Natalia Goncharova, The Pale Horse, from Mystical Images of War: Fourteen Lithographs, 1914. License: Public domain.

Issue #141
With: Sami Khatib, Evan Calder Williams, Nkule Mabaso, Serubiri Moses, Amol K Patil, Xinyue Liu, Dorota Jagoda Michalska, Sonia D’Alto, Matteo Pasquinelli, David Morris, Manuel J. Borja-Villel, Vasıf Kortun

Last month, Documenta 16’s Finding Committee resigned en masse following the resignations of Bracha L. Ettinger and Ranjit Hoskoté. In his written resignation, Hoskoté explained the high irony of being accused of anti-Semitism for having signed an online petition against an event hosted by the Israeli Consulate to India in 2019. The event drew an alliance between Zionism and Hindutva, the Hindu ultranationalist ideology that was inspired by European fascism and that proposed Hitler’s policy for Jews as a method for dealing with Indian Muslims. Yet Germany’s culture minister, Claudia Roth, denounced the obscure 2019 petition Hoskoté signed as “clearly anti-Semitic” for describing Zionism as “racist” and Israel as a “settler-colonial apartheid state,” threatening to withdraw state funding if Documenta didn’t cut ties with Hoskoté.

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11 Essays December 2023

Benjamin’s concept of experience, Erfahrung, remains speculative in the best non-positivist sense of the word. Its speculative ground, however, exceeds the speculations of theory. But what is left for the materialist intellectual who is to theorize the political, economic, social, and aesthetic conditions of poverty, deprivation, and precarity in the age of “very-late” capitalism? Eventually, Benjamin’s materialist argument comes down to a simple insight: the combination of poor experience and rich thought is poor in social consequences. Instead of gradually enriching thought through inclusive multidirectionality, radical thought must insert reductive shortcuts, one-sided interruptions.

On Paralysis, Part 1
Evan Calder Williams

How exactly does “paralysis” as a term and trope get used, beyond reference to actual bodily paralysis? In its most basic sense, it names a condition of inaction that persists against any intention to act or react. More specifically—and counter to the way that corporeal paralysis is often experienced and culturally envisioned as permanent, marking a catastrophic shift in how a life will be lived from that point on—paralysis as a figure of political and social thought instead frames a distinct kind of reversible breakdown, one that is not understood as violence, or even damage, per se. Rather, it implies a temporary interruption of the expected connections between thought and action.

By invoking eighteenth- and nineteenth-century history—such as the Haitian Revolution and the Chimurenga in Southern Africa—and transnational trajectories not only of artists and writers but of exhibitions, the panel on “Citational Practices” moved away from a tendency towards the nationalization of discourse. This movement is one of the gestures that makes solidarity and reproducibility possible.

As I continue to deepen my understanding of visual language, another source of inspiration is the sense of performativity inherent to gestures. This performativity is evident in the everyday gestures of people at work, while walking, or otherwise getting around the city. I see people as performative bodies, and I also believe that their daily movements themselves embody a kind of larger performative gesture.

Xinyue Liu

A photograph of a Yangtze River dolphin, commonly known as the baiji, was printed in one of my textbooks when I was a pupil in Dalian, China. I remember staring at a small white back submerged in a tideless pool. It was 2007, and our teacher informed us that the animal we were looking at was near extinction. The last known baiji had died in captivity five years prior. When I saw the photograph, I did not realize I was looking at a ghost—not just of an individual animal, but of an entire species.

To Follow the Grain
Dorota Jagoda Michalska

The relationship between Poland and Ukraine remains an ambiguous and vexed one. The border between the two countries embodies and replicates multiple divisions that continue to split the region, but also bind it in an indissoluble knot. The war in Ukraine, like past conflicts, has created a political alliance rooted in shared priorities and a deep-seated fear of Russian expansionism and imperialism. However, this solidarity is fragile and, as Warsaw’s ban on Ukrainian grain makes abundantly clear, subject to national political and economic interests.

In 1969, the same year as Pasolini’s Medea, Lina Mangiacapre returned to Naples after she had participated in the large 1968 student movements in the north of Italy. She had graduated with a degree in philosophy but since the revolts had devoted herself to painting under the pseudonym Màlina. Back in her hometown, energized surely by the magnitude of student and worker uprisings that would inaugurate a decade of country-wide insurgency, she cofounded the feminist collective Le Nemesiache (named for the goddess Nemesis), which had a clear goal: they “intended to bring myth back into the world.”

What is needed is neither techno-solutionism nor techno-pauperism, but instead a culture of invention, design, and planning that cares for communities and the collective, and never entirely relinquishes agency and intelligence to automation. The first step of techno-politics is not technological but political. It is about emancipating and decolonizing, when not abolishing as a whole, the organization of labor and social relations on which complex technical systems, industrial robots, and social algorithms are based—specifically their inbuilt wage system, property rights, and identity politics.  

Artists for Democracy’s commitment to the experimental took many forms. In artistic terms, it formed an uneasy alliance with various “traditional,” “folk,” or “popular” forms. This can be understood as a pragmatic extension of Artists for Democracy’s “broad front” politics, to be as inclusive as possible with respect to artists and audiences, but it can be also understood in terms of aesthetic strategy.

Proposal for Documenta 16
Manuel J. Borja-Villel and Vasıf Kortun

Traditionally, the importance of Documenta has been its ability to offer visitors tools to understand the world. But how do we continue fulfilling that task at a time when everything seems to immediately become a commodity, a flurry of infinitely interchangeable images that are neither tied to any substantial social relationship nor anchored in any particular territory or community? How do we accomplish that goal in a historical moment characterized by the extreme degradation of the public sphere and its democratic representations?


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