...Or three days out of 100 days of Documenta

Text and images by Yanka Smetanina

Documenta writings is a series of texts written by students of the institute for art in context at the UdK Berlin. All texts are based on individual experiences during an excursion to Kassel in June. The writings were developed in the context of the „critical writing“ seminar led by Julia Grosse and Jörg Heiser.

Sada. [REGROUP]. Irak.
To flee from thoughts of war, to distance oneself, not to accept it, to think it impossible to make art now; to withdraw into analysis, to seek one‘s place and one‘s zone of responsibility, to seek salvation in participation, in concrete deeds, and yet to seek it greedily in the works of other artists, not to find it or to find it and not to accept it again; all is wrong, all is wrong, all is wrong.... And suddenly being in a situation that is completely self-contained and so far removed from your own real world that you forget the war and become indignant. You wanted to forget, what’s going on again? 21.06

It was my first Documenta and I was excited. Kassel greeted us with walk-in sunshine, Documenta 15 with an anti-Semitic scandal. Cheerfully chirping, our Art in Context student body moved up to the front of the Documenta hall to the giant Taring Padi billboard, where a cluster of people had gathered. People stood there with tense faces staring at the panels. „See that pig over there?“ A fellow student pointed something out to me. „Where?“ , - I tried to see at least something in the multi-figure, multi-plot composition. - „That pig over there...“

Mariupol, Mariupol, Mariupol, Mariupol, Mariupol, Mariupol, Mariupol, Mariupol, Mariupol, Mariupol, Mariupol, Mariupol, Mariupol... One can have different opinions about Alexander Brenner, but this performance when he interrupted the service in the church run to the altar with shouts “Chechnya!” now echoes in me with a speechless cry: “Mariupol...”

We are probably all selfish when it comes to personal trauma. Where is the boundary where we can pause and think of ourselves in acknowledging, accepting, and righting the wrongs of others‘ traumas? Can repentance alone solve the problem? 

„In the grand scheme of things, it’s just an image, and if you don’t think about all the symbolism, it’s not even particularly evil,“ I wanted to dismiss the looming problem. This is a pity, of course, because up to this point I wanted to support the curators. No one has abolished the capitalist hierarchy at Documenta, no matter how it has positioned itself. The Indonesian team, judging by the tone of the condescending or condescendingly descriptive publications, didn‘t seem to be taken seriously from the beginning, discussion was refused, everything looked pretty bad for them. But the picture at the beginning and even on the cover made the story not so clear.

The Indonesian mass killings of 1965–66, also known as the Indonesian genocide, Indonesian Communist Purge, or Indonesian politicid (Indonesian: Pembunuhan Massal Indonesia & Pembersihan G.30.S/PKI), were large-scale killings and civil unrest that occurred in Indonesia over several months, targeting Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) party members, communist sympathisers, Gerwani women, ethnic Javanese Abangan, ethnic Chinese, atheists, alleged "unbelievers" and alleged leftists, often at the instigation of the armed forces and government, which were supported by the United States and other Western countries.

According to the most widely published estimates at least 500,000 to 1.2 million people were killed, with some estimates going as high as two to three million.

https://www. wikipedia.org

It was hard to imagine what it would become in the future and how it would affect the whole Documenta. An hour later, Facebook was on fire, and someone had already written that it was „already removed“ „Come on,“ I couldn‘t believe it again. But yes, there was already a video posted in the general chat room, the board had been closed. I felt cheated again. The censorship and such a reaction I had not expected from my first Documenta. I guess we have experienced this kind of „insult to feelings“ before. It may be a strange parallel, but each has its own context. „Fascistoid capitalism and blatantly inhuman fascism“ suddenly merge in my mind into a totalitarian entity in one association. Russia, Pussy Riot, remember? They received 2 years in prison from Putin for „insulting the feelings of believers.“ 

Later, back in Berlin, I watched the interviews of the offended organizers with pale faces and quivering lips, listening to the angry remarks of the journalists and thinking what a powerful tool guilt is and how easily and constantly it is manipulated, forgetting that genuine remorse cannot be replaced by obligations. Protecting some and not trampling on others means always pausing to balance and check ourselves, but in defending the principles of freedom we are always on this line: your freedom ends where someone else‘s freedom begins, there is still no black and white in the world, and the centuries of war history tell us that we all have a black past.

From 4 a.m. on February 24, 2022, when the Russian Federation‘s armed attack on Ukraine began, to midnight on June 21, 2022 (local time), the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recorded 10,403 civilian casualties in the country: 4,634 dead and 5,769 injured. 


According to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the loss of the Russian army has killed 34,230 people since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

https://www. belsat.eu

But back to Documenta: Taring Padi, by all the rules of successful contemporary art strategies, has unexpectedly (perhaps even to itself) opened a pustule and drawn attention to an issue, but I want to come back to what they are distracting from. Perhaps it is to someone’s advantage to keep themselves going behind an anti-Semitism scandal and distract from other problems that arise when looking at Documenta?


The Fridericianum is elegantly filled with works by collectives. The spirit of capitalism permeates the space. Selling non-commercial art beautifully is an art in itself, excuse the tautology. The relaxed, cool-friendly atmosphere reminds me of the following observation: children’s organisations in Berlin are packed with modern technology and high-quality workshops and events for children, but almost devoid of children; and children’s non-profit associations run by migrants, created on their own initiative and with their own funds, but full of children and where life is in full swing. Anyone who has been involved in activism will probably understand me - when active life doesn‘t stop without a penny and you work for an idea, things look a little different than in the halls of the Fridericianum.  In the huge, bright children’s playroom, from which I was kindly asked to leave by the staff, only one child was spotted.

The question of funding is ironically (or not?) is also the name of a collective that has been vandalised (graffiti, they say, is still there) rises more strongly after my conversation with the organisers of the School of Contemporary Art from Bishkek.I have known this team for a long time and am very pleased that they are represented at Documenta. Knowing how difficult it is to work in the field of contemporary activist art in Kyrgyzstan, I asked them if they had been paid for their fees and tickets. No. They are just happy to be able to show their work. The withdrawal of an open programme in this case is, of course, in no way an act of „caring“ for them. That activist art is appropriated and monetised on another level is nothing new, of course, but it‘s not every day that you see a double standard on this level. The systemic nature of the problem can already be seen in the news.

The calculations for the sales prices are differentiated; understanding them requires a bit of concentration: those fourteen collectives invited by the Indonesian curatorial team Ruangrupa and forming the core of Documenta 15 will each receive 180,000 euros in production costs. Other groups invited by the collectives receive 70,000 euros each; individual artists participating in the world art show - there are also such artists - receive 60,000 euros.


Volunteers in Ukraine make protective waistcoats for the army with their own hands. They use recycled materials. Tests have shown that the waistcoats can withstand direct fire but have other advantages.
22.06.2022 DW
On 22.06.1941, the day the Great Patriotic War began, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union.

Hübner-Areak, St. Kunigudis, Wajukuu Art Project here, too, I cannot get rid of the personal context... If you visit the exhibition „zurückgeschaut I looking back - The First German Colonial Exhibition of 1896 in Berlin-Treptow“ in the Museum Treptow, you cannot escape the parallels or answer the question: What has changed here in more than a hundred years? Unless the spirit of Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei‘s metaphysical marriage reminds us what year it is. The ongoing process of exporting exotics seems to be as persistent in capitalism as anti-Semitism.

Britto Arts Trust. Bangladesh.

The Getto Bienale looks more relaxed. The exhibition is also quite exoticised, but there it seems the artists are at least having fun. Yes, pathos and a lack of irony, perhaps that‘s how you could describe the overall atmosphere. Documenta‘s attempt to embrace immensity with an imperial sweep almost undid the efforts of the collectives by assembling them in such record numbers without giving visitors enough time to understand the complex work and ruining the sincerity of their statements through the sterile exhibition. Capitalism and appropriation, remember that, baby! Indeed, the commercially cold paintings and huge beautiful picture panels are not touching, exoticism for export arouses empathy. There is an elusive sense of irrelevance and triviality, and it‘s not even about the lack of works about today‘s war, or at least Ukrainian artists. Archive projects try to preserve history; Documenta hides actual history under a black cloth and conceals it in a closet.

Subversive Film. Tokyo Reels. Palestina.

What appealed. Project Art Works is an inclusive project that provides direct practical and holistic support for neurodivergent artists. This includes not only working with artists on their own terms, but also training, advocacy, sharing of experiences and support for families.

71 patients with disabilities and 15 staff members as well as soldiers of the Ukrainian armed forces remained in the nursing home without access to water and electricity. That morning, soldiers from armed groups allied with Russia attacked the nursing home with heavy weapons while patients and staff were still inside.... According to various reports, at least 22 patients survived the attack, but the exact number of casualties is not known. 
Project Art Work. UK.

What is the rest? Perhaps only the video, which has not yet been touched by the spirit of commerce. Video and photo documentation convey the issue, better reflect the reality and context. A video by and about women. It is a sensual work by Saodat Ismailova that leaves no doubt about the sincerity and immersion, although the artist has lived in France for a long time.

Saodat Ismailova. The Haunted.

The Rojava film Commune Evîn Di Rûyê Qirkirinê De (Love in The Face Of Genocide), a documentary about traditional song forms in Kurdistan, focuses on Yazidi love songs and, in particular, the genocide they suffered.

Rojava Film. Commune. Love in The Face Of Genocide.

„Seaweed Story“ by ikkibawiKrrrr is dedicated to Korean divers called „haenyeo“ or „sea women.“ „Haenyeo were once so successful that they were the main breadwinners in their families, turning Confucian gender norms on their heads.“ So says Documenta‘s website. Not mentioned, that the feminist optics here see a double whammy for these women.

ikkibawiKrrr. Seaweed Story. Korea

Speaking of irony. Two artists who dare to be ironic. Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey Nabwana, director of Wakaliwood Ramon Film Studio, exemplifies the model of the „new slum hero“ with his film full of black humor Football comando. Isaac made his first film for $200. Then (sic!) there was a two-year seminar at the German embassy teaching Ugandan filmmakers how to use available resources to make films. Isaac has already been invited by the Kampala Sun to teach the world how to make low-budget films.“ So hurry up and see it before capitalism gobbles it up.

And Hito Steyerl, who shone edifyingly with cutting-edge technology that, unlike the rest of the works, said about the budget as well as the plot: „This is how it should be, man“, sprinkled with trendy particles and took her work out of the exhibition already without irony, but equally edifying, leaving us all with the question: should it be like this and how should it be? How should Documenta be, how will it be next time, and will there be a next time?

Wakaliga Uganda Ramon Film Studio. Football comando.
All images: Yanka Smetanina

website: https://www.yankasmetanina.art/

insta: @yankasmetanina

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