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August 4, 2022

Field Notes: Sindi-Leigh McBride on MADEYOULOOK at Documenta 15

Art & Education

MADEYOULOOK, Mafolofolo (detail), 2022. Installation view, Documenta 15, Hotel Hessenland, Kassel, June 15, 2022. Photo: Frank Sperling.

MADEYOULOOK, Mafolofolo, 2022. Installation view, Documenta 15, Hotel Hessenland, Kassel, June 15, 2022. Photo: Frank Sperling.

Hotel Hessenland, Kassel. Photo: Sindi-Leigh McBride.

MADEYOULOOK, Mafolofolo (detail), 2022. Installation view, Documenta 15, Hotel Hessenland, Kassel, June 15, 2022. Photo: Sindi-Leigh McBride.

Field Notes: MADEYOULOOK, Documenta 15
by Sindi-Leigh McBride

Selected by the Jakarta-based collective ruangrupa, fourteen collectives comprised Documenta 15’s initial list of lumbung members. These collectives in turn invited seventy-two more individual and collective artists to participate, a clear demonstration of ruangrupa’s organizing principle of communal sharing. The success of this model is irrefutable. The exhibition offers an abundance of imaginative artworks, activities, and archives, replete with insights into different forms and practices of producing, building, and maintaining community. That said, it is a lot. Nobody knows exactly how many artworks are spread across more than thirty venues. Some projects are not exhibited but experienced as roving performances or food-sharing. Some venues feature dozens of artists, and some artists show at more than one venue. A kind of sensory overload characterizes Documenta 15, but one presentation offers a reprieve: the quietly brilliant Mafolofolo: place of recovery by the South African collective MADEYOULOOK.

Though photographs of the installation feature in quite a few reviews of Documenta 15, there has been little writing on Mafolofolo: place of recovery or MADEYOULOOK itself. This is not due to the work or the collective behind it but rather to the sheer scale of the exhibition, and reviews have tended toward general impressions informed by ruangrupa’s lumbung model. MADEYOULOOK is a Johannesburg-based interdisciplinary collaboration between artists Molemo Moiloa and Nare Mokgotho. Moiloa and Mokgotho began working together in 2009 while studying fine arts at Wits School of Arts in Johannesburg, having bonded over a commitment to relational aesthetics that continues to permeate their practice. Their works are concerned with everyday Black practices that have either been historically overlooked or deemed inconsequential and encourage “a re-observation of, and de-familiarization with, the everyday of urban South African life that is significantly directed towards a practice of socialities and relationalities outside of the gallery space.” This means that their intertextual installations, discursive programs, publishing, and exhibitions are often grounded in long-term engagement with research partners. Previous projects have engaged with subjects such as models of historical memorialization and oral traditions, Black love and urban public space, forms and hierarchies of knowledge creation and dissemination, and the socialities of land and relationships with plant life. Their work at Documenta 15 expands on these concerns.

Mafolofolo: place of recovery is the only work shown at Hotel Hessenland, designed in the 1950s by Paul Bode, brother of Documenta’s founder Arnold Bode. Built on a bombed-out lot during Kassel’s post-World War II reconstruction, the hotel was vacant for about a year before Documenta 15 brought it back to life as a guesthouse for artists. The facade is unassuming, forgettable even, but it conceals an excellently persevered mid-century modern interior featuring a spiral staircase in an elegant lobby. MADEYOULOOK’s installation is in the hotel’s large ballroom, unused since the 1990s. A large wall text rests on a beveled silver frame, a relic from the hotel’s former glory, and the sole architectural detail of the installation in keeping with the venue’s gaudy glamour. A black curtain surrounds Mafolofolo: place of recovery and passing through it from the ballroom is like stepping into a precolonial map turned futuristic through an acute awareness of environment, spiritual security, and solidarity.

Read more of Sindi-Leigh McBride’s Field Notes review on Art & Education.

Field Notes is a new series of reviews from the next generation of art writers. Featuring texts on the 59th Venice Biennale and Documenta 15 contributed by students and recent graduates, Field Notes makes original connections between the work and the world and takes a closer look at what other observers might have missed.

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