Practitheorizing Counterinstitutions at Documenta Fifteen

September 9-10, 2022, Kassel – The workshop Practitheorizing Counterinstitutions is organized by IMAGINART at documenta fifteen in Kassel, Germany. IMAGINART is a project led by Chiara de Cesari. I took part as harvester on the topic of Creative institutionalism in an Asiocentric world (with farid rakun, ruangrupa, and Ming Tiampo and hosted by Nuraini Juliastuti) and as a storyteller on Rethinking transnationalism (with Paul Goodwin and Mi You and hosted by Eszter Szakacs).

In this collective thought exercise, we take lumbung in the form it is practiced within documenta fifteen as a starting point for reflecting on how imaginative institutionalism is being experimented with in different parts of the world. Lumbung is Bahasa Indonesia for rice barn, but it can refer, more generally, to places in domestic and community environments where agricultural produce is collectively stored. The artists’ collective ruangrupa transformed it into a transnational tool for gathering different cultural institutions and artists/activists’ collectives. The aim is to create an ecosystem that lasts beyond the 100 days of documenta. Lumbung blurs the boundary between art and social organizing. As such, it comes close to many grassroots projects all over the world that are using artistic means to obtain sustainable socio-institutional effects. Disrupting national frames, documenta fifteen’s lumbung brings them together mobilizing a national cultural institution as a device for international, or rather transnational, institution-building of a new kind. Imaginative institutionalisms elsewhere then must be brought into the frame for the broader significance of the lumbung practice at documenta to be fully understood.

The lumbung method is based on agricultural community practice and explores collective structures and structuring in the world. Here, practice entails theorizing, and theory is a practice itself. Both modalities are embedded and produced through ongoing reflection and discussion within the communities of reference. In other words, the relationship between theory and practice is not rigid or hierarchical but rather recursive and constantly renegotiated. In the spirit of this way of practiheorizing, we have devised a tripartite, dialogic structure within which participants engage with the possibilities of non-extractive instituting practices. Divided over nine panels of three people we ask: What are other examples of radical institutionalism mobilizing art practice? How can forms of dispersed yet networked instituting be theorized? What futures might open up if institutions are infused with a generative fluidity?

In the workshop, invitees alternatingly adopt the roles of Storytellers, Theoreticians, and Harvesters. They rotate through these distinct positions over a series of panels. These rotations and movements reflect our methodology within IMAGINART, where we are very conscious of the mutable, relational quality of positionalities and the importance of recognizing this fact. More importantly, by inviting participants to shift between modes of engagement, we acknowledge that practice is produced and reflected upon at the same time, and that theory emerges from and exists in collective practice. This is the basis for our hopeful, practical theorization of yet-to-be institutional frameworks.

By combining practice with theory and reframing the latter as compost to fertilize crops from which to harvest institutional imaginaries, we seek to create the conditions for re-thinking the im/possible institutions we want to inhabit.

Participants of the workshop: Ann Stoler, Melani Budianta, Ilenia Caleo, Quinsy Gario, Paul Goodwin, Annie Jael Kwan, Lara Khaldi, Jeroen de Kloet, Wayne Modest, Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes, farid rakun (ruangrupa), Deborah Thomas, Ming Tiampo, Wet Hole Group (Nikita Kadan, Bogdana Kosmina, Alina Kleytman), and Mi You.

This workshop is organized by IMAGINART at documenta fifteen in collaboration with lumbung interlokal members The Question of Funding and OFF-Biennale Budapest.

Organizers of the IMAGINART workshop: Chiara De Cesari, Andrea Elera, Erick Fowler, Nuraini Juliastuti, Yazan Khalili, Abdulkerim Pusat, Aria Spinelli, Eszter Szakács, and Carine Zaayman.

Practitheorizing Counterinstitutions is the companion to the event “What kind of we could we be? Collective thinking by collectives” on September 11, 2022 organized at documenta fifteen by Asia Forum X Worlding Public Cultures.

IMAGINART: Imagining Institutions Otherwise: Art, Politics, and State Transformation is a research project at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam and is funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO).