MANIFESTA 5 San Sebastián
European Biennial of Contemporary Art
11 June - 30 Sept 2004
Curators: Marta Kuzma & Massimiliano Gioni
Bas Jan Ader
D A E Donostiako Arte Ekinbideak
Peio Aguirre, Leire Vergara
Jan de Cock
Angela de la Cruz
Office of Alternative Urban Planning
Amelie von Wulffen
David Zink Yi
Manifesta 5, the fifth edition of the European Biennial of Contemporary Art, which opens on 11 June 2004, brings together more than 50 artists from all over Europe at a variety of venues and sites in Donostia-San Sebastian and the surrounding area. The curators of the project, Marta Kuzma and Massimiliano Gioni, offer visitors a variety of paths through the exhibition, with the aid of an expandable list of key concepts and titles
‘POLITICAL RUMOUR/ CULTURAL LANDSCAPE/ PRESENT IMPERFECT/ RUINS IN REVERSE/ ZONES OF CONTINGENCY/ UNDERCONSTRUCTION/ SPIRITUAL NOISES/PROJECT AND ACCUSATION/ LANDSCAPE MANUAL/ ENCOUNTER WITH AMBIGUITY/CITY FOLDED OVER ONTO ITSELF/ TWO WAY MIRROR/ DOUBLE EXPOSURE/BIPOLAR CITY/ POWER OF IDENTITY/ POTEMKIN VILLAGE/ STAGED MATRIX/TRICKLAND / SILENT FACTORY/…………TO BE CONTINUED …’
The curators formulated a conceptual framework for Manifesta 5 on the basis of a careful investigation of Donostia-San Sebastian and its surroundings. This led them to their decision to interpret the area as a zone of contingency that lends to more complex interpretations of Europe. Thus, they have come to view the city, not only as a seaside resort dominated by tourism and the leisure industry, but as a much more stratified territory that forms a backdrop to the Basque Country where a prolonged and tumultuous movement toward autonomy is a source of pride, dissonance, and tension. One means of highlighting the visual contrasts between the different areas of the city consists in locating artists’ projects both near the idyllic seafront in the city area and in the industrial setting of the neighbouring port of Pasaia, a mere five kilometres away.
Abandoning the spectacle of the political and bypassing a recent obsession in contemporary art with global geographies, the artists in Manifesta 5 make subtle use of veiled and cryptic allusions to create the potential for polemics and transgression.The works in the exhibition illustrate how intricate and idiosyncratic structures may be used to translate reality into enigmatic forms, owing less to rhetoric than to a carefully differentiated understanding of people’s relationship to the world. This complexity and the combination of order and chaos, form and formlessness, and static and performative elements, has generated work which is resolutely dissonant and reveals many hidden layers of meaning.
Through a creative investment in the open-ended, the hieroglyphic and even the incongruous, the artists in the exhibition investigate the generative and performative nature of art that extends beyond the materiality of the object. Fragments and forms unfold within an atemporal continuum, while fictitious universes and personal identities are shaped in the twilit world of the imagination.
Manifesta 5 breaks with the earlier tradition of concentrating mainly on the work of emergent artists, by placing an additional focus on the subjective aspects of important and overlooked works by artists from the 1970s and 1980s, who were actively engaged both in Europe itself and beyond. The curators attempted to reaffirm the binding relationship between the viewer and the object, by presenting works that operate on a visceral level, without the need for complicated exegesis. The exhibition also questions the arbitrary distinction that is often made between the ‘established’ and the ‘emergent.’ Thus, Manifesta 5 is grounded in a constant dialogue between elements of the past and future possibilities, and seeks its justification in a synthesis of the two.
The exhibition is articulated in a way that reflects these breaks and juxtapositions. Each of the four main venues serves as a constellation of economic, political, historical and aesthetic considerations:
In Donostia-San Sebastian, Koldo Mitxelena houses works that relate to a rupture in the chronological sense of time, leading to fragmentation, disruption and aphasia. The ethnographic museum in the former monastery of San Telmo contains work that delves into the past and examines issues of national psyche and subjective identity through a mixture and cross-contamination of folkloric, pagan and mystical elements. The works in Rafael Moneo’s orthogonal Kursaal draw from architecture’s implicit relationship to time and space, lodged somewhere in the future. These projects use techniques of environmental critique and architectonic displacement as means of challenging accepted practices and relocating the sublime. The project in Soto, a former boat storage facility in the historic port, illustrates systems of belief based upon linguistics.
The work displayed in the decaying port area of Pasaia reflects the antithetical nature of this part of the urban environment. On entering Pasaia on the local train, the first thing the visitor will encounter is a modified entrance to the infamous passage, referred to by some authorities as “rape alley.” The nearby Casa Ciriza, with its succession of projects and installations, evokes the surrounding cultural landscape of the port area. A former fish warehouse procured with the assistance of the Office of Alternative Urban Planning, Casa Ciriza functions as an industrial readymade, whose parts are occasionally patched up and mended, but never restored. In its cavernous spaces, static structures are turned into moving parts, archives re-assembled, memories re-animated, and former innovations put to new use. The physical dimensions of Manifesta 5 are further extended to Ondartxo, where the whole of a derelict boat-building and workshop has been transformed into a semi-permanent installation, looking at the parallels between various forms of construction and expression.
By interweaving its presence into the fabric of the contrastingurban centres of Donostia-San Sebastian and Pasaia,Manifesta 5 has attempted to explore ways of using a cultural project to diversify the everyday experience of both communities, at the same time as reinvigorating one of the most impoverished areas in the Basque region. With this in view – and in an attempt to overcome the prescriptive nature of many contemporary exhibitions – the curators of Manifesta 5 also took the step of founding of the Office of Alternative Urban Planning (TOOAUP) in September 2003, in conjunction with the Berlage Institute, in Rotterdam, post-graduate laboratory of architecture and urban research, directed by the architect Alejandro Zaera Polo.Together with a specially designated team of architects, led by Sebastian Khourian, the curatorial team embarked on a collaboration that focused, not merely on the essence of its findings, but rather on the possible effects of its research. This method of investigation proved to be one way of gaining critical detachment from the built environment itself, and from the anomalies inherent in the traditional dynamics governing the relationship between city, province, region and state.As a laboratory of ideas, TOOAUP enabled Manifesta 5 to extend its role into carrying out a feasibility study into how artists and cultural agents might be called on to propose solutions to the problem of integrating the impenetrable space of the port, controlled by the central government, with the inhabited areas of Pasaia, which come under the local authority.