documenta fifteen: captured and content

Baruch Gottlieb
3 min readJun 18, 2022


documental fifteen, heterogeneous, accessible, resplendent in process and incompleteness, present-here-and-now-affirmative, is soft-imperialist, globalist art at its apex. New Edge — it’s gentle, loving, soothing and light, art for the righteous decline of the Western enlightenment project and paean for the rise of the Global South, salvaging what it finds useful from Western ruins, vainglory, pollution and precarity, to make the most of a post-coloniality which is still dependent on most-colonial arteries.

Come visit delicate, intimate, care-filled workshop spaces splayed open and, lovingly translated into English from whatever local language for your convenience. With all the best intentions of the curatorial collective Ruangrupa, what we see in the main halls of the Friedricianum resonates with a vexed generosity which is simultaneously also the involuntary surrender to global capital which unites all oppressed peoples of the world, both in Indonesia and in Germany. We see here evidence of desperately creative social practices, prototypes for the coming world of de-industrialization and involuntary migration, low-key joyously so, as it must be, for life must go on, and no-one knows better how to make unbearable life livable that those who emerge today from the trauma of dozens of generations of oppression without exit, the colonized, the women, the queer.

This exhibition shimmers and heaves with good intentions, it is an offering ,a blessing to the imperialist elites who prefer global misery to multipolarity, those whose ill-gotten gains the art-world for decades served to launder, here again obediently performing exoneration rites. Don’t worry about us, we will be ok. Indeed it seems as if the community-building-and-sustaining strategies of long-oppressed people featured in the quinquennial display, this brilliant comet of Western humanist values at the pinnacle of the global artworld schedule, are there to advertise themselves for employment in care work for the prematurely elderly, buckled and frail West, unable to consummate its grand vision for the future, which was only ever self-delusionary gangsterism.

Euro-america as glorified gangster culture, now seeks in the gentle disobedience of the Global South its palliative care. What we see in this exhibition is not a Global South emancipated to chart its own course, we see a Global South resplendent in its poverty as a model for the soon to be pauperized masses of the Global North. Look how these noble natives have endured generations of the most extreme exploitation and slavery and still maintained their dignity. Look at the ingenious, loving, caring, pains-taking practices they have developed under the most adverse circumstances, wearing their plastic footwear and kitchenware into shreds and then twisting these shreds to amuse their children. Look how serene and happy one can be to be poor. This is the message for Europeans delivered diligently by the board of elites which hired the Indonesian curatorial team to lead this edition of documenta.

documenta fifteen is a masterpiece of conciliation with a Western project in decline, that can not wipe its own ass. The last few editions have signalled a departure from the elevation of Western self-recrimination, guilt and exasperation, white macho histrionics, rich-dudes burden, stigmata of imperialist bad consciousness. Today, this sad-Nietzschean-prometheanism has been replaced with sanctimonious displays of captive feminine care-work, in jaunty colours, its grim perseverance. Joy James’ notion of captive maternals is helpful to understand this aesthetic, where monumentality has dissolved into everyday practice, resonating Beuys 7000 Oaks occasionally still silently shading citizens of Kassel from the harsh June sun, but here ever more precarious, provisional, and incidental. The captive maternal must prepare its progeny to survive or even succeed in futures without prospects of emancipation. With its bright and airy panoply of practices, performing perseverance and cultivating community to compensate where the state withdraws, documenta fifteen comes across polite and deferential to the powers that be. Even in its more wrathful moments, it is careful to remain faithful to documenta’s foundational purpose: to exclude the communist horizon.

A notable and mournful archive of working class struggle in Indonesia from The Institute of People Oriented Culture Taring Padi — in the Hallenbad Ost