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GAP IN A TRASHY CORPSE OF BIENNIALIZATION: WHEN BAD FAITH MOVES MOUNTAINS Print
Written by M9 coordination   

The mediatisation of an event always removes some of its visibility, just as they say that the mode of production of a commodity always disappears.

Similarly, Manifesta, the quintessential European biennial, is preparing to embark upon its eighth and latest exhibition effort in Murcia, in the south of Spain, in October. But it is common knowledge that Manifesta is a sort of phoenix that comes to an end in one place only to come back to life again in another.

After working on the frontiers between Spain and North Africa, Manifesta is already prepared for its return to the heart of Europe, to investigate the notion of “Europeanism” in the Limburg region: in the very Euroregion it has always favoured. Holland, Luxembourg, and Germany have all been venues for the event, and now it is the turn of Belgium, in a geopolitical hub that recalls the ECSC more than the new EU. 

 

 

But Manifesta is returning to this area while completely betraying its initial ambitions, by putting forward a single exhibition site, a monumental/museumlike format, and a single curator. A curator who is not a young person with “relatively brief institutional experience” as in the past, but one with a solid professional career behind him. Yet this betrayal is a false impression because a biennial which is destined to reinvent itself each time and to grasp all possible opportunities as strategies for marketing and profit, is not the slightest bit interested if these opportunities may or may not conflict with its original cultural aspirations. We are suddenly used to this type of “loyalty”. Creative industries always play the same refrain, which in any case is dictated by the market economy. They are prepared to adopt any strategy to do this, so long as it is sold under the banner of “freedom, transparency, networking, and democracy”, in order to capitalise on the desires of the population and their consumers. Is the motto of Manifesta not that of “of breaking down barriers, crossing borders and building bridges”?

 

But here it is not just a matter of understanding if Manifesta “is organized by independently operating curators or evolved from a direct collaboration between major collectors and galleries”, according to the criticism that Anna Tilroe made a few weeks ago from the pages of Metropolis M magazine. Here something else is at stake.

 

At the opening on 7-8-9 October in Murcia, the name of the next artistic director of Manifesta 9 should have been announced upon selection by the Board of the Manifesta Foundation after an “open-ended, democratic” contest between three candidates invited to draft a project for the mining area of Limburg. The candidates were supposed to have no dealings with the Foundation itself. For some inscrutable reason, at the last moment it was decided to postpone the nomination of the curator until January 2011. But possibly these reasons are not quite so inscrutable after all, because we can well understand how embarrassing it would have been if the director of Manifesta had publicly announced the appointment of Cuauhtémoc Medina, who has recently been closely involved and implicated in the economic-cultural package approved by the regional government of Murcia for 2009-2010. 

 

As early as February 2009, the Minister of Culture and Tourism of the Region of Murcia, Pedro Alberto Cruz, announced that regional cultural policy was to bring together the two events – Manifesta 8, headed by Hedwig Fjien, and the Domino Canibal exhibition project within the Projecto Arte Contemporaneo (PAC) curated by Medina himself: two biennials in a single go. “Manifesta and PAC will be able to make us the key region of contemporary art in Spain in 2010”, said Cruz (El Cultural.es, 12/02/2009) and, similarly, Fijen and Medina have presented their shared programme on a number of official occasions.

 

If it were to be made public now, at the same table, that Hedwig Fjien and Cuauhtémoc Medina will be continuing to work together not in parallel events, as they are doing at the moment, but in a single project, like the forthcoming Manifesta 9, it might look rather suspicious. So no wonder the curator entrusted with a project based around the concept of “Europeanism” has so far had nothing to do with this sort of issue, partly because of his background. And it is hardly surprising either that Medina’s biennial project currently under way in Murcia is quite clearly in conflict with that of Manifesta 8 – and that 7 mainstream artists for 1 year are not quite the same thing as over 100 artists for 100 days. The idea of contextual appropriateness is just as debatable today as that of coherence. So to find a suitable one it might again be worth going behind the scenes and trying to understand what the role of the new director of Arco Madrid, Carlos Urroz, really is – if he has ever had one. Here too there are plenty of curious coincidences. When both exhibitions end and the Spanish contracts expire in January, the moment will be right to officially publish the name of the artistic director of the next Manifesta in the former mining area of Limburg. Taking up a well-established literary theme and considering the gradual reactionary withdrawal of Europe, could it be said once again that this will be yet another case of “the eternal defeat of the miners”?