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Interview with ruangrupa: "We see exhibitions as a device"

ruangrupa is a collective of artists, activists and architects, among others, from Jakarta, Indonesia, which was founded in 2000 and, in addition to a gallery, also runs a radio station, publishes a magazine and has launched an art festival. They will curate documenta fifteen in Kassel in 2022. Due to Corona, the planned meeting with them at the opening of the semester had to be postponed.

Lerchenfeld: “The next curator should be an artist!” was a central statement a few years ago to critically question the appropriation of artistic practice by curators. Would you agree with this demand? What do you as artists do differently compared to formally trained curators?

ruangrupa: First of all, we are a collective. For documenta fifteen we also follow collective working processes within the artistic team. Furthermore, as the collective ruangrupa, but also in the artistic team for documenta, we always bring together different fields of knowledge and artistic disciplines. So we are artists, musicians, architects—we don’t differentiate. The interfaces between these different forms of artistic expression are important to us; they allow interesting processes and movements to occur. For documenta fifteen we have also brought in colleagues in the artistic team who have worked as curators, educators, mediators and activists. This way of working is important to us because we think of curating from an artistic, polyphonic perspective and as a collaborative process.

Lf.: You once said in an interview: “Making exhibitions has nothing to do with democracy.” (Springerin, 2007) At the same time, you work collectively; you are building horizontal networks and infrastructures for cultural producers. How does this fit in with your curatorial work? Which strategies or approaches do you develop to create a counter-power to the hierarchies existing in the art and exhibition business?

ruangrupa: We see exhibitions as a device, a means to get somewhere else we are interested in. They’re not exhibitions for their own sake, and in this understanding something like “democracy” (a questionable notion itself) should not only be the subject of the exhibition, but should be imbued in the making of one. Horizontality is another one of those questionable notions. Horizontality is not a value in itself; sometimes it’s actually not a smart move to be horizontal, but it becomes useful in order to show that there is a plethora of ways to imagine and practice things differently than the destructive methods the mainstream is using right now. Furthermore, working horizontally also means that you have to decentralize yourself again and again.

Lf.: In your opinion, productivity and efficiency should no longer be the only indicators for measuring success. The current coronavirus crisis has shown this once again. Which categories would you prefer instead?

ruangrupa: Perseverance and robustness. How one practice could withstand challenges brought by both time and space. To be relevant, one should see oneself as a constituent of something bigger. If you are part of a robust ecosystem, your sustainability matters to more than yourself. It would make it impossible for you to sit still as well. The categories you enumerate are measurable, but for experiences and educational moments in and for an exhibition, they are not tangible and therefore not useful. We are interested in sustainability and we understand this aspect as a concept that encompasses all areas of exhibition making.

Lf.: Is an exhibition like documenta still able to reflect developments in art and society, or does it perhaps need completely different formats?

ruangrupa: It could and should be. What we can answer is how it could still be important for us and our practice, and thus our relevant ecosystems. Questions on formats follow this trajectory of logic. The process will show what type of format(s) would be best to answer the challenges we are facing right now.

Annette Wehrmann, photography from the series Blumensprengungen, 1991-95; photo: Ort des Gegen e.V.

Conference: Counter-Monuments and Para-Monuments.

The international conference at HFBK Hamburg on December 2-4, 2021 – jointly conceived by Nora Sternfeld and Michaela Melián –, is dedicated to the history of artistic counter-monuments and forms of protest, discusses aesthetics of memory and historical manifestations in public space, and asks about para-monuments for the present.

23 Fragen des Institutional Questionaire, grafisch umgesetzt von Ran Altamirano auf den Türgläsern der HFBK Hamburg zur Jahresausstellung 2021; photo: Charlotte Spiegelfeld


Who speaks? Who paints which motif? Who is shown, who is not? Questions of identity politics play an important role in art and thus also at the HFBK Hamburg. In the current issue, the university's own Lerchenfeld magazine highlights university structures as well as student initiatives that deal with diversity and identity.

Grafik: Tim Ballaschke

Start of semester

After three semesters of hybrid teaching under pandemic conditions, we are finally about to start another semester of presence. We welcome all new students and teachers at the HFBK Hamburg and cordially invite you to the opening of the academic year 2020/21, which this year will be accompanied by a guest lecture by ruangrupa.

Graphic design: Sam Kim, picture in the background: Sofia Mascate, photo: Marie-Theres Böhmker

Graduate Show 2021: All Good Things Come to an End

From September 24 to 26, the more than 150 Bachelor's and Master's graduates of the class of 2020/21 will present their final projects as part of the Graduate Show at the HFBK Hamburg. We would like to thank all visitors and participants.

photo: Klaus Frahm

Summer Break

The HFBK Hamburg is in the lecture-free period, many students and teachers are on summer vacation, art institutions have summer break. This is a good opportunity to read and see a variety of things:

ASA Open Studio 2019, Karolinenstraße 2a, Haus 5; photo: Matthew Muir

Live und in Farbe: die ASA Open Studios im Juni 2021

Since 2010, the HFBK has organised the international exchange programme Art School Alliance. It enables HFBK students to spend a semester abroad at renowned partner universities and, vice versa, invites international art students to the HFBK. At the end of their stay in Hamburg, the students exhibit their work in the Open Studios in Karolinenstraße, which are now open again to the art-interested public.

Studiengruppe Prof. Dr. Anja Steidinger, Was animiert uns?, 2021, Mediathek der HFBK Hamburg, Filmstill

Unlearning: Wartenau Assemblies

The art education professors Nora Sternfeld and Anja Steidinger initiated the format "Wartenau Assemblies". It oscillates between art, education, research and activism. Complementing this open space for action, there is now a dedicated website that accompanies the discourses, conversations and events.

Ausstellungsansicht "Schule der Folgenlosigkeit. Übungen für ein anderes Leben" im Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg; photo: Maximilian Schwarzmann

School of No Consequences

Everyone is talking about consequences: The consequences of climate change, the Corona pandemic or digitalization. Friedrich von Borries (professor of design theory), on the other hand, is dedicated to consequence-free design. In “School of No Consequences. Exercises for a New Life” at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, he links collection objects with a "self-learning room" set up especially for the exhibition in such a way that a new perspective on "sustainability" emerges and supposedly universally valid ideas of a "proper life" are questioned.

Annual Exhibition 2021 at the HFBK

Annual exhibition a bit different: From February 12- 14, 2021 students at the Hamburg University of Fine Arts, together with their professors, had developed a variety of presentations on different communication channels. The formats ranged from streamed live performances to video programs, radio broadcasts, a telephone hotline, online conferences, and a web store for editions. In addition, isolated interventions could be discovered in the outdoor space of the HFBK and in the city.

Public Information Day 2021

How do I become an art student? How does the application process work? Can I also study to become a teacher at the HFBK? These and other questions about studying art were answered by professors, students and staff at the HFBK during the Public Information Day on February 13, 2021. In addition, there will be an appointment specifically for English-speaking prospective students on February 23 at 2 pm.

Katja Pilipenko

Semestereröffnung und Hiscox-Preisverleihung 2020

On the evening of November 4, the HFBK celebrated the opening of the academic year 2020/21 as well as the awarding of the Hiscox Art Prize in a livestream - offline with enough distance and yet together online.

Exhibition Transparencies with works by Elena Crijnen, Annika Faescke, Svenja Frank, Francis Kussatz, Anne Meerpohl, Elisa Nessler, Julia Nordholz, Florentine Pahl, Cristina Rüesch, Janka Schubert, Wiebke Schwarzhans, Rosa Thiemer, Lea van Hall. Organized by Prof. Verena Issel and Fabian Hesse; photo: Screenshot

Teaching Art Online at the HFBK

How the university brings together its artistic interdisciplinary study structure with digital formats and their possibilities.

Alltagsrealität oder Klischee?; photo: Tim Albrecht

HFBK Graduate Survey

Studying art - and what comes next? The clichéd images stand their ground: Those who have studied art either become taxi drivers, work in a bar or marry rich. But only very few people could really live from art – especially in times of global crises. The HFBK Hamburg wanted to know more about this and commissioned the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences at the University of Hamburg to conduct a broad-based survey of its graduates from the last 15 years.

Ausstellung Social Design, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, Teilansicht; photo: MKG Hamburg

How political is Social Design?

Social Design, as its own claim is often formulated, wants to address social grievances and ideally change them. Therefore, it sees itself as critical of society – and at the same time optimizes the existing. So what is the political dimension of Social Design – is it a motor for change or does it contribute to stabilizing and normalizing existing injustices?