A start couldn’t have been more cheerful after all the arguments that have erupted over the past few weeks about documenta fifteen, with allegations of anti-Semitism and, most recently, vandalism. The setting sun sends its last friendly rays, a rather unusual-looking boat casts off, which is operated by pedaling cyclists on board, a ship’s horn – consisting of discarded cables – sends its horns over the water.
Before that, a young man in a light-blue bathrobe and slippers, swimming goggles on his forehead, recited a poem (“From the river Bad Berlin, that’s where I come from”) and handed over his flag. Corks pop on the shore, tearful farewells are imitated.
On the Schiffbauer Damm near the Berliner Ensemble, the spirit that the Indonesian artist collective ruangrupa actually has in mind with their documenta can be felt on this evening: community spirit, sustainability, alternative forms of living together. The scene on the banks of the Spree has something of utopia. You will see how much of it can be saved in reality when the ship arrives in Kassel after a sixty-day journey via the Havel, Mittelland Canal, Weser and Fulda – four weeks after the opening of the Documenta fifteen, which will then continue to be torn apart becomes or appears to its defenders as a place of bliss.
“Citizenship”, as the project supported by Volkswagen and the Fraunhofer Institute is called, is a floating documenta outpost that is now pushing its way through the landscape from Berlin to Kassel like a friendly ambassador. The ship was created from the inverted wooden roof of the Center for Art and Urbanism in Moabit. The creative quarter founded by the KUNStrePUBLIK collective in a former warehouse has existed there for ten years and is now without a roof.
Matthias Einhoff is relaxed about it. He sails west with Philip Horst and Harry Sachs, the other two collective members and co-directors of the center, and looks forward to meeting people at the waterfront. The mayors of the places addressed responded enthusiastically, he says. In the evenings, people anchor near campsites, and during the day they pedal their wheels to drive the ship’s propeller when the solar panels haven’t supplied enough electricity for the electric motor and the 39 batteries have to be recharged. This is also part of the concept: traveling entirely without fossil fuels.
The supply works in a similarly sustainable way. The groceries are brought in by Foodsavers. In the middle of the ship, various heads of lettuce, cucumbers and flatbread are stacked in two tubs, which are later processed. Likewise, improvisation takes place in the tightest of spaces in the shower, which is hidden behind a black curtain. An artist has placed her sewing machine, which works with foot drive, in front of it. Newly tailored clothes are to be made here from old clothes over the course of the trip. The patchwork jacket just sewn by a student is enthusiastically presented, but he forgot to close the pockets.
The textile artist accompanies the journey only part of the way, then other collectives come on board and demonstrate their practices wherever the “citizenship” anchors. This also includes the group Selbstbaute Musik, two members of which are screwing on another ship’s horn on the shore. A reed bassoon made from an old street lamp is still leaning against the railing there, the double membrane of which in turn consists of a balloon. Recycling is the principle here too – and empowerment, adds one of the instrument makers.
Then it gets serious, Captain Julia Blawert, otherwise an artist in Leipzig, urges us to leave. To prepare for her new job, she had to get a sports boat license. Now she stands casually at the huge tiller and steers the 18-ton ship into the middle of the river. The journey starts.