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by Sania Papa
"Manifesta I," the new pan-European Biennial of contemporary modern art, makes its dynamic and promising debut in a fervent bid to foster--as a long-term forum for dialogue and communication--a spirit of internationalism; of openness; of keenness to appreciate the distinctness of others, and to understand and interpret cultural differences. A spirit prepared to be surprised by the unexpected, the extraordinary and the adventurous.
As an international platform for young, promising artists to meet, create and present their work, "Manifesta I" sets out to redefine the theoretical and thematic criteria underpinning the process of conceiving, realizing and promoting an intercultural exhibition by basing itself on the key concepts of diversity, exchange, contrast and the search for common ground. As a "fresh," alternative and experimental event, it transcends conventional notions of aesthetic experience, stressing the imperative need to discover innovative, rejuvenated forms of action; to "breach" and overcome the ethnic, lingual, and economic differences dividing the European continent.
At the same time, it "stubbornly" seeks to bring about a radical change in the prevailing attitude and mentality, which conform to a set of predetermined principles accepted and imposed by the system, and methods of organizing exhibitions of international stature.
Five curators from different generations and diverse cultural heritages--Katalin Neray (Budapest), Rosa Martinez (Barcelona), Hans-Ulrich Obrist (Paris/Vienna), Viktor Misiano (Moscow) and Andrew Renton (London)--tireless travelers each, have, in the course of a long collaborative project, shared a common fund of experience, touring, drawing up proposals (in their planning, intellectual and emotional aspects), and engaging in endless dialogues and inevitable clashes of opinion, whilst being drawn together by the bond of mutual influence. As combative and visionary nomads, since 1993, they have boldly and ambitiously embarked on a continuous series of joint sorties to multifarious destinations--experiencing the same spiritual fortunes, sharing meetings with artists holding forth in their own time, in their own workplace with its peculiar working and research conditions--with the aim of selecting 72 young artists from 25 countries, who for two months would occupy and enliven 12 different museums and cultural centers in the city of Rotterdam (Kunsthal Rotterdam, Rotterdam Natural History Museum, Netherlands Architecture Institute, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Chabot Museum, Villa at Museumpark 9, Rotterdam Centre for the Arts, V2 Organization, National Institute for Photography, Witte de With Centre for Contemporary Art, Police Gallery and the Maritime Museum). Thus, through the diversity of offerings and interpretations on display, one is invited to explore the "topographical" and intellectual dimensions of the expanding, and constantly evolving new Europe of political utopias; the key interchangeable points of dialogue between the fields of culture, society, politics, history and philosophy.
This proposed format of communication--an enchanting encounter with a port defined by the vital force of world trade and exchange--stirs memories and creates a substantial framework for mutual contact between the artists, the city's inhabitants and visitors, inviting them as it does to share in an internal and external time-space experience of approaching, viewing and interpreting symbolic systems of interaction between the word, image, action and gesture, with immediate social, emotional and humanistic connotations.
"Manifesta I," an "alternative" type of exhibition marked not by sterile rivalry but true spiritual collaboration and emulation--one based on the concepts of the network and interactive processes, a constantly growing and expanding exhibition with exhibits spread over multiple locations--resembles a long journey with many potential stages, stations and necessary pauses.
Rotterdam--maritime centre and hub of movement and change, with its own distinct cultural, social and historical traditions, and a wealth of leading museums--has opened its doors to welcome these diverse offerings. These exhibitions feature artists who have taken over the various chosen venues with the aim of creating a wide range of works or installations on the spot with a direct bearing either on the history of the museum concerned, or on specific theoretical and philosophical concepts (such as migration, relocation, communication, naturalization, cultural identity, Utopia/Atopia, the body, ethics, politics, nature/civilization, the natural/transcendental), as well as in thematic unities (with titles that include migrations, i want to live like an ordinary person, decline and growth, stop, enigma, etc.).
Established venues--either well-known or unknown and, as of yet, virtually unpenetrated by the modern eye--are now over-exposed, revealing their continually shifting meanings, the diverse artistic offerings which draw together, fuse or transform their inner and outer worlds; offerings which "reorganize the world according to the works, and the works according to the world," Goodman says.
Viewing the exhibits from various approaches, experiencing moments of contact, conflict or contradiction on many different levels, the visitor sees a familiar plethora of shapes, attitudes and forms of behavior reappear. The viewer bears witness to that "eclectic vortex of forms and aesthetic delights," according to J. Baudrillard, which reinforces the need to redefine the identity of the works, the recognition of their individual and social hypostasis. Thus, through the hyperactivity or total inertia of the various cultural contributions, he seeks those qualitative forces which serve to link or differentiate the dialectical "games" of intellectual contrasts.
Familiar and unfamiliar forms; forms which are empty or overcharged; provocative or inert; real or imaginary; variations of everyday life; poetic empirical accounts which might suddenly turn on their head; diverse tendencies and contrasting proposals to create works in a multi-media form--all co-exist, scattered like stars around a city where everything interacts dynamically or silently exchanges intercultural codes of communication.
Standing out amongst the various installations were those of Eulalia Valldosera, Jaan Toomik, SubReal, Nedko Solakov, Soo-Ja Kim, Didier Trenet, Tamara Gric, Patrick Van Caeckenbergh, Olafur Eliasson, Yuri Leiderman, Hale Tenger, Jenny Marketou and Lydia Venieri (entries from Greece and New York).
Jenny Marketou, a nomadic artist, wanders in time and space, making forays into certain geographical, cultural and emotional fields, increasing the scope for remote personal experiences to coincide. With the installation entitled "Translocal: Camp in My Tent," she appropriates a two-person tent fully equipped with two video monitors. One of the video monitors is connected to a video camera and is continuously showing the everyday traffic on Witte Strasse, outside of the Witte de With Centre of Modern Art. The other monitor features, in a continuous loop, a video of the artist engaged in a performance of setting up her tent in Central Park, New York City, where she had previously presented "Translocal" at Bravin Post Lee Gallery at the Art Exchange. For a whole day, the visitor can not only briefly share in the experience of nomadic life in an environment in which nature, art and technology are fused together, but is encouraged to actually camp there. This is reinforced by a printed brochure in which the artist describes the conditions of camping in her tent. This temporary dwelling is a dynamic field of action and thought, drawing together the physical, metal and spiritual dimensions of the individual. In her constant search for identity--which is directly determined by changing personal and social circumstances--in an insightful, witty and poetic manner, she stresses the way in which the social and cultural memory structures of the different places she experiences constantly cross in a host of different ways. Approaching and interpreting the universal symbols of migration established by timeless traditions, she "constantly consolidates a ritual body movement," according to R. Guenon.
Lydia Venieri takes part in the Internet section with the work her story, which refers to the timeless dimension of collective memory. "My stories are concerned with collective memory and call on people to communicate. Until the ideal state is constructed and then suppressed, thought will flow freely through its channels, without the cost of migration, without the cost of accepting the roles and hierarchies which characterize the societies of gain. Once the virtual color appears--by which time the system will be firmly in place--the big animals will tear the web, while the small ones will cling onto it" (Plutarch, Parallel Lives).
Personally, I can find no explanation for the system's generous offer apart from the fact that this area will be exploited later. However, some gems have had time to shine, reapproaching the public's sensibility by virtue of their talent and works, producing art which is spontaneous and capable of sweeping away the puppets which the modern establishment has set up".
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