documenta conference: Us against the Empire

The documenta is hosting a "Lumbung" conference until Friday. The art historian Philippe Pirotte criticized white mainstream media there.

Philippe Pirotte smiles for the camera in a bright room.

For the art historian Pirotte, “conservative opinion makers” instrumentalized the documenta Photo: Frank Rumpenhorst/dpa/picture alliance

The Indonesian artist collective Taring Padi had a monument of grief over “the impossibility of dialogue”. redeclared a banner that had been taken down because of anti-Semitic depictions – a motto that could stand for the entire documenta fifteen. How hardened the fronts are became clear again on Tuesday, at the start of the lumbung conference organized by the art exhibition, which runs until Friday in Kassel and is broadcast online.

The Belgian art historian Philippe Pirotte, who was supposed to give a lecture on “avoidance of control”, kicked things off. But that wasn't really what it was about, rather Pirotte upheld the documenta as a project for all those who couldn't be spoiled by the incidents of anti-Semitism and the irritating communication strategy of those responsible for the 15th edition of the world exhibition. All the great aspects of the documenta didn't concern the "mainstream media", says Pirotte, they were busy with "something else".

According to Pirotte, the reason for the attacks by the media was that something was being built in Kassel that the majority of society could not bear. That's why everything was done "to discredit us".

Unilateral allegations

A few weeks ago he denounced the instrumentalization of the documenta by “conservative opinion makers”. Pirotte, who is a member of the documenta committee and advisory board, sniffs in an interview Frankfurter Rundschau behind the anti-Semitism accusations "forces that want an old, white, modernist organized community" - allegations in this newspaper as well as in the or the new germany were discussed.

The media coverage is not quite as one-sided as Pirotte thinks. On Deutschlandfunk, the international collectives represented at the documenta are regularly given broadcasting time beyond accusations of anti-Semitism. In the time a few days ago, Marion Detjen attacked the commission of experts and called the request to no longer show anti-Semitic films censorship.

in the mirror again, the focus of the allegations was not on the curator collective ruangrupa, but on those responsible in Germany. "Perhaps the global South was only invited because a few artists from Germany or Great Britain liked their role as igniters," wrote Ulrike Knöfel, who also stated that many in the art world have an obsession with the anti-Israel boycott initiative BDS.

Colonialism, colonizers and colonized

Now the allegations of anti-Semitism were hardly an issue, instead it was a lot about colonialism, colonizers and the colonized. Pirotte's reasoning was sometimes difficult to follow, even the two simultaneous translators had a hard time. The lecture, which he says was written together with other unnamed authors, is full of historical quotations.

He focused on the language, the lumbung vocabulary shaped by ruangrupa, on the power relations that were expressed in the language of the "Empire". Pirotte is probably referring to former colonial powers, stressing almost appreciatively that Indonesia did not adopt the Dutch language after the end of colonial rule.

But the "Empire" is still present with him, synonymous with the West, NATO, Europe (?), and is also used in this way by the audience in the hall. There are no critical questions at all in Kassel, most of the contributions are based on affirmative gratitude. Only the slogan "Make friends, not art" used by ruangrupa seems to cause confusion.

It depends on how you define friendship, says Pirotte, who will head the Städel Art Academy in Frankfurt am Main until 2020. Works of art can also be friends. Ultimately, however, the slogan expresses above all that art should not be created in a vacuum, but together with other things, in a network. As if that were ever possible.

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