After Palermo in 2018, Manifesta organises its thirteenth edition in Marseille, in the context of a year marked by Covid-19. The nomadic biennial originated in the early 1990s in response to the political, economic, and social change following the end of the Cold War and the subsequent steps towards European integration. For the first time organised in France, Manifesta will last until November 29.
“Every day I think about where I come from and I am still proud to be who I am: first, a Kabyle from La Castellane, then an Algerian from Marseille, and then a Frenchman.” Zinedine Zidane, quoted in the opening statement for the current edition of Manifesta. Manifesta 13, in Marseille, opening to the public in troubled times in what is now again a ‘Red Zone’ is trying very hard to be all things to all people, a Biennal itself trying to resist the ‘Biennialisation’ of contemporary art and and to rail against the ‘helicoptering in’ of controversial art to communities who may not need it and also trying, very very hard, to resist the ‘democracy fatigue’ mentioned in the opening address by international director Hedwig Fijen. Marseille is a proud city and this Manifesta celebrates its baring of all its problems to the world, ranging from the traditional port of entry to many migrants from North Africa and their rich cultures but also the poverty, to the far-right populist responses, to all of this.
The first edition of the ‘Nomadic Biennal’ to take place in France, Manifesta 13 is having a series of staggered openings starting on August 28 this year on to October, thus maintaining both public safety and avoiding the mass influx of art crowds to the city as is usual in a Biennal. I hope to attend the full event in October but right now am viewing the event and discussing with the organisers and artists electronically, as is now our everyday life on the new not-normal planet.
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HIGHLIGHTS from Opening #1 A big thank you to all those who visited the array of exhibitions and events as part of the first opening weekend of Manifesta 13 Marseille! Thank you to the participants, to the numerous partners and collaborators and to all supporters who made the beginning of Manifesta 13 possible. This was a huge collective effort for which we are extremely grateful! Many of you came to discover the exhibitions, performances, screenings, debates, participatory workshops and many other events for the three programmes of the Biennial: Traits d'union.s, Le Tiers Programme and Les Parallèles du Sud, here are some pictures to look back at a great weekend! This is just the beginning, we hope to welcome you back for the second opening weekend on the 25.09.20 1. 'GROUP-THINK' @cocovelten rooftop 2. Visit of Archive Invisible#6 : B.Vice Sound Musical School by Eva Doumbia @archives_invisibles_marseille at Tiers QG 3. Press Tour at Musée Grobet Labadié 4. Allochronotopie @lacompagnie_belsunce 5. Launching of the collective @chic.damour @cocovelten 6. 'The Home' at Musée Grobet Labadié 7. Archive Invisible#6 installation view © @vostcollectif #marseille #manifestabiennial #manifesta13marseille #artcontemporain #marseilleart #culturecheznous #wearemarseille #regionsud #marseillecity #igersmarseille #myprovence #marseillegram #contemporaryart #artlovers #visitmarseille
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Manifesta has had a chequered history of its various engagements with its adopted cities, ranging from the cancellation of the Nicosia, Cyprus edition in 2006 to recent controversies with Manifesta 10 in St Petersburg overshadowed by laws restraining LGTB rights in Russia, leading to artists like Pawel Althamer and Chto Delat to pull out. Some of the artists who chose to remain in St Petersburg either used under-the radar tactics, like Eric Van Lieshout, who spent weeks building better living quarters in the Hermitage for the Museum’s cats, who have been catching mice there since the days of Catherine the Great. The reference to Pussy Riot was not lost on the world’s press. Wolfgang Tillmans took a more robust approach saying in an interview with the UK’s Guardian “This is probably the gayest show I have ever done”.
The decision, taken in May, to go ahead with an adapted version of Manifesta, the first big international art event in Europe to happen since the COVID crisis (Ars Electronica, for example is asking people not come unless they are from Austria or countries bordering Austria) was also somewhat controversial, given that the infection rate in cities like Marseille is on the increase again.
The organisers in a public statement said: “For us Manifesta 13 Marseille was never thought of as a ‘full stop’, but as a hyphen, or rather hyphens – traits d’ unions – a gesture of bringing together. Yet, suddenly we find ourselves in a situation where reality amplifies and exhilarates some of our underlying thoughts, dreams and nightmares. Suddenly with all the predicaments of the present moment, you realise the urgency by which only culture can speak to the uncertainty of our times.”
Le Grand Puzzle
At the opening conference for the architectural project “Le Grand Puzzle” conceived by Dutch architect Winy Maas, of MRDV and the Why Factory, which I attended online, Hedwig Fijen threw down the gauntlet and averred that this Manifesta would truly be ‘radically local’ – an event that would have a lasting and meaningful impact on the citizens of Marseille and would strengthen social cohesion in the city. The concept of ‘commonism’ or reclaiming the commons would be a strategy of Manifesta, engaging with public spaces, schools, libraries and other places where citizens meet. There is a plan for a ‘citizens assembly’ to make decisions about Marseille’s architectural future.
I asked one of the co-organisers of Manifesta, director of London’s ICA Stefan Kalmár, who travelled for the opening last weekend from Berlin how realistic this was? “Well I guess as I had also a long relationship with Marseille, having had a flat here for the past 10 years there was an heightened awareness of the context we are working in and that was also the motivation for us to work within existing institutions, partly also to avoid the gentrifying flip-side of biennials. We also knew that we worked in a politically very charged environment, that with the recent election saw the first change in local government since 25 years by electing a green & red coalition and the first woman as Mayor ever. So while conceived under very different political circumstances, our biennial was always conceived to speak to that need of change when the new Mayor Michele Rubirola in our recent press conference said: ‘We are listening to you. We hear you’ then this aligns with our belief that art and culture can speak to the challenges that we are facing.
“How could the success in doing this be measured? “Measuring success” as you say, is very complex when it comes to biennials and probably also depends of how you look at it politically. One core aspects for us and motivation of working with and through existing cultural institutions, is the hope to evolve them, to help them to embrace the reality of Marseille as they sometimes seem to operate in an parallel universe.”
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[ TIERS PROGRAMME ] Danish artist @stine_marie_jacobsen was invited to participate within Le Tiers Programme and developed a long-term project entitled "GROUP-THINK", resulting from discussions with teachers, students and professionals in formal and non-formal education in Marseille. This project explores the potential of citizenship education and seeks to give participants tools and to raise awareness of their ability to act as a group in order to develop a new sense of collective sensitivity at a time when many pupils and students in Marseille and around the world are starting to proactively mobilise themselves more. Video installation FREE ENTRY ? @cocovelten rooftop 16 rue Bernard du Bois, Belsunce – Marseille Tuesday to Saturday, 11.00 to 19.00 Venue is not accessible to visitors with disabilities. + INFO >> manifesta13.org/fr/tiers-programme-manifesta/group-think/ #manifestabiennial #Manifesta13Marseille #Tiersprogramme #nonviolence #collectiveintelligence #citizensprojects #marseille #marseillerebelle #wearemarseille
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Some artists chose not to work directly in Marseille but instead work remotely. I spoke to Lina Lapelyte, instigator of last year’s massively successful performance ‘Sun and Sea’ at the Lithuanian pavilion at the Venice Biennale, who organised a performance of her ‘Pirouette’ for a retired ballerina and saxophone player for her ‘Roots to routes’ opening event, a work about endurance and fragility. How did it feel to be working on this remotely? “The production team made the research to find the people and then we worked on zoom, discussed and rehearsed. The costumes traveled from Vilnius the location chosen remotely. A few days before the show we rehearsed at the location – adjusted the lights, the space, everything. I never did it before – felt really strange, but somehow amazing that it could be done at all.” Lapelyte is currently working on an ambitious project for the Riga Biennale (curated by Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel) in collaboration with the architect Mantas Petraitis (Implant Architecture) titled “Currents”, which brings together over 2,000 pine logs to form a floating island on the water by the Bienniale’s main building.
Arabfuturism & Afrofuturism
The main exhibition ‘Traits d’Union.s’ is divided into what the co-organiser Alya Sebti called ‘plots’ starting with The Home, opening at the end of August, and followed by The Refuge, The Almshouse, The Port, The Park, across September and October. Taking place in six city museums and ‘unexpected places’. It’s a big exhibition, but here are couple of examples of new commissions that look very interesting in these ‘plots’. The work of Mounir Ayache expands on ‘Afrofuturism’ in ‘Arabfuturism’ which are “technological creations casting an unfamiliar light on the political and social realities of the Arab world. By envisioning alternate futures, Ayache proposes an image of the Arab world radically different from those circulated in the West. His sci-fi approach weaves together family histories, fictionalised re-appropriations of experiences and Arab identities… Both Afro and Arabfuturism are characterised by a turn to fiction that allows us to imagine vastly different realities. Ayache knowingly deploys the tropes of “oriental sci-fi” in order to parody the way Western fictions represent “Others” and “Foreigners”.
The original Afrofuturism is also represented in the work of ‘Black Quantum Futurism’ which is an interdisciplinary collaboration between Camae Ayewa and Rasheedah Phillips which “focusses on the recovery, collection and preservation of communal memories, histories and futures using Afrofuturism as a tool for telling stories of marginalised people, exploring the nature of their collective reality and inspiring agency in marginalised people to shape and reshape their own pasts and futures. Because of the continued erasure of their families, roots, histories, and very futures, they make their work accessible, intersectional and mobile, eluding the bounds of space-time that normally imprison art.”
Enter Afrofuturism by Rasheedah Phillips (Black Quantum Futurism – 2018):
I look forward to experiencing Manifesta 13 in real life, when it opens fully on October 8.
More on Manifesta 13.