of storytelling”. Definition taken from documenta fifteen’s glossary: https://documenta-fifteen.de/en/glossary/ (Last Accessed April 2022).
- ruangrupa in conversation with Nora Sternfeld, “Sharing Surplus Value as a Form of Collectivity”, Texte Zur Kunst, Dec. 2021: 72-83.
- “majelis is a term for a gathering or meeting. In person or digitally, regular majelis are an important tool of the lumbung network to exchange ideas and projects. mini-majelis are smaller gatherings, while majelis akbar (mega majelis) is a larger gathering between lumbung members, lumbung artists and other participants of documenta fifteen”. Definition taken from documenta fifteen’s glossary: https://documenta-fifteen.de/en/glossary/ (Last Accessed April 2022).