BY Frida Sandström in Opinion | 01 NOV 22

Trampoline House’s Meandering Social Practice

Frida Sandström traces the activities of the activist group as it brings its social practice into an itinerant state

BY Frida Sandström in Opinion | 01 NOV 22

In the Hübner areal at this year’s documenta fifteen, the Danish organization Trampoline House presented documentation of workshops and interviews with migrants, which constituted an installation and a public programme, Castle in Kassel (2022). Constituting elements of their former permanent physical community centre in Copenhagen, these formats reflect the social projects the group has been spearheading since 2010. Utilizing artistic practice to organize social and legal support for refugees in Denmark, Trampoline House echoes the volunteer-led NGO network No One Is Illegal, founded during Documenta X to provide financial and juridical assistance for migrants without papers. The inclusion of Trampoline House at this year’s documenta exemplifies how such activist projects have become as commonplace as the deconstruction of the welfare state. Yet, when presenting temporary infrastructures for social work in the context of an art space – community dinners, language workshops, juridical aid – international solidarity is compromised by the conceptual frameworks of limited project budgets: a limitation which led to the end of Trampoline House’s physical presence in Copenhagen. The project continues today in the form of legal counselling sessions held every other weekend in a space borrowed from a local church.

Trampoline House fashion show, 2019, Copenhagen, Denmark. Photograph: Lars Vibild

Trampoline House challenged increasingly restrictive immigration laws in Denmark while blurring the boundary between artists’ projects and social work. Its activities demonstrate the Janus face of artist-led activism: if your need for the resources that are provided as part of a project is urgent, it might be hard to also experience that project as art. In an effort to compensate for this dialectic, Trampoline House opened an exhibition space – the Centre for Art on Migration Politics – within its building, which presented works and activities by international artists and local community members alike. To visit shows, you had to pass through the community centre with its daily schedule of meetings and dinners, complicating any ostensible separation between art and life.

Following their appointment as artistic directors of documenta fifteen, the Indonesian collective ruangrupa invited Trampoline House to participate as one of 14 curatorial advisory groups. For Congolese human-rights activist and poet Jean Claude Mangomba, an affiliate of Trampoline House, funding from documenta helped him finance a lawyer for the final stage of his asylum process and, on his brand-new Swedish passport, he was able to travel to Kassel to give a lecture. Inside Hübner, fragments of Mangomba’s poem ‘Cowboy, get stand’ (2018) – voicing uplifting words to fellow migrants – looped on a small LCD screen. Behind, a wall text explicated the severe racial violence upon which Danish migration politics is based. The infrastructure of the legal system, Mangomba told me while introducing his works, is the same, in practice, as that of an art exhibition – in as much as only those with official documentation are represented as subjects rather than juridical cases, or ‘case studies’ in other people’s art works.

Trampoline House at documenta 15, 2022, installation view, Kassel, Germany. Photograph: Frank Sperling

In a 2018 article for visAvis – a Danish asylum and migration magazine once produced at Trampoline House – affiliate Ali Ali argues that the inequality he experienced when working with Trampoline House can be explained by the notion of ‘cultural inferiority’. Imposing terms such as ‘migrant’ or ‘participant’ onto people in order to offer them ‘help and care’, he observes, entrenches the social identities caused by racial violence instead of challenging and transforming them. ‘Social change is not imposed or learned,’ writes Ali, highlighting the trap that socially engaged works of art and pedagogy frequently fall into. Such change would not only require the abolition of racist laws on migration, but an entirely different form of representation of people and art alike, beyond any racial bias. Shining a spotlight within the context of a global artworld event on a socially engaged project whose members need to be in possession of a passport in order to take part in its programme – as Mangomba was finally able to – is, arguably, the ultimate in anti-participation. Why aren’t the asylum seekers in the workshops held by Trampoline House entitled to do as so many others in the art world have done: simply take the documenta money and run?

Main: Trampoline House at documenta 15, 2022, installation view, Kassel, Germany. Photograph: Frank Sperling

Frida Sandström is a writer and critic based in Copenhagen, Denmark.