Eleven people, closely entwined, form a tableau vivant. Voices ring out between lamentation and singing. First individually, then chorally. The impressive conglomerate is slowly starting to move. A hand seeks support, an arm grabs the adjacent shoulder, a foot takes a step forward. The sculptural figure begins to circle, intones mourning songs and lullabies, and dissolves again at a leisurely pace.

Isaac Chong Wai named the performance “The Mothers” after the woodcut of the same name by Käthe Kollwitz and expanded the performers to include various generations, genders and origins. “It’s about collective experiences of grief and suffering, of death and birth,” says the artist, who was born in Hong Kong in 1990. But also about the protection and resistance of the collective body – and about the repetition of history.

Next to Chong Wai’s video are three versions of Kollwitz’ sheet from 1922/23 from the holdings of the Institute for Foreign Relations (Ifa), which has toured 229 cities on five continents in a monographic exhibition since 1959. As part of the “Out of the Box” format, the curators Inka Gressel and Susanne Weiß invited six Berlin-based artists to subject the Ifa archive to a revision. They jointly researched the collection, which now comprises more than 23,000 works, using catalogs and online databases and then selected works from drawers and boxes in the depots at the Stuttgart headquarters and in Berlin.

The exhibition title “Spheres of Interest” is borrowed from a paper work by Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt. During her research, the Danish filmmaker Gitte Villesen came across the pioneer of mail art and typewriter art in the GDR – albeit as a blank.

Wolf-Rehfeldt’s name is next to her husband’s on two artistic posters, but only Robert Rehfeldt was listed in the Ifa directory. In the future, the 1932-born participant in Documenta 14 and this year’s Hannah Höch Prize winner will be named as a co-author. In addition, her great typewriting “Spheres of Interest” from 1975 was purchased.

With enlightening historical and current cross-connections, “Spheres of Interest” spans an arc from Joseph Kosuth’s conceptual art to the naïve painting of the almost unknown Franz Klekawka, from the realism of a Paula Modersohn-Becker or the sculptor Wieland Förster to the textile art of the Istanbul-born Zille Homma Hamid or one untitled panel by Rosemarie Trockel.

The fact that the bold mix of styles does not fray into randomness is thanks to the clever curatorial concept and the successful design of the interdisciplinary exhibition course – as well as the entertaining texts with thoughts and information from the artists about their dialogical work process.

A collaboration between Gitte Villesen and Lizza May David, born in the Philippines in 1975, focuses on migrant and colonialist themes. “Mischling” is the title of a collage made by Hannah Höch in 1924, which, in the context of May David’s photo-text work “The Unknown Filipina”, puts the ambiguous term up for debate, but also refers to aspects critical of colonialism in the Dadaist’s work.

The authorship of the object “Rhine water polluted” was also successfully revised. The “Green Collaboration” signed by Joseph Beuys and Nicolás García Uriburu on the label was again found solely under Beuys. Uriburu, who died in his native city of Buenos Aires in 2016, is now also being honored.

The bottle with the green-red Rhine water from 1981 – Adrien Missika’s year of birth – is part of a specially developed cargo bike that the French artist and activist uses to bring Fluxus art to public places. These include John Cage’s “Mozart Mix” and the wonderful chess sets by Japanese artist Takako Saito. The 93-year-old was unable to come to the opening, unfortunately she was too busy preparing for the exhibition. Perhaps the Fluxus pioneer will make it if Missika activates her “playing chess with the sun” on the Monbijou Bridge.

The humorous pop-up exhibitions are part of the extensive accompanying program, in which Chong Wai’s “The Mothers” will be performed live in the ruins of the Franciscan monastery church and for which the Israeli artist Ofri Lapid will conduct a “language tour” along the 44 exhibition routes of Joseph Kosuth’s “Art as an idea as an idea”.

Wilhelm Klotzek turned the inner workings of the Ifa archive outwards. As a display on the facade of the gallery, his “ZfK-Blende” opens transport crates with sculptures from the former center for art exhibitions in the GDR, whose collection was integrated into the Ifa inventory – but only partially after protests from East German museums.

A highly recommended exhibition that unfolds complex threads from different perspectives and at the same time is an excellent example of collective artistic-curatorial work that presents sensitive content in a transparent and appealing way and can fruitfully stimulate public discussions.

In view of the Documenta debacle, the question arises as to why Kassel and the federal government are not resorting to the Ifa’s expertise. The institution has decades of experience in the global exhibition business and is able to critically examine its own history and cultural politics. A skill that is sorely missed in Kassel.