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September 26, 2022

Field Notes: Inji Kim on Nguyễn Trinh Thi and ikkibawiKrrr, Documenta 15

Art & Education

ikkibawiKrrr, Tropical Story, 2022. Installation view, Natural History Museum Ottoneum, Kassel. Photo: Inji Kim.

Nguyễn Trinh Thi, And They Die a Natural Death, 2022. Installation view, Rondell, Kassel. Photo: Inji Kim.

ikkibawiKrrr, Tropical Story, 2022. Installation view, Natural History Museum Ottoneum, Kassel. Photo: Inji Kim.

Nguyễn Trinh Thi, And They Die a Natural Death, 2022. Installation view, Rondell, Kassel. Photo: Inji Kim.

Field Notes: Nguyễn Trinh Thi and ikkibawiKrrr, Documenta 15
by Inji Kim

Eavesdropping on some conversations at ruruHaus, lumbung, meydan, nongkrong, sobat were a few of the words I heard people fumbling. These are key terms of ruangrupa’s programming for Documenta 15 and are regularly used among the participating collectives to describe their activities. Language holds the power to shape how we think, and interspersing words from non-Western languages in the everyday operations of Documenta shows how the organizers considered various strategies to shift the dynamics of the exhibition toward globality by employing terms that champion polyphony. By altering Kassel’s soundscape, ruangrupa has cut through the various ways in which Western states, institutions, corporations, customs, and ideologies assert their dominance in exhibitions of contemporary art on the scale of Documenta. English, French, and German have a strong dominance in the art world, and I was undeniably pleased to hear a crowd of visitors to Documenta pronounce words unfamiliar to them. It was the sound of tables turning.

ruangrupa’s decision to feature artists and collectives from historically dominated groups further demonstrates its intention to contend with the conventions of exhibition-making. Documenta 15’s reconfiguration of linear capitalist time into a spiraling temporal existence and extension of curatorial autonomy to collectives to invite other collectives and artists still underlines a belief in amorphous multiplicity over direct singularity. As Vietnamese filmmaker, writer, and theorist Trinh T. Minh-ha notes, artists from marginalized backgrounds have been “socialized to see always more than their own point of view. In the complex reality of postcoloniality it is therefore vital to assume one’s radical ‘impurity’ and to recognize the necessity of speaking from a hybrid place, hence of saying at least two, three things at a time.” “Speech” from a hybrid perspective is clearly audible in Documenta, expressing how the specific experiences of the artists and collectives that comprise Documenta 15 are tangled up with broader social and political circumstances. Histories reside in various places—languages, archives, landscapes, stories, bodies, memories—and ruangrupa’s choice to disrupt the dominance of Western languages in an international art event is an opportunity to think about the reality that surrounds many of the non-Western participants. Many of the artists and collectives are reacting to circumstances that they cannot fully articulate: memory is mediated by various factors and fades as linear time progresses. Trauma, however, continuously punctures the present, requiring significant resources, information, and labor to process and digest. Specificities of perspectives, gulfs of experiences, and the permeability of the past that arise in the works in Documenta 15 reveal the various ways historical traumas make themselves known. South Korean collective ikkibawiKrrr and Hanoi-based artist Nguyễn Trinh Thi contemplate how elements of the natural environment can gradually hide and suddenly reveal traumatic memories. These artists use plant life as a proxy to contemplate how time, place, space, and stories can come together in artistic practices and to think about how cinematic techniques can reveal fractured and layered stories.

Read more of Inji Kim’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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