Lumbung, directly translatable as “rice barn”, is a collective pot or accumulation system, where crops produced by a community is stored as a future shared common resource.
This proposal started with the question on scale and responsibility. What could ruangrupa, an artists’ collective from Jakarta, Indonesia do if we were asked to be present for it, without falling into obvious traps of representational identity politics? What could a bunch of artists’ do answering this gargantuan challenge while refusing to fall apart or over-burn in the process?
ruangrupa, after in 2015 developing an Ekosistem together with other Jakarta-based collectives, Serrum and Grafis Huru Hara, is establishing an educational platform of this “collective of collectives”. We dub it Gudskul (pronounced like “good school” in English). The “school” (for the lack of a better word for now) is about collectivity and ecosystem-building, challenging the usual focus of mainstream education in individual growth, gain and progress. We deem progress is only worthy when we can share it to other people in our life. Through our regular annual program and shortcourses, Gudskul aims to spread virus of collectivism to other corners of Indonesia, not necessarily exclusive in art, to find their particular mutations in variety of contexts. Paradoxically, at least where we are coming from, we need to turn ourselves into an institution in order to decentralize further.
Having stated this, it would only make sense for ruangrupa to take part in documenta if our participation could fit this trajectory and way of thinking. What could this participation bring to our existing ecosystem and beyond—building and activating other ecosystems in the process? Would our engagement sustain, or restrain, us and our friends?
We deem documenta as a pool of resources. It has accumulated layers of history, knowledge, experience, money, institutional models, networks, the list goes on. How to make these pool of resources available more broadly? Starting to understand documenta economically, we cannot avoid thinking the sustainability of it all. The bigger question is: sustainability for whom?
Cultural and artistic funding models, as one major method of gaining sustainability in this field, are ripe for a revisit.
The global dependency of artistic cultural institutions towards the funding system—especially foreign fundings in contexts where nation-states are largely absent or threatened—creates a constant danger against the sustainability and existence of these institutions. Curiously, most if not all of these international funding institutions were established or coming from ex-colonizer countries, not coincidentally still the ones in control for the majority of the global resources until today. This condition has created a demoralizing state, where weakening process against the bargaining power of artistic cultural institutions are continuously eroded. It is not an exagerration to consider the power relations reproduced through the funders-grantee relationship were designed to extend imperialism—where power relations are asymmetrical and extraction-accumulation logics underline our contemporary practices. It renders everything we do sinful—breeding envy, gluttony, avarice, lust, pride, sloth and wrath in our relations with resources.
Nevertheless, mere criticism towards hand-out funding systems as new reproductions of age-old imperialism are tired. Answers for this so far has been hiding these imperialistic power relations deeper. We just get better at pushing more things under deeper rugs. Nation-state, as a system to gain the promised sovereignty, on the other hand, is clearly losing its grip, worldwide. For a long time already, we have decided to fight for our independence from either foreign funding or state sponsorship in our practice.
We deem this opportunity to be involved in documenta is another step to advance this goal. Could we utilize it as a channel, turning our questions into a virus, again to find its different mutations? The difference is now it needs to be in a planetary, no longer merely national or even regional, scale.
To begin thinking about this very proposal, we have looked into a form of Koperasi developed by Mohammad Hatta—Indonesia’s first vice-president who later hold the title of the Father of Indonesian Koperasi. Hatta’s version of koperasi was inspired from this “lumbung” system traditionally applied in Indonesian villages, aiming to build a “bridge towards non-capitalistic democratic economy”. This model of economy is based on his idea on democracy: rapat (assembly), mufakat (agreement), gotong royong (commons), hak mengadakan protes bersama (right to stage collective protest) and hak menyingkirkan diri dari kekuasaan absolut (right to abolish absolute power). These principles reflected an eclectic effort to combine Islam, socialism, humanism and collectivism.
In a time where real politics, practiced through conventional nation-state system, is doubtful, we deem a deeper understanding of scale is vital—both in time and agency. Deeper time, which turns climate to weather, could as well means turns intervention to practice. Institutional critique into institutional building. Deeper agency, on the other hand, brings different understanding of processes. What could only be limited to representation before, could now be expanded to occupation. The hierarchy of local-national-regional-global could therefore be horizontalized, with permanent negotiation between the scales, not one being subservient to the other.
From these understandings, derived from the sensibilities we have built (and are continue building) as an artists’ collective so far, we are proposing an institutional turn of documenta. It is a one-to-one direct engagement with the consequence of thinking documenta as a resource, as well as a product of certain ideology which in turns produce its own bureaucracy.
From gatekeepers to Koperasi
If documenta is a space and a resource, how should it dealt with its constituents? Can we open it up, turn it into an institution that distribute itself more evenly and hopefully challenge its model of sustainability in the process? This is clearly a homework for beyond than one edition, happening once in every five years. documenta only makes sense to us in a deeper understanding of time, deeper involvement. Through the scale of documenta, we would like to disrupt the contemporary art economy through practicing deeper redistributed global funding system, deeper sustainability for actors involved, connections between different modes of scales and scalabilities, functions of exhibitions.
We are proposing to rethink another form of working with documenta. Instead of “hiring” us to produce a series of big events, we would like to propose a more (although not perfectly) symmetrical “collaboration” between our two different institutions. If so, we could use the opportunity and resources offered by documenta to make another platform to look for and practice alternative artistic cultural funding body (again, for a lack of better term and understanding for now). Our principles guiding the inauguration of this funding entity would be equality, sharing, self-help, solidarity, openness and friendship. It is our aim to practice generosity, moderation, temperance, resistance, modesty, diligence and good humour through this entity.
We would like to practice our criticism against the traditional patterns of artistic cultural funding bodies existing up until today. We imagine this entity would support and work together with even more alternative educational initiatives, non-mainstream artistic productions, co-ops and artist or art institutions’ experiments towards sustainable independent models. In our preparation for documenta 2022, we would look deeper into and work with new and old networks and friend, to experiment with institutional patterns and models around the globe. To start with, the koperasi model developed by Hatta previously explained could serve as one of the interesting models we would like to develop further for artistic cultural activities.
This process would force us to work not only with artists and cultural actors, but also lawyers, economists, technologist, mathematicians and other progressive global institutions directly to influence real change. We are aiming for the result, on the other hand, to be a lasting mechanism that works from documenta 2022 and beyond. This will be a proof in the pudding towards a real understanding of sustainability, fostering a continuous collaboration between documenta, as a mother ship, and smaller institutions like us, in the future: a beneficiary and mutual planetary collectivism that could argue resources to be beyond geography and practical politics of today.
Through this process, we as artistic directors, could play a more humble role—as it is not us who holds the most expertise. We are not really holding the only keys to the gates as we would like to duplicate these keys in order to make broader access possible.
Literally meaning “independence”, the term istiqlal (or istiklal) has been used to title many things—the biggest mosque in Southeast Asia (located in Jakarta) and one of the most famous avenues in Istanbul, are just to name two of them. Looking at the origin of mosque, the space was intended to become a truly public space: for people to congregate (not only for moslems) in the form of exchanges (not far from the understanding of a souk, or market). These commodities of exchanges were not only understood in financial terms, but most importantly including knowledge and ideas. In a general sense, this vintage understanding of the space, is economical in origin. Using this imperfect analogy (on the brink of the identity politics under the global geo-conditions of today) artistically, we begin to see the possiblity of documenta 2022 to serve similar functions as Friday prayers, which are almost always followed by Friday markets. They are a routinely scheduled bursts of meetings, singular points to celebrate what have been practiced and produced on everyday basis. Always using discourses as disguises, the affair put trade as the main agenda: never fully stated, but always directly experienced.
After experimenting, playing, hacking and reimagining institutions in different planetary contexts, we imagine this burst of energy to happen in 2022, taking place in Kassel and most probably in other places where these processes unfold during our development through artistic and discursive events and meeting spaces.