It takes many to lumbung

I arrived in Kassel for the opening days of documenta fifteen after a short trip from Bucharest, the city I am now based in. A familiar smell of Indonesian clove cigarettes wafted over Friedrichsplatz, while Nasida Ria, a qasidah modern musical group of women from Semarang, Central Java, were on stage for sound checks. I was genuinely enthusiastic about arriving there for this moment, less at the thought of stepping for the first time in the same place where acclaimed artists have cemented their presence, but to reunite with friends and colleagues from Indonesia and with people I met during my almost a decade-long stay in Yogyakarta. It is to this context and to the people who form the art ekosistem – to borrow one of the terms used by ruangrupa in this documenta to refer to the reciprocal support within one collective or group – that I owe most of my current understanding and views on art and life. Without a prior background in the Western art canon, I gathered the knowledge of curating by taking part in this informal ekosistem of individuals and collectives, growing within a social space of art-making through many nongkrongs, discussions, and collaborations. They taught me the importance of assuming a positionality towards the colonial difference and that curatorial work is a shared and open practice emerging from the bottom without having to be validated by art institutions.

I was particularly excited about the thought that with this documenta, many people in the art world, especially peers from Eastern Europe, could now be acquainted with some of the practices and vocabularies I have learned in this specific locality, which always seemed so distant from the realities and imaginaries of this other – yet relatively similar – eastern region. Observing different reactions of trying to locate and translate some of the Indonesian terminologies brought by ruangrupa collective, I continued to reflect on the idea that while these terminologies indeed emerged from a particular socio-political and cultural context in Indonesia, engaging with them should not remain at the level of mere cultural translation (although one would need this prior introduction to further grasp its layered meanings). Nongkrong, majelis, or ekosistem, embedded as working methodologies to sustain the lumbung, need to be understood in their transgression of nation-state borders and linguistic translatability to allow us to think through them as propositions to question our own positions and our basis of working across a multitude of places, disciplines, and spaces of knowledge production, beyond the south-north dualisms. As Ade Darmawan, one of the members of ruangrupa, stated during one of his public appearances, lumbung has no universal applicability and needs to be adjusted critically to the localities we find ourselves living or working in.1

Even more importantly, I believe the notion of lumbung — which stands for a physical structure where surplus harvest is stored for communal use — goes beyond its potential applicability of resource distribution, and reveals some of the fundamental principles of life sustenance — circularity, mutuality, communality, and reciprocity – values which have been and continue to be manifested in various ways across many disparate geographies, some of which were now brought under the same roof at documenta. At the same time, lumbung was proposed as a temporary suprastructure (with focus on currency, land, kiosk, or the gallery) where the infrastructure and resources of the institution of documenta have been utilized (and challenged) to test ways of living together otherwise for the 100 days and particularly for what could continue after. Because lumbung is not only a noun, a concept, or a framework: It is also a movement built in relation with other entities, be it human or other-than-human, and with a multiplicity of shareholders together with whom the lumbung could be reciprocated and embedded in our day-to-day realities. 

These vocabularies and their inherent practices, which emerge from rich and multilayered socio-cultural spaces, can indeed teach us a great deal about sustainability and reciprocity, but we can also learn from the natural world and other non-humans, as Robin Wall Kimmerer, a scientist, professor and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation beautifully expressed with the case of the fungal network sustaining trees. “These fungal networks appear to redistribute the wealth of carbohydrates from tree to tree. A kind of Robin Hood, they take from the rich and give to the poor so that all the trees arrive at the same carbon surplus at the same time. They weave a web of reciprocity, of giving and taking. In this way, the trees all act as one because the fungi have connected them. Through unity, survival.2 I find this analogy very fitting and poetic not only with regards to the more practical framework of documenta fifteen through lumbung, but in general, because it moves along the same fundamental principle that everything in life is mutual. And it is perhaps this aspect that many have misunderstood about last year’s documenta. It did not try to destabilize the current system of art-making or the status-quo of the institutions, but the opposite — it tried to restore what the colonial powers have always denied and oppressed, that all forms of life are built reciprocally and mutually. To follow what Rolando Vásquez named as “the time of the Earth,” we need to recuperate this precedence by decolonizing aesthetics to recover aesthesis,3 a proposition that would allow us to experience other ways of sensing the world.

While we might still feel trapped in a reality where artistic productions continue to cultivate the linearity of art history and its aesthetic hegemony, how can we move towards cultural (and ecological) sustainability if we cannot even imagine what the path feels like? Documenta fifteen offered us this privileged moment to experience, sense, imagine, and project a future for art and life practices that are, and could be more meaningful, just, grounded, and collaborative. What has been emphasized and what I came to understand as a task I need to embark on myself is that we cannot think of artistic practices as insular. We need to mobilize a multiplicity of life forms and networks (be it institutions, cultural workers, or other-than-humans) to mutually sustain each other in this communal act of repair and survival. And this task is ours — scientists, artists, shamans, curators, architects, policy makers, politicians, and many others. As a response to the invitation of Mezosfera to share experiences, projects or works made by lumbung members or artists, I immediately thought of my encounter with the work of Jatiwangi art Factory (JaF), a community in West Java I had not known much about prior to documenta. Perhaps in a way analogous to the fungal-tree relationship, JaF is for me an example of how artistic and cultural work can act as a network to nurture an ecosystem of humans and non-humans whose existing infrastructure and resources are mobilized in unity for common use and survival. 

Hübner Areal, Jatiwangi art Factory, Kassel, 2022. Photo: Frank Sperling

Established in 2005, JaF is a community that embraces contemporary arts and cultural practices as part of the local life discourse in the Majalengka Regency, a rural area in West Java. A center of brick production and formerly the largest roof tile industry in Indonesia, Jatiwangi is an industrial area where the majority of labor activities revolve around turning soil into bricks. As local inhabitants themselves, and some trained as artists, the work of JaF members has been to think about how the identity of this particular town is in itself a culture, where clay is not only seen as a resource to be exploited for capital interests, but one that constitutes a culture. Their manifold activities, always involving the local public, include a video and music festival, a residency program, a discussion series, and a TV and radio station, among many other initiatives. Committed to negotiating this territory as a cultural space together with the community, the local government, and other stakeholders who have in time became part of their ecosystem, JaF uses different strategies of art and policy-making which have a direct effect on the development of their shared common space. 

As with many other groups at documenta fifteen, JaF tried to relocate some of their activities from Jatiwangi to Kassel, organizing clay workshops, music events, talks, or new programs such as the Collective Forest Perhutana, an initiative to build a collective forest to strengthen the identity and self-sufficiency of Jatiwangi by balancing the fast urbanization of the Majalengka Regency. Their allocated venue at the Hübner Areal showcased documentation of past and ongoing projects and artworks made by invited artists, while many of the community members lived in the building right next to the space. This has been a strategy often employed by JaF when invited to participate in international venues, but as Arief Yudi, one of the founding members, told me in a conversation we had in Bucharest last summer,4 this was no longer sufficient to hold on to. They had to seize this moment offered by the platform of documenta to speak louder about some of the pressing issues they were facing locally, nationally, and in relation to similar contexts around land and rural struggles experienced by other lumbung members. Through the New Rural Agenda and the Summit opened at documenta fifteen, not only did they use the platform as a stage to make a statement to be heard globally, but also challenged the temporality of an art event and came up with a complex agenda with political implications that could reposition and acknowledge art and culture’s capacity for social and ecological transformation.

Banner of New Rural Agenda on the columns of Museum Fridericianum. Photo: Adelina Luft

The New Rural Agenda (NRA) grew out of the situation and condition of Jatiwangi, where apart from the existing industry, large corporations of well-known shoe brands expanded their factories in the area. For JaF, this unsettling relationship between the urban and the rural does not rest in the main narrative that people are being forced to move from the rural to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the urban economy, — as also claimed in the New Urban Agenda initiated by the United Nation which anticipates an increase to 60% of the world’s population in metropolitan areas by the year 20305 — but that the urban is expanding its capitalist tentacles into the rural. According to the members of the NRA, the lack of global discussion on rural life by elite policymakers is a sign of looking at rural life as an object or a powerless entity, as merely a kind of support for city life. 

I can now recall that perhaps the smell of clove cigarettes that greeted me on my arrival in Friederichsplatz was left behind by the many Indonesian village representatives, mayors, artists, but also policymakers invited to form and deliver the mandate of The New Rural Agenda at the Summit which took place on the 21st of June inside Fridericianum (chapter I and II) and in the front square (chapter III). As an artistic and performative statement to experiment with other existing conference models, the Summit was built on the work of the New Rural School in 300 villages throughout Indonesia,6 the decades of work of members of Jatiwangi art Factory in Majalengka, and on knowledge exchange between members of the lumbung, including artists, activists, ecologists, entrepreneurs and communities from Colombia, to Argentina, to Mali, South-Africa, China and Spain. Besides, mobilizing an infrastructure of people arriving in Kassel by the hundreds, it also included non-human delegations like soil from Indonesia, Mali, Mexico, or Palestine7 as a crucial aspect within the mandate to include the presence of both humans and non-humans as actors of the same ecosystem. 

The reading of Martabat Penghuni Bumi in front of Friedericianum. 21 June 2022. Video: Adelina Luft

The Charter of Martabat Penghuni Bumi8 was read out loud in different languages by JaF’s invited representatives, collectively vowing a commitment to the rural, to land, to the commons and to a sustainable life, followed by rampak genteng performance, a ringing soil ritual which takes place every Earth Year (once in three years) in Jatiwangi with the participation of thousands of people. At the Summit, the mandate was handed over to the representatives of world organizations such as UNESCO Science Divisions, World Resources Institute, DOEN Foundation, some of which responded positively to the request to follow-up the agenda at the level of global policy-making.9 The New Rural Agenda, however, is different from that of the world organizations, in that it is a bottom-up initiative put forward by trans-local grassroots communities who play an important role in contextualizing cultural resources in their respective areas and in generating collective power in dealing with social and ecological issues. 

Rempak Genteng (or the ringing soil ritual) performance in front of Friedericianum, 21 June 2022. Video: Adelina Luft

While many lumbung members continue to take the work started at documenta back to their respective localities, NRA continues to echo beyond documenta itself. In response to the invitation of the Indonesian Ministry of Culture and Education, NRA was discussed again in September 2022 at the G-20 meeting in Borobudur, where JaF initiated a program in which artists from different community-spaces in Indonesia were invited to work together with the villages around the Borobudur area. Another major event that is going to take place in November this year is the Cultural Intangible Heritage Conference in Paris, where the agenda to be officially accepted by UNESCO in line with the UN-Habitat of New Urban Agenda will be pushed forward by the members. This could represent a major shift in the way we envision change and the role of artists or cultural workers as agents of these transformations.

The question about what remains after documenta fifteen has often been raised by the skeptical voices caught in the wave of accusations and political power plays that have overshadowed its actual intention and struggle. What we are left with now is to think about what we, as visitors and cultural agents operating in various localities, are able to take away from the values embedded in the lumbung — as a way of thinking and acting — to our own ekosistem. For me, documenta fifteen was both a moment to celebrate the successful manifestation of almost five years of hard work done by our colleagues at ruangrupa (and let us never fail to remember that they have organized it during the pandemic, which seen from a post-pandemic perspective, only reinforces the importance of thinking through the lumbung). I also realized that we are, in fact, witnessing the change of an era and the beginning of something new, or so we continue to hope.

From left to right: Adelina Luft (curator), Daniel Lie (artist), Alia Swastika (curator, director of Biennale Jogja), 18 June 2022. Foto: Adelina Luft

Adelina Luft (b. Romania) is a curator and cultural organizer whose practice emerged and developed in Yogyakarta (Indonesia) along decolonial lines of thought and modes of work that favor processes, collaboration and interdisciplinarity. Her curatorial projects address trans-local affinities, overlooked histories, human/nonhuman relationship with land, migration, and identity. Since 2021, she has been based in Bucharest, where she continues to initiate interdisciplinary and socially-engaged art projects – most recently We Are Here to Stay with Arab immigrants/refugees at the National Peasant Museum, or the fully-commissioned group exhibition Ecologies of Repair at Gaep gallery. She is currently a collaborator at and co-curator for Biennale Jogja Equator 2023, where she previously took on various roles for the 2015 and 2017 editions. Adelina holds a BA from the National University of Political Studies in Bucharest and an MA in Visual Art Studies from Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta. She often contributes with translations, presentations and texts about Indonesian art, more recently for the book A History of Photography in Indonesia: From the Colonial Era to the Digital Age published by Amsterdam University Press and Afterhours Jakarta. She participated in several curatorial programs, among them What Could/Should Curating Do in Belgrade (2022) supported by the Kadist Foundation and The Romanian Cultural Institute, Kuandu Museum of Fine Art in Taipei (2018), ODD in Bucharest (2018), and Curator’s Agenda in Vienna (2016).

What did you learn at documenta 15? is an open-ended issue edited by Dóra Hegyi, editor of Mezosfera, curator, and project leader of Budapest and Gyula Muskovics, independent curator and artist based in Budapest. If you would like to contribute, please submit your proposal, including a 200-word abstract and your short bio in English at

  1. “Let there be lumbung part I” Conference, 2:47:00 – 2:48:44,
  2. Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, Milkweed Editions, 2013, p. 20.
  3. Lecture by Rolando Vásquez, Associate Professor of Sociology, University College Roosevelt of Utrecht, “Transforming Institutions on Social and Climate Justice”, organized by Jan van Eyck Academy
  4. Withști, we invited Arief Yudi to speak about The New Rural Agenda at the The Experimental Station for Research on Art and Life, Siliștea Snagovului on the 23rd of July. Event information:
  5. The New Urban Agenda handbook, accessed at
  6. Prior to formulating the agenda, JaF initiated four local meetings in different regions in Indonesia to deliberate with local communities, grassroots organizations, and cultural activists: The Head Villages Meeting (Jatiwangi), the Women’s Meeting (Poso, Central Sulawesi), The Youth Meeting (Maumere, NTT), and Congress Para Tanah (Bogor).
  7. Concept Notes of Jatiwangi Art Factory written on 17th May 2022, sent via email, conversations with Jatiwangi Art Factory.
  8. Roughly translated as “The Dignity of Inhabitants of the Earth”
  9. The world organizations that followed up the invitation of the New Rural Agenda to collaborate at the level of policy-making are, among others, the Indonesian National Commission for UNESCO (in Paris), German National Commission for UNESCO, Doen Foundation, Goethe Institute, Mayor of Segou, Kassel, and Majalengka Regency.

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