Pabellón 5, Antiguo Cuartel de Artillería, C/ Madre Elisea Oliver Molina, s/n, 30002 Murcia, Spain
Manifesta, Europe’s primary roaming biennial, opened in Murcia and Cartagena in Southern Spain on October 9th 2010. Consciously founded in the early 1990s as a counter-part to documenta with its specifically Western and Mittel European orientation, Manifesta looked “the other way” towards Eastern Europe and those countries separated from the arts metropoles of West, and held in locations away from the capital cities. Now that these boundaries have been overcome with the former Eastern Bloc’s accession to the European Union it was perhaps natural that this nomadic biennial would look to the borders between North and South, and situate itself in two Southern Spanish cities with a rich heritage of influences from Visigoths, Moors, Jews, Muslims and Christians. This eighth edition of the biennial bore the superintending subtitle: “Region of Murcia in dialogue with Northern Africa”. The inclusion of the curatorial collective Alexandria Contemporary Art Forum (ACAF), representing North Africa, alongside the Chamber of Public Secrets (CPS) with Khaled Ramadam, who has long worked on issues of cultural diversity in Denmark, underlined this concern for the European relationship with “the South.” The presence of the collective tranzit.org composed of autonomous art institutions from Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, paid homage to the founding principles of Manifesta. All of which also of course creates a somewhat noisy collective of collectives
Manifesta 8 Exterior
Despite frequent allusions to migrants, borders, and Fortress Europe, it soon became clear that the primary focus of this biennial was curatorial practice itself. The three collectives charged with curating this incarnation of Manifesta together looked at their practices with unprecedented degrees of auto-reflexivity. I am usually averse to the kind of rhetoric espoused by some artists (usually the ones overlooked by curators) that they are the victims of exhibition makers’ usurpation of power and artistic license, reducing them to mere pawns in a stifling curatorial master plan. However, having been subjected to some of the most turgid examples of navel-gazing witnessed in recent years in tranzit.org’s performance of the issues involved in putting on an exhibition from their Constitution for Contemporary Display (“what to spend the money on?” being one of its 40 points), culminating in the burning of this basic law, I am inclined to agree that the work of art again needs to take center stage. It was earnest and self-referential, though not everyone was of this opinion; for instance they did not upset de Appel cart, whose participants allegedly found this gesture “invigorating.”
Despite this sanctimonious curatorial posturing , the works selected by tranzit.org that occupied the former artillery barracks in Murcia were far more adept at creating nuanced socio-artistic critique with works by LouLou Cherinet, juxtaposing archival footage with her native Sweden quasi-ethnological imagery; Emily Roysdon’s silkscreen print representing her anti-hegemonic project Ecstatic Resistance; and Ruti Sela’s incisive examination of the relationship between sex and warfare, shot on hand-held cameras in nightclubs and on the street with the flippant aesthetic of a home video.
AGM "Jury" Photo: Natalie Hope O'Donnell
Further self-reflexivity was evident in CPS’s jury for artists and curators who were ritually “grilled” by audience members on their respective practices in a project in collaboration with AGM (note the profusion of quasi-official sounding acronyms). The speakers’ points were listed under the binary “positive/negative” hung on the wall with the aesthetic of a primary school project. Its saving grace was the voyeuristic enjoyment of watching certain art practitioners squirm under the spotlight, though the sense of schadenfreude was short-lived. CPS’s curatorial project for the rest of Manifesta revealed an obsession with the point of view: whether it was panopticons, the media spotlight or blindness. They showed an almost moribund interest in incarceration and surveillance, and even the projects that were not situated in the old prison at Cartagena dealt with juvenile detention and post-penitentiary social integration. These were the works on display during the preview; CPS also held a number of their projects in other media including newspapers, Al Jazeera TV and radio broadcasts investigating the biennial sites’ relationship with North Africa.
Despite this self-conscious curatorial grandstanding, there were some excellent artistic projects to be seen, many of them commissioned for this Manifesta (thus answering the question of what the money should be spent on: good art).
- Natalie Hope O'Donnell