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.
I first heard Clairmont Moore'svoice on the evening of June 20, 2022 in Kassel, while People's Justice,the work created by the Indonesian art group Taring Padi, was being covered in a black cloth.
My visitto the city, as part of the CriticalWriting class taught by Jörg Heiser and Julia Grosse of the M.A. Art in Context at the BerlinUniversity of the Arts, was a short one for the purpose of visiting documenta15, the most recent edition of the "world's most important exhibitionseries on contemporary art," according to Kassel's officialwebsite, which lasts 100 days and in the framework of which People's Justicewas on view for only three days.
I had arrived that same afternoon atthe Kassel-Willhelmshöhe station, with an urgent need tocharge my cell phone. I only had one of those cheap cables that, after a coupleof months of use, needs acrobatic tricks to get the battery to startcharging. It would havecost me 10€ to buy a new cable and save mefurther hardship, but 10€ was also about a week's worth offood at the grocery store. 10 € could also be theequivalent, if I was lucky, of about three kebabs, so I could eat out, now thatI intended to spend a couple of days visiting documenta.
Therelevance of this device to visit, in 2022 and as a foreign student, acompletely unknown city and an exhibition with more than 30 differentlocations, would seem more than obvious, but perhaps it needs to be clarified:among many other things, I needed to get to my place of stay and be able toverify that I was the one who had made the reservation. I needed to understandhow to move with agility in a foreign city, communicate instantly with otherfellow students to arrange meetings, show my electronic ticket to enter theexhibitions, record things with the camera that caught my attention during myvisit, or learn more about them on the Internet. But above all, I needed tohave the peace of mind of having a tool at hand in case of an emergency.
Eating,however, has always been more urgent for the body. So I spent the first 4€ of that needed cable on a kebab.
With someluck and after a series of unfortunate events due to the impossibility ofcharging my cellphone, I managed to get through the evening more or less okay,and even visited Werner-Hilpert-Straße 22 briefly. There I experienced acollaborative musical encounter with the JamOnJamOnJamOnJamOnJamcollective, organizedby the Palestinian art group The Questionof Funding, whose exhibition space had been vandalized with graffiti andsubjected to intimidation in the previous days, following a series of publicaccusations of anti-Semitism that documenta had received. Guitars, keyboards,drums, microphones, and other sound objects had been arranged in the hall,which could be played by the participants—musicians or non-musicians—in anattempt to collectively create melodies that would take different forms andcreate different sound dialogues, depending on who temporarily appropriatedthe instruments.
There is a reason that I mention this encounter, the precarious charging cable,and the scarce 10€. It comes back to my encounter withMoore's voice that I want to narrate in the context of documenta’s exhibition.
At around8:30 p.m. that evening, diagonally across from one of the main buildings of theexhibition (the Fridericianum), I found myself in front of a group of about a hundred people who,with different expressions on their faces, many of them confused, were watchinglive the covering of the Indonesian work People's Justice, on which themost recent accusations of anti-Semitism fell within the framework ofdocumenta: an eight-by-twelve-meter banner depicting the poor living conditionsin Indonesia under a military dictatorship, which, like many of the works ofthe Taring Padi art group, seeks to "exposethe complex power relations that arise under these injustices," accordingto their own statements. In this context, for example, acharacter with sidelocks commonly associated with orthodox Jews, but with fangsand a hat with the insignia of the SS, was exhibited.
Eventhough seeing directly the representations in the work and its subsequentcovering generated in me a mixture of repulsion towards the images as well asconfusion due to a great lack of context about the event in the very placewhere it was happening, two other parallel events—if not discriminatory, atleast confusing—were the ones that most caught my attention at the time.
The firstwas the invasive and unannounced approach by a German journalist with a largecamera, who in German asked me and other companions what we thought about thesituation. Our answer, in German with a foreign accent but clear content,highlighted our confusion about what was happening, to which he decided torepeat the question but this time in English. Then we insisted, again inGerman, that we had understood the question, but that we did not understand thewhole context of what was happening. The man asked us again in English what wethought of the situation, as if we still did not understand his question, towhich, frustrated by his idiomatic insistence, we decided not to answer anymore. He recorded us for a few more seconds with his camera and then leftwithout saying anything to us.
The secondevent involves Clairmont Moore. After several minutes of witnessing thecontroversial covering of the work, the voice and music of a man, who had beenaccompanying us from the beginning, but whom we had been ignoring the wholetime, began to filter into the foreground of my attention. When I decided toturn around, I discovered a Black man who, like many other people I have seenthroughout my life in Bogotá, the city where I was born, was singing and making songs with pots,plastic buckets, and even an old coffee pot on the street in exchange formoney.
The wholetime we were looking ahead, with good reason, towards the work exhibited indocumenta, towards the questioned, criticized and removed work, the one thatwould occupy for the following days multiple headlines in the national andinternational media, as a symbol, among other things, of a diligence andpromptness in the debate on this specific form of discrimination so delicate inthe German context and so reprehensible in any part of the world, while all ofus turned our backs, with total injustice, to the work whose author does notappear until now in the exhibition catalogs. I found his work not only striking for its quality: I alsofound it an unexpected poetic commentary on structures of exclusion and on thedifficulty—but not impossibility—of addressing different forms of oppressionat the same time.
The nextday a couple of other events, which I find of equal relevance, took placeinside and outside documenta: firstly, in front of the Fridericianum, a large number of expectantattendees waited in line, mainly because they had to show their admissiontickets at the entrance. But also because a small visual filter of control wastaking place there. A BIPOC colleague was asked to leave the line to leave herbackpack in the places designated for that purpose, because the size of the bagexceeded the allowed size. Other people behind her, over 180cm tall, white andblonde, and with backpacks equal to or larger than hers, were allowed to enterwithout any problem. My friend had to put away her luggage and her words, andgo back to stand in line.
Ironically, once I passed throughthe filter, and only ten meters into the building (in the area that alreadyrequires a paid ticket to enter), artwork began to be displayed along the wallsin the form of handwritten collective messages promoting, among other things,inclusion, working and sharing knowledge in community, and fighting againstoppressive structures.
Duringlunch that day, also in front of the Fridericianum, which consisted of 2€ spent at an Aldi, plus the generouscontribution of food from some colleagues I found picnicking while sitting atthe Friedrichsplatz, I had the opportunity to hear a couple of other thingsthat influenced my documenta experience: one of them said she could not attendthe rest of the day's exhibitions, because she had to get to work urgently. Theother one told me that she could not concentrate very well on the visit,because, on the contrary, she still had no job and also had problems with her Anmeldung in Berlin. As for me, I rememberedthat at the end of the day a huge pile of work awaited me, which I had letaccumulate in order to read and prepare for documenta, and whose payment I didnot know then and still don’t know now when I will be able toreceive, because as a non-European student I do not have permission to work asa freelancer in Germany. But I was also reminded of the unfortunatebureaucratic loophole into which I discovered I had fallen, following a letterI received the days before my trip to Kassel: according to the German housingbenefit authority, I do not meet the minimum monthly income requirement to be abeneficiary of the subsidy Wohngeld. On the other hand, if my monthly income werea little higher than the minimum indicated, I would not be eligible for thesubsidy either. The income must be apparently exactly the one indicated by them.
Later, when I was returning from theHübner Areal, one of the most interestingvenues in my opinion, with artistic activism projects as powerful as Trampoline House, focused on the vindication of therights of people under the control of dehumanizing asylum regulations existingin Denmark, I met again by chance Clairmont Moore at the Friedrichsplatz trainstation.
Since there was a differentatmosphere than during our first encounter, I decided toapproach him to listen to his music and then discovered that in front of himheld, under two weights and—very eloquently—under two official documentacatalogs, a newspaper article from 2018 that talked about him, published in ExtraTip Kassel, asort of publication dedicated to "news about stars, TV-Shows andmusic", according to the SEO description of its website.
I read itcarefully and discovered that it had been published in February of that year,some five months after the closing of documenta 14, but that it made constantreference to the exhibition. That is, the article, which describes Moore as aman from Boston with "great charisma and good tact", had not been published at thejuncture of that edition and therefore not with the urgency or media relevanceof the event, but several months later, highlighting his courage to continueplaying in the streets, even during the coldest months of the year. Althoughusing quite a few quotes from Moore himself, the article seemed to me toconstruct a romanticized narrative of the activity he performs: a classicalstory of self-improvement that, while constantly mentioning documenta, neverputs into perspective that Moore actually plays on the outskirts of thisexhibition nor asks why this is the case.
Before leaving, Moore asked me myname, to which I answered Camilo, and he began to improvise beautifully, withthe help of different sound objects and his own energetic voice, a song inwhich my name appeared over and over again. I felt his music sought to speak directly to me and for a few seconds Ifelt I was seen and seeing someone.
At 10 a.m. the next day, the last dayof my visit, I was pleasantly surprised to hear from another seminar classmatea powerful poem about an observation she had made, also about a musicianplaying in the street, although I'm not sure if she was also talking aboutMoore. As we discussed it after, she told us that apparently there is aprotocol that prevents these artists from playing in the street in a specificradius within the official documenta area.
After thisbrief encounter, rather than going home to write about another topic becausethis one had already been brought up in class by someone else, what really madethe most sense to me was to give even more space to Moore. But also to giv morespace to everything else that happened: to me, to my broken cable that I cannotafford to change, even if it means making my day-to-day life more difficult. Tomy 10€ that I had to use wisely; to theworries that those who work and study at the same time carry everywhere; to thelack of work of those who cannot even get it; to the consequent lack of sleep;to the consequent reduction of our physical and mental activity; to theconsequent moods, to the anxiety, to the depression; to the bureaucraticprocesses that exclude us as foreigners from the benefits of the state or asinternational students from a worthy and fully social participation in culturaland labor contexts; and ultimately, to give more space to write a text thatbetween the lines suggests concerns and intersectionalities that many of ussense but do not know how to name, and that are often forgotten very quickly infavor of necessary and urgent but primarily academic and intellectual debates,which relegate the individual and personal human experience, the flesh-and-blood walker, the intrinsic valueof the life of each being and the legitimacy of what they feel and sufferthrough during life, to a second plane of privilege, of a more conceptual and theoreticalargumentation of the problem of oppression.
Personally, I believe in therelevance of addressing other microforms of violence, discrimination, and perpetuationof oppressive structures, which take place at the very doors of documenta,while anti-Semitic representations are also addressed with urgency by thefestival and in the media. If someone were to read here an attempt atcompetition between different forms of oppression, it seems to me that thiswould be reading the wrong way: on the contrary, I think they reinforce eachother. I believe that a multidirectionallook that also allows us to put on the table the individual narratives andrealities of those who attend, of what concerns us and what happens to us as weface each work, but also of those who still remain on the margins of theexhibition, can shed new perspectives on the questioning of discrimination at documenta. It allows us to build a more critical andrealistic view of the also-praised curatorial proposal of ruangrupa, the Indonesian art collective that creativelydirects this edition of documenta, and with which it seeks to create a"globally oriented, cooperative and interdisciplinary art and cultureplatform that has an impact beyond the 100 days of exhibition”. Putting what happens to us incontext, in the midst of an art exhibition with those intentions and with a relevantpost-colonial discourse very present, which theorizes precisely on the need tosituate and contextualize everything, seems more than fair.
I find interesting that the JamOnJamOnJamOnJamOnJa, invited by The Question Of Funding, had a place to play, interact andcreate art with people through its collaborative music project and, followingthe ruangrupa’s logic of lumbung, got anequally distributed production budget to its activity.I wonder why, however, Clairmont Moore did not.
I am leftwith the question, beyond the undoubted value and social and political impactof the works exhibited at documenta and the value and courage of ruangrupa's curatorial proposal, for whom are thesecollective and activist projects—mostly created by art practitioners from the ‘globalSouth’—really being shown inGermany? And through what discourse are they actually being received andappropriated?
I wouldlike to believe that it is not only for a circle of artists and intellectualswith access to Kassel. Hopefully, much less for a group of mostly white peoplewho expectantly believe they are witnessing, through documenta 15 and in thefront row, a positive change of direction in the world or a speculativeproposal of fairer ecosystems of collectivity, while they continue to turntheir backs on everything that inside and outside their borders continues tohappen daily mostly to those who bear on their shoulders the weight of ouroppressive and excluding systems: some of whom cannot afford the 27€ of a regular one-day ticket to enter theFridericianum and read in the *foundationClass*collectiveexhibition, the poster that asks: "what is the difference betweenperforming diversity and a real structural change? ".