The Thing Hamburg: A Temporary Democratization of the Local Art Field


  • Cornelia Sollfrank
  • Rahel Puffert
  • Michel Chevalier


THE THING Hamburg was an experimental Internet platform whose vocation was to contribute to the democratization of the art field, to negotiate new forms of art in practice, and to be a site for political learning and engagement. We, the authors, were actively involved in the project on various levels. In this paper, we trace the (local) circumstances that led to the emergence of the project and take a look at its historical precursor, we reflect on the organizational form of this collectively-run and participatory platform, and we investigate the role locality can play in the development of political agency. As a non-profit Internet platform built with free software, the project also invites a reflection of the role technology can play for the creation of independent experimental spaces for social innovation and how they make a difference against the backdrop of corporate social media. Relating the project to both the conceptual innovations of the Russian avant-garde as well as media-utopian projections shows that THE THING Hamburg stands in the tradition of an art that expands its own field by invoking a self-issued social assignment. Challenging the norms and in stitutions of the art field does not remain an exercise in self-referentiality; it rather redefines the role of art as an agent for political learning and how the use of technology in society at large can be emancipatory. And just as small projects like the THE THING Hamburg draw on old utopias for their contemporary negotiations of art, they equally produce more questions than they provide answers.