In the marathon Documenta press conference yesterday, amid the talk of global political unrest and migratory forms across continents, the curator Dieter Roelstraete turned the conversation more local and focused on the Kurt-Schumacher-Strasse here in Kassel, the road that separates the “main city from the immigrants’ area in the north.”
He was referring to Nordstadt, the neighborhood where most new residents settle down when they move to Kassel, and where Documenta made a pointed effort to place many of the venues for this year’s edition of the revered quinquennial exhibition. No fewer than ten of the official spaces in the show are in the Nordstadt, and in the program’s notes for one of those, the Glass Pavilions on Kurt-Schumacher-Strasse, the area is described thusly:
One of the main traffic corridors in Kassel, Kurt-Schumacher-Strasse also designates a border. Geographically, it traces the line between Mitte at the center and Nordstadt in the north of the city; as such, it indicates a sociopolitical boundary as well. Whereas Mitte is the comparatively homogenous commercial and cultural hub of the city, Nordstadt is where Kassel becomes home to Turkish, Ethiopian, Bulgarian, and other migrant communities based there since the 1960s and ’70s, as well as those who more recently arrived from Syria and the Middle East.
The fact that the exhibition spaces are taking over the shells of stores owned by such migrant-owned businesses that “remind us of what Kassel once was and wanted to be, while exuding an air of waiting for an elusive future” seems like a slightly problematic reclaiming of space. But here in Nordstadt (where, as it happens, the ARTnews team is staying this week) there seems to be some trenchant unofficial counter-programming bubbling up among the radicalized Kassel youth.
Nordstadt is also home to the University of Kassel, and on certain nights, many of its students frequent Mutter Bar, a Nordstadt punk dive decorated with raunchy stickers, Christmas lights, and an open umbrella resting on a bannister. On Wednesday night, a group came into the punk bar handing out fliers, as one does, and informed those drinking pilsner and having smokes that they were squatters fighting the University of Kassel for their right to open an art and culture space. The proposed space is called “Unsere Villa” (“Our Villa”).
“In the past, self-organized and non-commercial structures and projects in Kassel have disappeared while at the same time numerous spaces and places are not open for our needs,” read a manifesto that they handed out. “The squatting and transformation of the Villa Rühl into ‘Unsere Villa’ is actively opposing this trend and aspires to create and provide free spaces and a place for everyone in the district Nordstadt.”
This seems in line with the mission of Documenta 14, with its desire to break down old forms and autocracies to create space for radical art. But it also seems to be acting against the very powerful forces of Documenta, which has the Kassel government in the palm of its hand for these 100 days. There’s a reason why the Lord Mayor was chumming up to the curators late into the night at the welcome event on Tuesday.
Maybe the squatters handing out fliers to gin up support for Unsere Villa won’t make too many waves in the face of the Documenta programming that has invaded their Kassel neighborhood—but maybe their strategy will help them get an art space.