There have hardly been any comics at the documenta so far. This year, documenta fifteen, which runs from June 18 to September 25, features two guests, the German artist Nino Bulling and the Australian Safdar Ahmed, who represent this art form. In addition, the Russian artist Victoria Lomasko, who has been documenting the consequences of the Putin regime in graphic reports for years and recently left her country as a result of the attack on Ukraine, was also invited to participate in the documenta.
Lars von Törne asked Nino Bulling what it means for him and the comic art form to take part in what is probably the world’s most important series of exhibitions for contemporary art. Nino Bulling’s works were published until 2019 under the name Paula Bulling and include the documentary comics “Im Land der Frühaufsteher” on how to deal with refugees in Saxony-Anhalt, the graphic poem “Lichtpause” and, together with Anne König, the book “Bruchlinien ‘ on the NSU terror.
In what way will you participate in documenta fifteen? My contribution consists of three parts: a book and an exhibition that grew out of the book. The second part is an anthology of queer and trans* comic artists that I edit together with Nour Hifaoui and Joseph Kai from the Lebanese collective Samandal Comics. We meet with all contributors in July for a two-week workshop, in cooperation with Kunsthaus Göttingen and Steidel Verlag. The following artists are coming to Göttingen and Kassel from July 11 to 23: Joseph Kai, Nour Hifaoui, Bilge Emir, Bea Kittelmann, Natyada Tawonsri, Michel Esselbrügge, Jo Rüßmann, Mloukhiyyé Al-Fil, Romy Matar, Nygel Panasco, Aki Hassan and Barracka Rima. And thirdly, I am founding a trade union for comic artists with a larger group of colleagues. There will be a public campaign for this in September.
You often work with your pictorial narratives in the border area between comics and fine art. What does it mean for you to be able to show your work in the context of the documenta? For me, the documenta is the largest framework in which I have worked so far. That means more resources and time that I could put into the work. I have thought very carefully about how I can use this opportunity for myself and the people I feel connected to through my work.
Part of your contribution is the book “Firebugs/abfackeln”, which has just been published by Edition Moderne and Colorama. How is this presented at the Documenta, and what else does your contribution consist of? I worked on “Firebugs/abfackeln” for about two years. At the documenta there are large ink drawings on silk that take up and expand the cosmos of the book. The book will also be available to read in the exhibition. The drawings in the room relate rather loosely to the story I am telling in the book and translate the themes into the room through the form.
The book deals with global events such as the climate crisis and ecological threats, as well as personal issues such as identity, love and the question of what makes people special. Compared to your previous research-based books, it seems to be a much more personal work. To what extent is the impression correct? It is true that the book is a personal one. For me, the boundary between political and personal issues is blurred. The themes of my earlier books also affected me very directly, including physically. Now I’m looking at the body as a place that affects traverses and shapes. I’m interested in how the malleability of our bodies relates to how we deal with ‘nature’ and the social contradictions that arise when it comes to trans identities.
To what extent was the book created specifically with regard to the Documenta, to what extent are other contributions tailored to the Documenta or created especially for it? I had been working on the book for about a year when the invitation to the documenta came. In coordination with the curatorial management, I then decided to show the work there as well. The exhibition is specially designed for the space I chose – Hafenstrasse 76, an industrial area in eastern Kassel. I was interested in the serial that this room, which was used for warehousing, brings with it. The other two projects – the anthology and the union – were already being planned. We then considered how we could best use the documenta platform for ourselves.
What does it mean for the art form of comics, which despite growing public recognition, still leads a certain shadowy existence, that it is now being honored in this way at documenta? Comics were always present at documenta, for example at documenta 13 Charlotte Solomon’s “Life? Or theatre?”. I am pleased that two contemporary artists, Safdar Ahmed and I, have now been invited. We stand for a generation of artists who value solidarity and cooperation. I find it interesting that Safdar and I both deal intensively with geopolitical issues, but also with our own bodies – he for example in his story “My Struggle with Crohn’s Disease”. For the workshop that I am organizing with Samandal Comics, twelve artists are coming to Kassel to create new work that is exciting in terms of form and content. It is important to us to think of the medium as a queer medium, and that not only means telling queer stories, but also thinking about how and with whom the work and its recycling cycles.