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

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

e-flux Education

September 8, 2022
Field Notes: Catherin Schöberl on Gudskul, El Warcha, and *foundationClass*, Documenta 15
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Field Notes: Gudskul, El Warcha, and *foundationClass*, Documenta 15
by 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. 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. 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. 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.

Read more of Catherin Schöberl’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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