The tenor of the debate: Schormann’s friendly dismissal came too late. The public discussion and the defiant attitude of documenta’s directors permanently damaged the world’s most important art exhibition at the Venice Biennale. Meanwhile, critics are asking until publication is stopped. For a long time, the impression was given that the motto was: OK, let’s talk about anti-Semitism, but then we also have to talk about censorship in art. But preventing anti-Semitism has nothing to do with censorship. miss the topic.
And the fact that artists from Southern countries are not involved in European discourses is no excuse either. Anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism. The victims are the many art collectives that have been preparing for their presence at documenta for years, who traveled there, prepared complex projects and are now sitting in Kassel for 100 days, where only anti-Semitic tours are discussed, for which most of them can’t do anything.
“We eat invaders”
One of them is Chang En-Man. When she was still a child of primary school age, her parents separated. She moved to the Taiwanese capital of Taipei with her father, and her mother returned to the Paiwan Hill Tribe from which she descends. Only in adulthood, as an artist with an academic background, did Chang travel to his mother and begin to increasingly deal with Paiwan culture and thus the difference between traditional and modern life, with themes of urbanization and colonialism.
In Kassel she is presenting a complex project that brings together all these topics. The focus is on the cinavu millet dish, which is the subject of many Paiwan myths (she recounts an emotional myth in the video). One ingredient in Cinavu is African snails, introduced by Japanese occupiers (1895-1945) to feed the island’s population and now a ubiquitous invasive species. Chang in an interview: “And how do we deal with invaders? We eat them.”
Artist Chang En-Mang is descended from the Taiwanese tribe of the Paiwan Hills. She tells the myth of how millet came to the island.
A raft on the Fulda with discs that resemble mulberry leaves is on display in Kassel. Mulberry leaves are needed to prepare cinavu snails. The raft is intended to take documenta audiences on a fantasy trip to Paiwan. In front of the raft there is a “waiting room” on land with information and graphics about snails and millet. And all over the city there are QR codes in the shape of snails, which refer to more myths and information.
Skateboarding as a universal language
Husband and wife Jiradej and Pornpilai Meemalai hail from Thailand, where the two founded the Baan Noorg art collective in a remote area. Baan Noorg means something like provincials or rednecks, and both of them do artistic projects that aim to help the population that lives literally on the margins of society, especially young people. Their three-part project deals with dairy farming in a video and traditional subjects illustrated with myths – from Kassel, they also connect German dairy farms with those in Thailand.
The third part is a halfpipe that was built together with the Kassel skate community (you can see it in the video). Local skaters donate their boards to young people in Thailand after documenta ends. Because, as the Meemalais explain in the interview: Skateboarders immediately have a community everywhere they can connect. In this respect, signs are tickets—not just to get away, but to actually get somewhere else.
Artist group Baan Noorg connects Kassel with the Thai province through skating; a skate park for Kassel, boards for Thai children.
In the Fukushima sauna
Meanwhile, members of the Cinema Caravan collective hail from the Japanese surfer beach of Zushi Beach, where they hold an annual film festival that rivals the Sundance festival in terms of fantasy (not quite in size and importance). Together with artist Takashi Kuribayashi, they built a creative party village made of wood and canvas, complete with a DJ tent, bar and herbal sauna, all lit up by late-night visuals.
Cinema Caravan is holding a film festival at a surfers beach in Japan. Instead of art – or as art – they take their party form with them to documenta.
The herbal sauna is modeled after the Fukushima accident reactor. Only, Takashi explains in the video, you can stay right here. For him, the impromptu beach party is a symbol of cohesion and unity – values that, in his opinion, should be written much more prominently in the global West. In any case, the party is well received; At night, guests huddle in the herbal sauna, albeit with beer in hand so it doesn’t get too healthy.
Hungary’s alternative art scene
Borbala Szalai and Eszter Lazar also set up their project in documenta in a light and playful way. The two represent the Off Biennale Budapest, in which works by artists who do not receive public funds and are not supported by the state are exhibited every two years. The Biennale has become an important forum for exchange and international visibility of Hungary’s alternative art scene.
Every two years, the Budapest Biennale exhibits artists who do not accept government funding. Now, a delegation has implemented a humorous project in Kassel.
In documenta, the two designed a bridge over a boathouse on the banks of the Fulda along with the Spanish collective Recetas Urbanas – and a small playground. Two classes from the school helped with the construction and helped to shape it. The bridge leads to games and fun, Szalai and Lazar explain in the video, walking on it is like turning a kaleidoscope: suddenly you see the world with completely different eyes.
common ground? there was something
That would really be the purpose of this document. The Indonesian art collective Ruangrupa invited groups of artists and activists from around the world, especially from countries in the Global South, to focus on the common. About how a network of local initiatives, but networked internationally, can oppose the world of large corporations. The legitimate anti-Semitism debate has calmed down a bit slowly. But whether any common message still penetrates is questionable.