Discussing documenta fifteen with Nora Sternfeld

Discussion on commons, contact zones, infrastructures in the light of documenta fifteen

21 April 2023, 6pm


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Discussing documenta fifteen
Nora Sternfeld, Dorothee Richter, Ronald Kolb

Nora Sternfeld:
Commons as Contact Zones
For documenta fifteen, ruangrupa proposed a project that challenged the classic notion of a “documenta” by using the concept of “lumbung” to ask questions about shared resources and alternative economies. What makes this approach so special is that – to a certain extent – it leaves the notion of art as representation behind, and proposes a new understanding of art as the collective creation of infrastructures and imaginations of another possible world. This shift from representation to infrastructure will stay with us for a long time to come. An exhibition is here not anymore about what is shown, but it becomes a context to do something together and to imagine what can be done when resources are understood and distributed differently.
Like many theorists and activists worldwide, documenta fifteen emphasized the performative dimension of the commons. I would now like to argue for understanding the commons not only as happy gatherings, but also as spaces for negotiation and contexts of conflict: as contact zones. As such, Mary Louise Pratt and James Clifford define conflictual contexts and processes of acting together. I argue for an understanding of the commons as contact zones, for conflictual convergences of struggles that cross powerful divisions.

Nora Sternfeld is a professor for art education at the HFBK Hamburg (Hamburg University of Fine Arts) and has held a documenta professorship at the Kunsthochschule Kassel.

Dorothee Richter:
documenta fifteen and Infrastructural (Mis)understandings
In the second part, Dorothee Richter explores the question of which infrastructural (mis)understandings led to a stalemate between the management and the artistic directors. Which forms of unspoken resistance did ruangrupa use and to which distortions did this lead? What deep structural changes in art discourse does this mark and what problems are we left with? Was non-autonomous art pitted against autonomous? What happens when an ideology hijacks an art exhibition? How did a paranoid basic feeling arise among the artists of documenta fifteen, and how can a common basis for the fight against the right be found again? How much commoning and how much conflict does a future form of artistic and curatorial debate need? Some questions and insights from the collaboration with ruangrupa and the Art Education of documenta fifteen for a Summer School.

Dorothee Richter is a professor at the Zurich University of the Arts and the University of Reading, and the publisher of

Ronald Kolb:
The Threatening Scenarios of Commons for the Exhibitionary Complex and Beyond
In this part, by following selected projects of documenta fifteen, Ronald Kolb will give a fragmentary view on the various threats that came with ruangrupa’s proposal for documenta with methods of decentered authority, of disengagement of the art market and art history, with a focus on collective practices, and a strong impetus toward the formation of webs of solidarities that establish a system of redistribution rather than of recognition. This talk will follow the challenges of this proposal for the exhibitionary complex and its core function as a representational space and will problematize its actual realizations in documenta fifteen.

Ronald Kolb is the Co-Head of the Postgraduate Programme in Curating, the Zurich University of the Arts and Co-Editor-in-Chief of the journal