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School Watch
September 2022

Field Notes: Gudskul, El Warcha, and *foundationClass*, Documenta 15

Catherin Schöberl

*foundationClass*collective, Becoming, 2022. Installation view, Fridericianum, Kassel, June 11, 2022. Photo: Frank Sperling.

El Warcha, Clever ways of stacking chairs, 2022. Installation view, Fridericianum, Kassel, June, 11, 2022. Photo: Frank Sperling.

Fridskul Common Library, Fridericianum, Kassel, June 17, 2022. Photo: Victoria Tomaschko.

*foundationClass*collective, Becoming, 2022. Installation view, Fridericianum, Kassel, June 11, 2022. Photo: Frank Sperling.

El Warcha, Clever ways of stacking chairs, 2022. Installation view, Fridericianum, Kassel, June, 11, 2022. Photo: Frank Sperling.

*foundationClass*collective, Becoming, 2022. Installation view, Fridericianum, Kassel, July 3, 2022. Photo: Catherin Schöberl.

El Warcha, Clever ways of stacking chairs, 2022. Installation view, Fridericianum, Kassel, July, 3, 2022. Photo: Catherin Schöberl.

Gudskul, 2022. Installation view, Fridericianum, Kassel, July 3, 2022. Photo: Catherin Schöberl.

Gudskul, 2022. Installation view, Fridericianum, Kassel, July 3, 2022. Photo: Catherin Schöberl.

With a collective as artistic director, Documenta 15 focuses on collaborative public learning with and from each other and pluriversal formulations of institutional critique. This is apparent even before visiting the exhibition, in the form of a glossary of foreign words and neologisms on the quinquennial’s website that elaborates ruangrupa’s curatorial practices. In the exhibition, learning and knowledge sharing are most concentrated at the Fridskul, the reimagination of the Fridericianum as a school, where lumbung artists do not primarily exhibit finished works but rather organic “translations”—ruangrupa’s term—of ongoing projects. [1]1
The Documenta 15 glossary defines “translation” as “a poetic way of bringing a project already existing in touch with more potential users. An alternative logic to commissioning.” See .
The result is a wide range of prototypes for unconventional social practices that dissolve the clear boundaries between art, education, and political activism. Another aspect of Fridskul is the idea of friendship as a method of mediation. This concept, which focuses on purpose-free relationships and eye-level exchanges, falters when not everyone wants to be friends, a common phenomenon in neoliberal working environments like the art institution. During and after the previous Documenta, for instance, critics expressed “how the working conditions at documenta14 apply to neoliberal conditions,” citing aspects such as subcontracting freelancers and the lack of paid sick leave. [2]2
Ayşe Güleç, Carina Herring, Gila Kolb, Nora Sternfeld, and Julia Stolba, Vermittlung vermitteln. Fragen, Forderungen und Versuchsanordnungen von Kunstvermittler*innen im 21. Jahrhundert, (Berlin: neue Gesellschaft für bildende Kunst, 2020), 8–18.
Such aspects still seem to apply, with regard to current conflicts between sobat-sobat and Documenta management or the “unsafe and underpaid working conditions” referred to in Hito Steyerl’s withdrawal from the fifteenth edition. [3]3
The mediators of Documenta 15 are called sobat (plural sobat-sobat), which means “friend” or “companion” in Indonesian. In a letter to Documenta organizers obtained by the German newspaper Die Zeit, Steyerl announced her withdrawal from the exhibition on July 8, 2022. See .
Distance can be generative and necessary in such an institutionalized context, but from some collectives, I gladly accepted the invitation to engage.

One of them was Gudskul, a collaboration between the collectives Serrum, Grafis Huru Hara, and ruangrupa, who founded the project in Jakarta in 2018. Gudskul’s practice is rooted in a critique of conventional educational institutions, which they oppose with collective and horizontal learning methods. For Documenta, Gudskul conducted the fifth iteration of their ongoing project Sekolah Temujalar (Temujalar School; “temujalar” combining the Indonesian words for “meet” and “spread”) and invited art collectives from the Asia-Pacific region to contribute to the curricula and move into Fridskul to live, sleep, cook, and learn together for fifty days. Rather than follow the efficiency mindset of capitalist educational institutions, the project focuses on the concept of nonkrong (hanging out). The space was filled with tools, craft materials, papers, mobile furniture, and information about the activities that have taken place at Gudskul and their structure. But details as to when these activities took place in Kassel was not easily accessible, and only some were included on Documenta’s official calendar. Thus, many visitors encountered a space where the disorganized and abandoned atmosphere led to questions as to what conversations and trains of thought might possibly have been triggered by the project. Temujalar School instigated valuable learning methods that emphasize commonness and autonomy but also risked arbitrariness, as access to activities was not guaranteed. But by resisting precise schedules, the collective seemingly practices a relaxed approach to time that opposes capitalist notions, another foundational principle of Documenta 15. At the same time, however, it highlights how the uninitiated are bound by these forces, as it is hard to accept missing out on something after having paid the price of entry and only having a limited amount of time to visit the exhibition. Perhaps then Documenta 15 has not been about the participation of visitors in lumbung after all but the collectives themselves, whose practices are only made available to outsiders as precious rarities.

Gudskul, 2022. Installation view, Fridericianum, Kassel, July 3, 2022. Photo: Catherin Schöberl.

Two floors up, Fridskul hosts the Tunisian collective El Warcha, a group of designers that has led workshops and carried out collaborative DIY projects since 2016. In Tunis, El Warcha offers a space for hands-on collaboration, building multifunctional furniture for public spaces with locals, and for Documenta 15, it has partnered with local schools. The organized chaos of El Warcha’s space recalls a classroom and creative workshop, and their sculpture-furniture encourages visitors to perceive their own bodies in unconventional ways. Like Gudskul, El Warcha has brought the vibrancy and unpredictability of the world beyond the museum’s walls into Fridskul, and some of their works can also be found in the rotunda of the Fridericianum, which was remade into Fridskul’s library in a joint decision-making process with other collectives. Importantly, books cannot be found here, an outcome of the reinterpretation of educational structures that has recast the library from a place of quiet self-study into a place of social interaction. But what does a library without books entail, and what forms of learning are possible here? Perhaps by dismissing the authoritarian concept of the canon, this bookless library suggests the possibility of reclaiming and refilling empty shelves or consciously maintaining the void for something yet to come. Fridskul’s collectives gesture toward the latter with their encounters, discussions, and social interactions that lack definitive and static form, offering a counterproposal to common educational methods, which are often characterized by singularity. As a participant or visitor or viewer, however, I had difficulty understanding my role in such activities and wondered if some collaborative aspects were lost in translation.

El Warcha, Clever ways of stacking chairs, 2022. Installation view, Fridericianum, Kassel, July, 3, 2022. Photo: Catherin Schöberl.

Rising from this library and reaching the ceiling are several dozen textile banners of various colors with statements, questions, photographs, and drawings by the Berlin-based collective *foundationClass*. “How to behave in a white institution?,” “Who has the right to enter the art academy?,” and “How do I integrate my never neutral position as a teacher into the lesson without putting myself too much in the centre?” are but a small sample of the banners’ questions and provocations. Founded in 2020 at the weißensee academy of art, the collective aims to facilitate access to art academies for artists and students experiencing structural racism and discrimination in Germany. [4]4
In 2020, *foundationClass*collective developed from the *foundationClass art school program, which was founded in 2016 at the weißensee academy of art berlin, and has since aimed to support migrants and students without German passports in academic matters.
By sharing their knowledge, strategies, and personal histories, they have created a “resistance toolkit” against discrimination, speaking not about but from diverse migrant perspectives. The banners are the result of six years of collective practice, strategy-sharing, and collective speculation about the current German education system and its deeply entrenched structural racism. [5]5
Extensive documentation of the banners can be found on the *foundationClass* site, .
Outside the Fridericianum, a roving audio installation by the *foundationClass*collective travels through Kassel’s public spaces in MiniCars, a cab company run by migrants, broadcasting interviews recorded with the drivers. Instead of merely making the venues accessible to the public, with this project the collective has expanded the exhibition space itself, allowing the art to infiltrate the city. The public sphere thus created produces unplanned, ephemeral contact with art and the diverse perspectives of a group of locals whose opinions are otherwise often rendered invisible.

*foundationClass*collective, Becoming, 2022. Installation view, Fridericianum, Kassel, July 3, 2022. Photo: Catherin Schöberl.

The public, its unconventional implementation into the exhibition program, and the creation of new spaces for public exchange is an important aspect of Documenta 15, demonstrating what Andrew Hewitt and Mel Jordans describe in their paper “Politicizing Publics” as the making public of private space through the individual expression of opinion. [6]6
Andrew Hewitt and Mel Jordan, “Politicizing Publics. A social framework for public artworks,” in The Everyday Practice of Public Art, eds. Cameron Cartiere, Martin Zebracki (London and New York: Routledge, 2015), 27–44.
The performative act of creating the public is about producing and doing, which animates the practices of El Warcha and Gudskul. Who is excluded and who is supported by institutional powers are important questions related to the politicization of public space, an aspect articulated by *foundationClass*collective. All three collectives create actively new and diverse forms of publicness, either by inviting visitors, communities, or other lumbung members into their spaces or by expanding those spaces into the public sphere itself. And all three collectives offer alternative educational strategies and formulate critiques of contemporary institutions.

Interestingly, Gudskul, El Warcha, and *foundationClass*, as well as the curators and other lumbung members, have agreed to formulate their institutional critique within a framework determined by the hegemonic forms of power that they themselves criticize. And although Documenta GmbH accepted ruangrupa’s invitation to participate in Lumbung 1 and supported their concept of presenting collectives instead of individuals, a pluriverse instead of universe, and non-Eurocentric perspectives, the corporate body behind Documenta has otherwise appeared unable or unwilling to apply the critique articulated by the curators and collectives to itself. Its hegemonic imprints seem to have hardly wavered, as evidenced by their handling of the anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and transphobic events of recent weeks, expressing a great and perhaps unforgivable lack of care if not an unreflective form of white violence and hypocrisy towards the artistic team, curators, and exhibiting artists. [7]7
An overview of the problematic incidents in the context of Documenta 15 is given in an open letter from ruangrupa, the artistic team, and the artists, published on e-flux Notes, .
Fortunately, on their own initiative, several lumbung members and residents of Kassel have organized public discussions to create the urgently needed space for mutual listening and sharing knowledge and feelings in the context of these incidents. [8]8
The public discussions are organized in a semi-official setting, to which guests are invited via newsletters and chat messages, apart from the official Documenta program. One of the organizers, Maria R. Collado of the Arts Collaboratory collective, pointed out that the initiative aims to facilitate a dialogue between those participating in Documenta 15, whether as artists, visitors, or other participants, as well as with citizens of Kassel, away from the media: “It is an organic initiative that tries to carry out the needed dialogue between the people who somehow participate in Documenta 15, as artists, as visitors, as cultural parties or as citizens worried about a real dialogue in which the media does not distort the intentions and reflections that concern us in society, art, culture and in our different and diverse contexts and ways of experimenting, sharing, and feeling.” Maria R. Collado, email with the author.
But a stale feeling surrounds the institution of Documenta, as without this volunteer commitment, crucial debates would simply have perished. Even if the institution itself struggles to implement certain changes, the participants may have developed a productive way to constantly challenge the status quo and to simply realize the changes they want to see. Such changes, in the case of the exhibiting collectives and despite Documenta 15’s shortcomings, refer to an anti-capitalist togetherness that follows neither a concrete schedule nor pressure to perform but rather takes time for long and intimate discussions that are often held away from the public eye, in other words, a way of making art and sharing knowledge that stands in contrast to contemporary capitalist corporations, as embodied by Documenta GmbH. This divergence between art and its institutional structures has only become clearer through the invitation of ruangrupa and other institution-critical collectives to direct one of the foremost exhibitions of contemporary art, thus making a debate of this kind possible after all. To echo a statement from *foundationClass*, “I strongly believe that transformation can come from a persistent practice of doubting and questioning.”

Catherin Schöberl is an artist, educator, and cultural technician. She graduated from the University of Cologne, the Academy of Art and Design Basel, and has attended courses at Zurich University of the Arts and HDK-Valand, Gothenburg. Interested in the interface between individual and collaborative artistic practice, she tries to dissolve the separation of art and mediation in her projects and reflections. In her theoretical work, she engages with the notion of publicness and the accessibility and representation of contemporary art in public space. She is a member of several juries and participated in residencies of the Goethe-Institut, Center for Art and Media – ZKM Karlsruhe, Mercator Foundation, and others.

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