Hey You, Hey Europe

Frankensteiner Hof, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Portikus, Städelsches Kulturinstitut Frankfurt – May 25 until August 25, 2002

Manifesta 4. Frankfurt/Main (various locations).Manifesta 4. Frankfurt/Main (various locations).
Manifesta 4. Frankfurt/Main (various locations).Manifesta 4. Frankfurt/Main (various locations).

Manifesta 4. Frankfurt/Main (various locations).

Since its foundation in 1996 Manifesta has been loosely dedicated to defining a “new Europe,” to responding to the new artistic developments in the whole European territory and offering a general idea of both the overall situation and the most outstanding issues and questions of European art, culture, and society.

Nevertheless, only the last installment in Ljubljana (2000), after Rotterdam (1996) and Luxembourg (1998), provided an opportunity for the show to inhabit a city that might actually exemplify such a definition.

The fourth edition of Manifesta takes place in the city of Frankfurt in central Germany and close to Kassel. It is hosting Dokumenta 11 this summer, so that the region will become the destination for international art tourism.

Manifesta was developed by its three female curators, Iara Boubnova, founding director of the Institute for Contemporary Art in Sofia, Nuria Enguita Mayo, head curator at the Tapiés Foundation in Barcelona, and Stéphanie Moisdon Trembley, independent curator and co-founder of the Bureau des Video in Paris.

The exhibition is the result of a one-year process of research without any predetermined theme. Manifesta was, this time around, also given no predominant theme.

In an introductory text the curators declare the project’s intentions “to reveal the contradictions of the present, the various ways artists are rethinking the classical relationship between time and space in the experience of urbanity, dwelling, mobility travel, exile, language, conversation and translation, endurance, memory, history, without forgetting irony and a sense of good, transgressive humor.” (i.e. short guide, p. 147)

Although the curators tried to integrate specific cultural practices from different European contexts—more than 70 participating artists from more than 30 countries and amongst them about 20 from east European countries—the final product Manifesta 4, the European Biennial of Contemporary Art, on show at various locations throughout the city of Frankfurt, hardly lives up to these ambitious proclamations.

It is not necessarily a thread in terms of a conceptual path that is missing, but just that rarely does a project have the quality to intrigue, to absorb visitors’ attention or to cause consternation. The show looks as if the curators are presenting their research material, and as if this process of research is still continuing.

Symptomatic for this indecisiveness is the integration of projects that are exhibitions in themselves or platforms, like the research room, e-manifesta.org, fingers “evolutionäre zellen” (evolutionary cells), Christoph Kellers archive presentation “Kiosk”, OHIO or ZAPP magazine.

The fragile framework of conceptual ideas that Manifesta 4 is embedded in becomes frayed by this overflow of projects.

In the Frankfurter Kunstverein, the portfolios given to Manifesta’s curators by artists, curators or institutions are gathered together and presented to the public in a set up/construction designed by French artist Mathieu Mercier.

In bent dark-gray MDF floor displays, the visitors have access to this material, put in an alphabetical order and arranged by city. The sheer amount of information is overwhelming, but what is the curatorial statement behind it?

Are the “rejected” artists that interesting that they also somehow need to be integrated into the show? Or does the display function as proof of the curator’s extensive research?

To quote the catalogue, the curators thought that “this heterogeneous collection of documentation would offer a striking reflection of our exchanges, our methods and our way of looking at art” and that the archive “should constitute a nerve center, a space for work and reflection open to other researchers and visitors”. (p. 54)

To be honest, this project does not work in that way. If it has any function at all, it would be that of a curatorial statement towards a transparency of the process of curatorial decisions and practice.

All the same, the integration of this archive or the “Kiosk” compiled by publisher and artist Christoph Keller (Germany) that consists of some 70 publications by small publishers and artist editions could give the impression that the curators were afraid of excluding and taking a risk.

Of course, the complexity of today’s reality is hard to tackle, but opening the exhibition to all kinds of heterogeneous projects for the sake of variety, diversity and “multitude”,does not make it any easier.

Concentrating more on the precise presentation of individual works and their contexts would have been more helpful then trying to stage the context of contemporary art practice in general or in total – if this possible at all.

The most consequent projects in the show are those representing a critical artistic attitude towards the mechanisms of today’s contemporary art world, especially to a biennial exhibition practice that easily consumes “fresh“ names, countries, phenomena and discourses.

One of these projects is ”Artists from …” (2002) by Andreja Kuluncic (Croatia). Kuluncic made a survey on the income gained by art of the participating artists she shows in form of public billboards.

Not all artists cooperated, but the ones who did are portrayed on the poster with the information about their nationality, their income as artists per year and the average income per year in their country.

The project thereby raises questions not only about the economic situation of artists and their socio-economic background, but also about the value of the profession and of artwork itself. Andreja Kuluncic’s income certainly will increase 2002, as she is not only presented at Manifesta 4, but also in Kassel at Dokumenta 11.

Another project questioning international art shows and the role of the artist within the art system is placed right at the entrance of Frankfurter Kunstverein.

Danish artist Lise Harlev produced a series of posters that is based on a questionnaire she sent out to participants in biennials.

The answers, statements like “The nationality of the artist is sometimes overvalued by curators and art critics” are presented on posters whose design is copying the typical designs used by biennials.

The statements Harlev uses can be read as a (self)ironic statement about the contemporary art system, questioning the role of the artists’ nationality in an international art world and the strategies and mechanism behind them.

Under the motto “Invite Yourself” Christoph Büchel (Switzerland) auctioned off his official invitation and participation at eBay before the start of Manifesta 4 in Frankfurt.

The participation rights went for 15,099 Dollars to New York based artist Sal Randolph.

Randolph’s contribution “Free Manifesta” (www.freemanifesta.org), is “an open show of non-monetary art being held in the public spaces of Frankfurt, as well as communication media.”(Sal Randolph)

More than 100 artists are participating in Free Manifesta, and further artists’ entries are accepted through 30 June. Both Büchel’s and Randolph’s approach boycotts the principle according to which participation in a biennial exhibitions such as Manifesta functions — as a privilege and value — and thereby reduces these principles to absurdity.

The contribution by Dirk Fleischmann (Germany) also escapes being taken in by the art business. The artist set up a bistro at Frankensteiner Hof, offering drinks and snacks.

The menu reads a little strange, as it cites the names of some participating artists, for instance, latte machiatto is offered as “finger”.

The clue is that those artists have renounced their Manifesta fee to put up the bistro and in return they receive the profits from the sale of their drink or snack. With this simple cooperative, the participating artists can multiply their actual fee many times over, if it succeeds.

Fleischmann explores micro-economical structures and processes in his work and makes “modest proposals” about how to organize these structures differently.

Most of the works in Manifesta 4 deal with sociopolitical issues and document the state of “the European identity”.

Chinese artist Jun Yang, who grew up in Austria, talks in his video installation “Jun Yang and Soldat Holzer” at Frankensteiner Hof about the transformation of his very own name that changed meaning and character according to the language it was said in.

Already within Chinese language, the name can be pronounced differently, in a foreign or “other” cultural context, the differences are even more striking. Jun becomes June and thus a female name or turns into “young” etc.

The artist is also presenting the video “from salaariman to superman” in Städelsches Kunstinstitut reporting about his personal background growing up as a Chinese boy in Europe.

With a good deal of humor he invites the visitor to have look at his biography by following his video portrait.

Pierre Bismuth (France) shows the Disney movie “Jungle Book”, giving each animal and character his own voice. Next to the projection of the movie, small drawings are pined to the wall that portray the actors and the “role” they incorporate.

The result is a sort of “Babel”, as the artist made each animal speak in a different European language.

Laura Stasíulytë (Lithuania) shows in her audiovisual slide-projection selected questions written on pages of exercise books that refer to the questions the artist posed on the street to Lithuanian teenage girls.

The work is based on an intense study of, among others the Lithuanian teenage magazine “PANELE” (young lady) that in the nineties began treating sexuality openly, mostly in a question-and-answer format.

“From the Life of Young Ladies” tells about the political and cultural changes taking place in post-soviet Lithuania and the role of mass media and the new forms of language that it generates.

Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas (Lithuania) have been working together since 1993, mainly with other people involved, on developing new frameworks for contemporary art practices and infrastructure for creative and critical discourse.

The project “Transmute” the couple presents at Manifesta 4 focuses on a children toy camera and the (animation)films that have been produced for it over decades by the soviet “Disney Factory”.

The computer presentation at Frankfurter Kunstverein is a sort of archive that tries to provide an interface to explore and analyze different aspects of this movie production. The project is an extension of Urbonas „Transaction“ project (2000) that is shown at Dokumenta 11.

The complex project took its departure with the statement of a renowned psychoanalyst, that Lithuania, sustaining its attitude, which has been recurring throughout history, continues to play the role of a victim even after the political change.

This declaration initiated a complex process of research on the basis of film and movie databases, daily observations and interviews, which could be best compared to the interdisciplinary methods of anthropologists.

The artists took a model of the “transactional analysis”, the pattern of the dramatic triangle of victim, persecutor, and rescuer, to present the correlations between the collected materials.

For the installation at Dokumenta a sort of three-way dialogue is set up with TV monitors on which the visitors watch Lithuanian feminist intellectual talking about female role models in popular Lithuanian feature films, Lithuanian psychoanalysts analyzing the collective unconscious script established through the films and excerpts from films made 1947 – 1997.

Another facet of European identity is examined in the work of Kalin Serapionov (Bulgaria). “Unrendered” juxtaposes two large-scale video projections, that both document people waiting at the “Meeting Point” at Zurich main railway station.

The unrendered, documentary material calls to mind a situation of controlled observation and surveillance in public places.

The behavior of the waiting people contrasts with the actual name and function of the “Meeting Point” and also the railway station as a traditional place for motion and transition.

On the public square between the Frankfurter Kunstverein and Schirn Kunsthalle the Construction & Deconstruction Institute (Romania) placed a walkable container that seems to have landed in the middle of this lively square from nowhere.

If you pick “An Issue From The Container®” newspaper on the floor of the container you get to know more about “The One-Way Ticket World Wide Travels” business, a sort of human-trafficking business that ironically comments on migration regulations set by the EU countries.

Antal Lakner, a Hungarian artist, chose to place a type of submarine on the river Main next to a sort of historic documentation site on the riverbank. We learn that “The Icelandic Army” is a fictitious unarmed defensive army for observation only.

It consists of various elements like the marine unit “PLANKTON” that floats on the river, a one-person observation unit that looks like something between submarine and UFO.

In the small documentation unit on the riverbank, the interested visitor can get further details on “The Icelandic Army”’s equipment and uniform.

The project uses the public sphere to generate a situation at the interface of reality and fiction. With a good deal of humor Lakner creates a work questioning today’s ambivalent role of Armies.

The trajectory through the City of Frankfurt conceived by Manifesta 4, takes you through the Frankfurter Kunstverein, the outlying area of Kunsthalle Schirn, Portikus, the banks of the River Main, the Frankensteiner Hof to the Städelsches Kunstinstitut, where the curators set up a space for video presentation consisting of eight large hanging projection screens, and to avoid the usual sound mix, visitors get wireless headphones that are connected to the screens.

This presentation makes it quite comfortable to walk around and zapp into the various videos and video programmes, and there is even seating available.

The concept of the compilation of videos is much less convincing than the presentation. Single videos are screened on four of the projections, and on the other four, video programs are presented.

The decision which video to place in which program, simply distinguished by numbers, seems to be based on the length of the video and not a question of a thematic frame and coherency.

Besides the presentation of videos by Pia Rönicke (Denmark), Jun Yang (China/Austria), Zlatan Filipovic (Bosnia and Hercegovina) and Jeanne Faust (Germany), video program 1 focuses on effects of strangeness, opposition and tension. Program 2 investigates juvenile behavior in urban context, including work by Esra Ersen (Turkey), Artur Zmijewski (Poland) and Liga Marcinkevica (Latvia).

Program 3 portrays actions and artistic interventions in public space, including work by Radek Community (Russia), Ivan Moudov (Bulgaria) and Lyudmila Gorlova (Russia). And program 4 focuses on social problems including work by Giandras Makarevicius (Lithunania), Davide Grassi (Italy/Croatia) and Erzen Shkololli (Kosovo).

Warsaw based artist Artur Zmijewski shows the “Singing Lesson” of a choir composed by deaf boys and girls, exercising to sing the Kyrie from the Polish Mass (1944) by Jan Malakiewicz accompanied by an organ.

The work raises questions about societal agreements and their functions. Zmijewski often works with handicapped people creating scenaries that provoke misunderstanding and dis-agreement and a place for “otherness”.

In the same programme Turkish artist Esra Ersen, portrays a bunch of Istanbul street kids, called “This Is Disney World”, problematizing the politics of organizing public, urban sphere, and Líga Marcinkevica’s survey amongst 12 to 13 year old teenagers about the person they would like to be when they grew up, which ends up in a name dropping frenzy of celebrities and pop stars.

For his video, Erzen Shkololli (Kosovo) invited a kind of local pop star, the Albanian traditional folk singer Shkurte Fejza. Fejza has been cultivating popular music from the roots of Albanian folk for more than 20 years.

Her songs were forbidden from 1981 to 1983 by the former communist regime and she was even imprisoned in 1986. The song she performs, dressed in a traditional Albanian dress and standing in front of a pure white background is titled “Hey Europe”.

It is a melancholic lamentation addressed to Europe. The work impresses by its simplicity. There are no effects, no cuts, a single individual shot, the voice reduced to an a cappella that draws attention to the lyrics and their content, allowing them to speak for themselves.

“Happy End” by Lyudmila Gorlova (Russia) is a documentary about weddings, as a metaphor for the uniformization of basic human rituals in globalized economy.

To sum up, Manifesta 4 tries to reflect on the cultural and socio-political and -economical issues with heterogeneous artistic proposals, but compared to the neighboring Dokumenta 11, it lacks energy, especially since Manifesta is meant to be the more experimental, younger, fresher of the two. Dokumenta 11 is definitely not experimental, but it has become a solid, rather traditional, convincing exhibition, that makes Manifesta 4 look a like a children’s playground.

Participating artists:

0100101110101101.org / Halil Altindere / Daniel García Andújar / Apsolutno / Ibon Aranberri / Olivier Bardin / Yael Bartana / Massimo Bartolini / Elisabetta Benassi / Marc Bijl / Pierre Bismuth / Bleda y Rosa / BLESS / Lionel Bovier / Luchezar Boyadjiev / Fernando Bryce / Gerard Byrne / Roberto Cuoghi / Jonas Dahlberg / Kathy Deepwell / Dagmar Demming / Branislav Dimitrijevic / Esra Ersen / Jon Mikel Euba / Jeanne Faust / João Fernandes / Zlatan Filipovic / Finger / Christoph Fink / Dirk Fleischmann / Andreas Fogarasi / Luke Fowler / Andrea Geyer / Alonso Gil / Lyudmila Gorlova / Davide Grassi / Pia Greschner / Igor Grubic / Anna Gudmundsdottir / Alban Hajdinaj / Lise Harlev / Institut für Kulturanthropologie und Europäische Ethnologie / Jens Hoffmann (in collaboration with Natascha Sadr Haghighian & Tino Sehgal) / Takehito Koganezawa / Andreja Kuluncic / Antal Lakner / Franck Larcade / Anton Litvin / Gintaras Makarevicius / Ján Mancuska / Líga Marcinkevica / Mathieu Mercier / Suzana Milevska / Gianni Motti / Ivan Moudov / Oliver Musovik / Nina Fischer & Maroan el Sani / Olivier Nottellet / OHIO Photomagazine / Maria Papadimitriou / Florian Pumhösl / Tobias Putrih / Radek Group / Sal Randolph / Revolver Archiv für aktuelle Kunst / ROR Revolutions on Request / rraum-rraum02-ideoblast / Pia Rönicke / Hedwig Saxenhuber / Hans Schabus / Kalin Serapionov / Bruno Serralongue / Erzen Shkololli / Sancho Silva / Monika Sosnowska / Laura Stasíulytë / Mika Taanila / The Construction & Deconstruction Institute / Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas / Jasper van den Brink / Edin Vejselovic / wemgehoertdiestadt / Måns Wrange / Haegue Yang / Jun Yang / Zapp / Artur ?mijewski /