September 13, 2022

Field Notes: Mehmet Berkay Sulek on the inclusion of children, Documenta 15

Art & Education

Baan Noorg Collaborative Arts and Culture, The Rituals of Things, 2022. Skater on the half-pipe, Fridericianum, Kassel, June 13, 2022. Photo: Nicolas Wefers.

Agus Nur Amal PMTOH, Tritangtu, 2022. Installation view, Grimmwelt, Kassel, June 14, 2022. Photo: Nils Klinger.

Performance by lumbung artist Agus Nur Amal PTMOH, Documenta 15 press conference. Austadion, Kassel, June 15, 2022. Photo: Nicolas Wefers.

RURUKIDS, workshop with Bellina Erby and Wajukuu Art Project, 2022. Fridericianum, Kassel, June 14, 2022. Photo: Nicolas Wefers.

Field Notes: On the inclusion of children, Documenta 15
by Mehmet Berkay Sulek

With inclusion at the center of Documenta 15—of artists from diverse backgrounds and cultures, of the public in the exhibition—it perhaps should not surprise that this edition of the quinquennial has also involved children in a way unprecedented in exhibitions of contemporary art. ruangrupa emphasizes children’s activities in its curatorial strategy, recalling Dutch director Willem Sandberg’s 1962 exhibition “Dylaby,” which he collaboratively organized with artist Jean Tinguely at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and in which children were active participants and represented in every possible way. Separated by six decades, “Dylaby” and Documenta 15 can both be understood as labyrinths that encourage visitors to meander and explore and to playfully engage with works of art, exemplifying a kind of presentation that art historian Janna Schoenburger has called “ludic exhibitions.” In this regard, art historian Paula Burleigh has stated that the presence of children symbolizes the ludic nature of such labyrinthine exhibitions. For Documenta 15, children, artists’ collaborations with them, and representations of their actions animate the exhibition and its attending discourses, expressing ruangrupa’s desire to reframe visitors as active participants in rather than passive observers of contemporary art.

Upon entering the Fridericianum, Documenta’s historical headquarters, visitors are welcomed by RURUKIDS, an initiative that is not exclusively concerned with art or artists but instead is a dedicated community space for children of all ages. In this space, where one would expect to find artworks, Graziela Kunsch—“an artist, educator, and mother”—has opened Public Daycare, a functional childcare service based on studies on infant education by the twentieth-century Hungarian pediatrician Emmi Pikler. Pikler argued that parents should not intervene in the motor development of infants as they will intuitively figure out how to act. In this way, according to Pikler, infants do not only learn how to move in their environment but they learn how to learn. Importantly, RURUKIDS is not detached from the exhibition, unlike dedicated spaces for children in most Western art museums today, but occupiers a central place in ruangrupa’s reimagining of the Fridericianum as Fridskul, where people can gather and exchange ideas and experiences. Although RURUKIDS is dedicated primarily to activities for children, its ludic nature demonstrates what ruangrupa has hoped to create for visitors of all ages with Documenta 15: a belief in the possibility of producing art that is embedded in life rather than museums. ruangrupa’s ambition to make this exhibition an open, ludic space is made evident, for example, by the fact that they have granted Kassel skateboarders free access to Documenta Halle, where Baan Noorg Collaborative Art and Culture invites them to participate in the skate park installation The Ritual of Things.

Read more of Mehmet Berkay Sulek’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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