We Need to Talk - An Attempt To Talk

- first reflection note at the beginning of Semster at Master Art and Public Space

Before going on this study trip I was thinking about something I read in the book The Dawn of Everything A History of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow. The question that was stuck in my mind „.. How equal would people have to be in order for us to be able to say we’ve „eliminated inequality“?“ (Graeber and Wengrow 2021, 7). The authors use the figure „The richest 1 per cent of the world’s population own 44 per cent of the world’s wealth!“ (Graeber and Wengrow 2021, 7) It is a common figure, well known, often heard but still the dimensions of this inequality are shocking and threatening. But they are the realm of private and public space, and determine the injustice that is common to both places. I am not one person in the richest 1 per cent of the worlds population, I am somewhere in these 99 per cent. But I do life under two passports, from which one is German, so European, that already equips me with a lot of privileges. The trip to Berlin to participate in the program „Fieldwork“ by the research group MEMORYWORK and the trip to Kassel to visit the Documenta fifteen had been intense days. I haven’t completely reflected onto the past trip and feel myself still in the emotion of being overwhelmed. I don’t have the urge and it appears to just not being my time to speak right now, after having listened and looked at so many different thoughts and works, that to me express much more the urge and the need to be spoken and brought into the world. But I am writing this with the use the title of the talking panel „We Need To Talk“, that Ruangrupa wanted to initiate and due to several concerns was unfortunately canceled. We Need To Talk means to me to address the different backgrounds, perspectives, discriminations, as well as thoughts, knowledge and concerns. We Need To Talk means to me to use the talk, the gathering of talking, and exchange through talking to form a society. If I want to form a society I need to talk as well, even though if that is a discomforting situation. This trip had been an incredible privilege, that when talking about social injustice at the Documenta, as well as when talking about memory work for example, made me feel sometimes very uncomfortable. You join this conversation with your very own context, and can first only address yourself and your responsibility. There is paradox of being in a safe bubble, while talking about political and social conflicts and injustices, which I don’t know how to handle for myself, yet. To me talking is quickly a moment of performing the own knowledge. Talking is a vulnerable position, in which one experiences an encounter of private and public self. Performing the own unspoken thoughts can be relieving but also frightening. The threshold of private to public seems to me to be the voice, that is a physical process within the throat, but doesn’t become visible except from the moving mouth. But we need to talk to be visible and to carry out what has been invisible. During the Fieldwork for MEMORYWORK we visited the commissioned performance work Huddle (1961) by Simone Forti being performed at Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin which was performed for 1 We Need to Talk - An Attempt To Talk Francisca Markus the Berlin Art Week. The Huddle is performed by a group of approximately ten people, barefoot but with casual clothing and lasts in-between 10-15 minutes. The performance took place in the middle of the glass Pavillon on the upper level of the Neue Nationalgalerie. The performers enter the space and position themselves in a circle and hug each other like a team does before a sport match. They put their heads together, and lean into the cycle with their upper bodies, while they put their bodies under tension and spread and cross the legs to create a strong, firm and non shakeable infrastructure. They follow a movement sheet, a notation for this performance that while being very precise still leaves space for improvisation. One Performer disentangles themself out of this human knot and the others close the left-open space. The performer slowly puts a foot onto someones thigh, two hands onto two different shoulders or arms and pulls their body up. Slowly the performer climbs over this temporary huddle and get down at another spot. The person joins back into this fluid monolith, and adapts into the new structure. From this position, after resettling into the composition of bodies, another performer leaves the group slowly and climbs in a similar method as the previous one did, over the temporary human monolith. This temporary monument of bodies reminds me of a flexible architectural construction for earthquake regions. A flexible construction that reacts to movements, to changes and disruptions and that hopefully resists an earthquake. It is a construction where every item, or rather everyone, is equally needed to sustain the structure. It is a structure that structures itself. Maybe this huddle can be seen as a counter-monument in this context. A monument that doesn’t commemorate something, but asks to do something. A monument where everyone gets to try out every position and doesn’t stick just to one. A monument as a module of how to gather and how to discuss. “You are not just body and mind, you are in the world, and I think it’s important to acknowledge all the voices that come to us through the media, to interpret the information, to try to understand how the information is formed and how we can relate to what is happening, how we get our impressions.” - Simone Forti (Steffen, 2012) The Huddle performs something for me that speaks about human abilities. This game of keeping a tension, relieving it, and getting back into tension, oppose the tension, collapse in tension and rebuilt the tension; to me this appears similar to how we discuss a conflict and basically how we interact as human beings. I have a big interest into knots, and was fascinated by them since I understood that the knot is only strong and powerful under a certain tension. This tension to me is a metaphor for human interaction. The Performance Huddle from Simone Forti is a similar metaphorical image. Maybe this metaphorical image created by the huddle can be described with the web of relations defined by Hannah Arendt. Hannah Arendt describes society as a web of relations in which every human is weaving their yarn into the textile of society. The yarn is their story or identity, thoughts and actions. Everything we do, is a yarn in this textile. Society as an ever growing textile that necessarily needs some tensions in order to hold together. The textile gets only stronger the more yarns are weaving long paths and knotted well in tension at the end. Whatever you do or speak interferes with the world around you, leaves a print, and interweaves with more yarns. (Arendt, 1998, 181-188) In an interview with Günther Gaus Hannah Arendt speaks about the web of relations and the being public, which she wrote about in her Text The Human Condition. „… This Venture in the public seems clear to me: One exposes oneself to the light of the public, namely as a person. Although I am of the opinion that one must not appear and act self-consciously in public, still I know that in every action the person is expressed in a way like no other - in action and speaking, speaking is a form of action - like no other activity. … the second venture is: we begin with something, we weave our thread into a web of relations, what will come out of it, we never know. … Quite simply a concretely true, because one cannot know. That is a venture. And now I want to finally say, that this venture is only possible with trust in humanity. …“ (Interview: Gaus, Günther / Arendt, Hannah) What will come out of it, we never know… this leads me to the second step of the study trip to Kassel. After being discussed so much in the media, and picked to pieces I was really curious to go to documenta fifteen and make up my own mind. The first few hours showed me how much I am influenced and depend by my own Habitus. We can never enter a space with a clear mind, regardless our context, the context of the space, and in an art exhibition even less. I fell into the trap of putting on my judgmental western glasses, and felt lost. I felt lost in a mixed feeling of guilt, ignorance for history, empathy for the artists and collectives, and stuck in my ways of seeing which had been schooled by traditional western art academies. But then I stumbled over the work from ARAC tied together in the publication PROVOCATIONS, which is a collection of the questions and saying that the collective had been thinking and working with. I want to share some questions from the book: How do we protect our critical vocabularies? How do we, at the same time, enable them to be mobile, to be flexible and to evolve? What do we mean when we talk about decolonisation? Has the word lost its critical currency? How do we get to the point where the people we care about can understand us? Does education actually ever resolve anything? What constitutes «Seriousness»? Who has written our biographies and how do these biographies constantly inscribe themselves on us? Culture is stored as muscle memory. The museum should not only be understood as a building „in the sense of a place to go and look at art“; a museum should also be understood as a gold standard in „its function pithing the context of fine art’s discursive field“. … These questions and sentences triggered me to exercise my muscles. Culture is stored as muscle memory, so maybe we should join this training and challenge our muscle memory. I find it very dangerous, that Ruangrupa got such a big headwind from the German press for their exhibition making, and find the proportions of criticism got completely out of hand, furthermore they are very mislead. I see in the way of how newspapers, not matter if right or left, argued is just speaking for itself, and demonstrating a bigger internalized racism. There is a big egocentric struggle to keep the exhibition spaces as elitarian how we are used to. But Art is a tool to speak about social and political injustice, to raise awareness, to express sorrows and tragedies, artistic working can be a tool to counter traumas. And this won’t result into polished and sleek works, that we can easy measure and categorize. This means actual work to understand the work. Art is not there to comfort, but to talk about what is „discomforting“. Art is regardless always exclusive, and will probably ever be. The more we should be happy about situations and possibilities that make these spaces different, and include some other public reality. You could find a lot of mind maps at Documenta and even visited a talk about mind mapping digitally on the miro platform at HKW in Berlin. Mindmapping can be one of the first tools to create a two dimensional space to gather information, exchange and understand. At first I was very confused to see so many mind maps in several exhibition spaces and contexts. But the photos that I took of them are the ones that I look back at more often than any other. Regardless of how chaotic they may seem, it is up to you to follow one line in them and gather some new knowledge. Maybe we are more required to re-mind-map our world than ever before. I realize towards the end the text sounds a bit simple-minded and maybe that is dangerous to see things simple sometimes. But I wish to sometimes speak and think about the world and our work in an honest way, and to trust into the effect that the act of doing can have.


Arendt, Hannah (1998): The human Condition. 2nd edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp.181-188.

Interview: Gaus, Günther with Arendt, Hannah (1964): Zur Person. ZDF: https://youtu.be/iZILhvVX_C0

Graeber, David / Wengrow, David (2021): The Dawn of Everything A New History of Humanity. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pp.7.

Steffen, Patrick (2012): Forti On All Fours: A Talk with Simone Forti. Online: Contact Quarterly Online Journal, https://contactquarterly.com/cq/unbound/view/onallfours#$ 4