drucken Bookmark and Share

By Miriam La Rosa

A Guest on the Edge: Manifesta and the Quest for European Unity and Solidarity

1. Introduction in the period of coronavirus

Melbourne, April 12, 2020

I am writing these words from what has been, for over three weeks now, my new office, i.e. the dining table of my living room in Melbourne. Exactly one month ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic, and an unforeseen chapter of life in isolation began for us all. From that same day, however, my thoughts have been housed in Europe. The current health crisis is wildly affecting cities and regions of all continents, with my home country, Italy, and other European neighbors contending for pole position. The effects of the virus surpass both physical and mental health to also impact global politics and economy. They are mainly negative effects, since the number of confirmed cases and deaths has been increasing, and most political structures and economic systems are being challenged. Yet, there is hope for positive change as well, regarding, for instance, our future relationship with the environment and a revised understanding of community, communication, and work. These events have shaken the world as we knew it, but my concerns equally relate to the aftermath; how much of the isolation, social distancing, cleaning, and closing down will be scarred into our bodies and minds? Whilst we are strengthening the links to those who are the nearest and dearest in our hearts, will we forever remain afraid of getting close to strangers?

On a geopolitical level, Europe is facing the revaluation of two notions deemed as foundations of its modern constitution and identity: unity and solidarity. The latter has become the 2020 buzzword. From the UN declaration[i] to the clinical trial launched by WHO[ii] to find a treatment for the novel virus, “Solidarity” stands as a desired yet controversial objective. The European Union plays the role of protagonist in this scenario. At the point of writing, the EU member nations are in fact struggling to find agreement on how to respond to the health crisis in economic terms, with some countries still refusing to support the conversion of the European Stability Mechanism—a tool to help those confronted with financial hardship—into Eurobonds (now also dubbed Coronabonds) that would generate a shared debt rather than individual obligations for each nation. The political leaders of the member states that advocate sharing resources, and with them responsibilities, are therefore asking, “What are European unity and solidarity?” Thinking about the way the EU has handled the flows of people landing on its shores thus far, I am afraid they should not be surprised. Most likely, unity and solidarity are not priority targets of the European agenda, for we always knew that the EU was primarily born as a strategic placeholder.

In light of these events, this paper is located in Europe to look at the nomadic biennial Manifesta, whose 13th iteration was supposed to take place in Marseille, France, in June 2020 and has now been postponed, along with its very timely title: Traits d’union.s—which in English translates into ‘hyphens,’ elements of conjunction. Among the large-scale exhibitions that have shaped contemporary art since the mid-twentieth century, Manifesta was founded with the ambition of building bridges throughout European cities of the East and the West. By its third edition, this aim further grew to tackle the gap between center and peripheries and, by the fifth edition, the North-South divide of the region. This paper references the biennial’s inception, discussing in greater detail the latest iteration to address the following question: does Manifesta imagine values of unity and solidarity in the European context, or does it instead present in the contemporary art field an idea of Europe as a fragmented hegemony?

2. Manifesta en route from The Planetary Garden to Traits d’union.s

The history of Manifesta has been thoroughly outlined in several accounts.[iii] The biennial was established in Rotterdam in 1996, after a five-year gestation of an initiative launched by the Dutch government, with the twofold mission of connecting European cities of the West and former Communist bloc, hence unifying and showcasing the work of emerging practitioners. It followed in the steps of the Paris Biennial, which closed in 1985, and counterpartyed Venice, which had just interrupted Aperto, a program in support of young artists. Nonetheless, at a conceptual level, the true precursor of Manifesta was The Biennial of Peace, organized by French artist Robert Filliou in Hamburg, in 1985, and conceived as a nomadic biennial. Its second edition was scheduled to take place in the Netherlands, but it never occurred, because Filliou died and the project faded.[iv] Judging from Manifesta’s ambitions, The Biennial of Peace was a model not only in terms of structure, but also of ideals. The 1996 statement of Manifesta had in fact proposed that: “Through its charter and its organisational structure [the biennial would] maintain the maximum independence from political, commercial and sectarian influences.”[v] As I shall further explain, this ambition was not always attainable.

Significantly, Manifesta came into existence at a central moment in the history of Europe as a geopolitical region, after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the end of the Cold War, as well as the formation of the EU from the former European Community, in 1993. A year before, Jacques Derrida, a pivotal voice in the discourse around Europeanness, had published The Other Heading. This text articulated a definition of European identity as located at the crossroad of political unification and the upholding of differences among those countries that constitute Europe.[vi] In other words, and in usual Derridean style, this balancing act would translate into an aporia, i.e., “the experience and experiment of the impossible.” Unity did not delay in its arrival, first, politically, and later monetarily as well. What remained incompatible, though, were the cultural and economic disparities that still fracture the region up to the present. The question of what Europe is three decades after unification must, as Benedict Anderson would put it, be framed by the disclaimer that its identity was always imaginary and provisional rather than fixed and solid—though it was no more real at an ideological level.[vii] More importantly for this paper, how does Manifesta relate to the crisis that is challenging this imaginary of European unity today?

In 2018, the travelling biennial landed in Sicily, my very first home. From June to November, The Planetary Garden, Cultivating Coexistence took over the streets, parks, and historical buildings of the capital city, and other centers, coinciding with the nomination of Palermo as Capitale Italiana della Cultura 2018 (2018 Italian Capital of Culture). The curatorial strategy borrowed from a notion formulated in 1997 by landscape architect Gilles Clément, which questions the responsibility of human beings in managing the ecology of the planet, a pertinent and on-point matter in the climate emergency. The team of creative mediators, aka curators, included Dutch journalist and filmmaker Bregtje van der Haak, Spanish architect and researcher Andrés Jaque, the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA)’s partner Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, and Swiss curator at Kunsthaus Zurich Mirjam Varadinis. Their planning was the consequence of a six-month urban study of Palermo conducted by OMA architects, which examined social, historical, and archaeological features to guide the development of the events. This investigation generated an Atlas, a word plus image publication, acting as the biennial’s manifesto. Many historical buildings, whose access was otherwise forbidden to the general public, were employed as exhibition venues.[viii]

Manifesta 12 revealed itself as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, with regards to the visual arts, Sicily gained a dose of global attention, with artists, art experts, and art lovers congregating on its shores. On the other, as often occurs with such international exhibitions, Manifesta brought the region only a temporary wave of change. Much criticism questioned the relevance of the curatorial vision, the management of the event’s venues, and the nature of the funding. “The best thing about Manifesta 12 is the city,” claimed, for instance, The Guardian.[ix] Indeed, for some, the biennial adopted unimpressive and conventional approaches to the display of art, failing to address and relate to Sicily’s most pressing issues.[x]

I will avoid the temptation to analyze the list of the forty-four participants, among them artists, architects, and collectives invited to exhibit within the official program, on the basis of country of origin or location, because it would prove unproductive. However, when looking at it in geopolitical terms, EU members outnumbered the countries of the wider European region if, nonetheless, flanked by a selection of other interlocutors.[xi] In fact, this argument has been brought forward in relation to previous editions of the biennial—with curator Okwui Enwezor standing on top of the discussion.[xii] A counterpoint to this argument is to set regionalism aside and look at contemporary art from a global perspective, in which the location and provenance of an artist should not be of the outmost importance, though I believe that we are far from a stage where origins, backgrounds, and geography can be ignored. In the case of Europe alone, identity is still a wounded concept—socially, culturally, and economically—and the European Union is perhaps one of main sites of this wound, an entity that often divides and is divided. The EU’s internal struggle to manage the current health crisis is but the tip of an iceberg, which moves through the most recent episode of Brexit to the earlier establishment of the Eurozone, all the way down to the Treaty of Maastricht and its very formation—and to well before that, if we consider the two World Wars and the totalitarian projects of both Nazism and Fascism.

Yet, since its inception, the rationale of Manifesta seems to be located in the European Union before Europe. The organizers themselves have noted this issue and attributed it to the difficulty of involving certain countries of the European region as hosts, due to financial constraints, i.e., the high costs that receiving Manifesta infers.[xiii] If a city aspires to hold the biennial, it has to be able to source and provide majority of the required funds. Then what about the artists? For an event that takes place in Sicily, it is unfortunate to fail to draw attention to the local artistic community. Does the search for pan-Europeanness mean the local should be neglected?

A perhaps more constructive and, in turn, complex way of looking at the artistic representations and choices of Manifesta 12 requires a reflection on the configuration and structure of the local art scene. Sicily lists only a handful of commercial galleries, among which the players at a larger national or international scale can be reduced to a couple, and where local artistic representation is scarce. Nonetheless, alongside the commercial sector, there is also the field of independent curatorial research and practice. I reached out to art critic, journalist, and curator Giusi Diana, whose work on contemporary Sicilian art has a solid legacy. Giusi was involved, like other local practitioners, in the biennial’s collateral events. She pinpointed that, despite their urban-oriented fieldwork, the Manifesta team did not succeed in infiltrating the artistic fabric of the city of Palermo, or of Sicily at large, in a thorough way.[xiv] “Cultivating co-existence” is not a new theme in a context like Sicily. There is a lineage of projects, involving local artists and curators alike, that was already exploring the nature of migration across the Mediterranean when the deaths at sea of refugees in transit from Africa were not yet a European problem. Perhaps it would have been useful to look at these pre-existing practices and generate an archive to utilize as a point of departure. The Sicilian edition only reinforced what Charles Green and Anthony Gardner had already concluded in their genealogy of the biennial’s phenomenon, i.e., that Manifesta’s approach towards European representation and nomadism is soft, liberal, and lyrical at its best.[xv]

What is more—and to go back to what the biennial’s first statement had propelled—a complex aspect of The Planetary Garden was the nature of the funding. Of the seven-million-euro budget, almost €3.5 million came from Palermo’s municipality, and the rest from private sponsors with the largest contribution offered by Sisal, the leading company to support gambling in Italy. Unfortunately, such a choice is not surprising when compared to a global scenario where funding for the arts often derives from ethically questionable sources and capital. Though, when evaluated against the economic strain of the island and the strong link between poverty and gambling, the selection of Sisal as main funding partner was extremely alarming.

In the same month of the biennial’s opening, the media were full to bursting with the news of the Italian government’s attempted rejection of a boat filled with over 600 refugees from Africa who were attempting to reach the Sicilian harbor. Palermo’s mayor, Leoluca Orlando, condemned the event and its initiator, the country’s then deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini, proclaiming Palermo an open seaport for all in need. These features irremediably ended up setting the biennial’s context and adding weight to its mission for the next ten years: “Focus[ing] on evolving from an art exhibition into an interdisciplinary platform for social change, introducing holistic urban research and legacy-oriented programming as the core of its model.”[xvi] This is exactly where the problem lies: grand statements of intention call for equally grand results, which are often impossible to realize if the weapon is art on its own. Contemporary art can in fact be political, in the sense of taking clear positions and exploring alternatives in order to potentially instigate change, but it cannot substitute itself for politics, merely because art does not make policies. People and governments do. Hence, on their part, art institutions like biennials should restrain themselves from pretending to transform the mechanisms that lead world’s politics and rather focus on what contemporary art can do, i.e., offering challenging perspectives and questioning otherwise normative assumptions.

fig. 1 Giuseppe Lana, Square, 2018. Manifesta 12 (Politics of Dissonance), Palermo 2018. Photograph by: Lisa Wade. Image courtesy of the artist.

An example of an eloquent artwork in this regard was the contribution to the collateral program of the biennial by Sicilian artist Giuseppe Lana[xvii]: Square (2018) [figs. 1-2] featured a series of billboards where Lana printed a famous quote by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, i.e., “Un popolo di poeti, di artisti, di eroi, di santi, di pensatori, di scienziati, di navigatori, di trasmigratori,”[xviii] translated into four languages among the ones spoken in the Mediterranean: Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, and Greek. The original quote is inscribed on the roof of the Square Coliseum, a fascist-era building in Southeast Rome, used as a slogan by Mussolini to emphasize Italian nationalist ideals and an intention towards colonialism. Lana’s gesture aimed to reflect on the political climate of intolerance and growing nationalism in Italy, strongly supported by Matteo Salvini’s open fight against refugees and non-citizens of any sorts. His act of translation prompted exclusion, for people who cannot read the language could not understand the content of the sentence. Concurrently, it aspired towards the inclusion of those migrants who, native speakers of one of the four languages, could appreciate the meaning of the quote and, perhaps, without knowing its original context, find a positive form of identification with it. Undoubtedly, Mussolini would have not predicted, or certainly hoped, that by now Italy would be populated with many other poets, artists, heroes, saints, thinkers, scientists, navigators, and travellers of non-Italian origins. The proposal of this work was especially effective if we consider that the installation was located in Sicily, the multiethnic arrival point par excellence of the Mediterranean Sea, and that the billboards were placed outside of historical palazzos and in busy streets of the capital city, mingled with other forms of political and economic propaganda.

fig. 2 Giuseppe Lana, Square, 2018. Manifesta 12 (Politics of Dissonance), Palermo 2018. Photograph by: Lisa Wade. Image courtesy of the artist.

Nevertheless, the provocation and energy raised in a work like Square was only momentary. Once Manifesta left Sicily to relocate in France, reviews and critiques went back to highlight Palermo’s return to a condition of sleep, pointing a finger at the city’s administration as much as at the biennial itself.[xix] The blessing of Manifesta therefore turns out to be its greatest burden: that of being one guest event amongst ever-rotating other host cities. As a guest, the biennial plays an unusual role because, despite its genuine intention of uniting, it has historically exacerbated gaps, holding greater influence over the household (and the art on display) than the hosts themselves. I am here specifically thinking of its third iteration in Slovenia or the fifth one in the Basque region of Spain. Palermo can be taken as the latest case within a larger sample in which hosting cities have merely functioned as containers, i.e., where local artistic communities have not been given appropriate importance and space.

If we follow Derrida’s steps once again, we will recall that host and guest are crucial players in the hospitality game.[xx] The complexity of their relationship is evident from the etymology of the words. The Latin hospitem denotes both “guest, stranger, sojourner, visitor (hence also ‘foreigner’)” and “host, one bound by ties of hospitality,”[xxi] while the Proto-Indo-European roots *ghos-pot-, i.e., “guest-master, someone with whom one has reciprocal duties of hospitality,” and *poti-, “powerful, lord,”[xxii] further suggest that hospitality is not a charitable doing. Quite the opposite, host and guest are involved in a competition for power, whereby hospitality can potentially turn into hostipitality, i.e., when hostility prevails over a mutually empowering form of exchange.[xxiii] Fatefully, the act of looking at Manifesta through the lens of hospitality brings to light an issue that confronts Europe at its very core: the reception of and interaction with those who attempt to come in from outside the region, or those who move across it from within its borders. I shall also admit that pointing at Manifesta as the only culpable party, an entirely hegemonic guest, would not be fair, if not another (colonial) way of approaching the host-guest relationship. Hosting cities have agency in this exchange as well, and perhaps this is the truly innovative perspective one should adopt to look at the biennial. How are both sides playing their role in a trade that takes art as its currency? What concrete prospect of international (shall I call it European) conversation does the biennial propose to its hosts? And how much are the local hosts willing to give and take to support the stake of their own artistic communities? The artists are the fatalities or, perhaps, the site, of this gift exchange. The biennial is a political machine trying to enact a strategy of cultural diplomacy and, in turn, serving as window dressing to the local governments of artistically overlooked areas of Europe, who aspire to make their own territories more appealing to international tourists.

The key to tackling the issues of a southern territory like Sicily—which are closer to those of the Global South rather than to the geopolitical north that contains it—is not to contrast globally oriented initiatives. However, to move forward is to be mindful that the act of hosting should not foment expectations for such initiatives to abruptly improve the conditions of a region. A place like Sicily evolves at its own speed, one that will be deemed inadequate only when compared to a system of development that is exclusively oriented towards homogenization or, to remain within the framework of this paper, supposed European standards. When attempting to marry global projects with local contexts, it is indeed necessary to acknowledge, respect, and foster both the historical and contemporary specificities of a place, its stories and trajectories of evolution. In Sicily, for instance, these features are those of a multicultural, hybrid, and southern territory that is congenitally welcoming to otherness whilst suffering from a legacy of exploitation and marginalization. When the biennial visits a new host, its urgency should be to pay significant attention to the artists and regional enterprises that are rooted in the territory. Small-scale public and private institutions, grassroots projects, independent curators and researchers, artist-studios and artist-run spaces are in fact playing within the strengths and weaknesses of the hosting contexts and with different ways of experiencing identity and belonging. Conversely, and from the host’s perspective, without an incentive that looks at the local needs with a critical eye, and that engages different layers of society, any attempt to promote internationally driven projects will prove itself unproductive.

A possible avenue towards change could be to associate the urban studies the biennial is already conducting in the host cities with locally invested research from an artistic and curatorial viewpoint as well. In other words, to consult, ask for help, and support at a micro level. In parallel, it could be useful to encourage an interaction between such local experts with their international, visiting peers, and to take the biennial as an opportunity to not only initiate a dialogue but to also find ways to sustain it over time. I am now thinking of how Pierpaolo Pasolini distinguished between sviluppo (development) and progresso (progress), the former based on financial increment, hence on the satisfaction of immediate interests, and the latter being an ideology with social and political implications.[xxiv] Can we aim for progressing instead of developing? After all, if we endorse the fact that the binary center-periphery is no longer applicable to describe the contemporary art field, all places can equally be central and peripheral, depending on the perspective with which one chooses to look at them. The target should not be to become like a hub but to exist through idiosyncrasies, independently from the hub. Only then could artistic objects and projects symbolize a more profound form of trade, where those who host and those who are hosted consciously cooperate to seek mutual empowerment and growth, rather than compromise. This approach, of course, admits a responsibility towards the arts that goes beyond mere appreciation and towards a form of invested prioritization and support.

Bringing this paper towards a conclusion, my feelings head in multiple directions. The skeptical side of me is disillusioned by what Europe (and Manifesta with it?) has long appeared from its southern edge or flank, Sicily, that is, as an idea and ideology in which cultural identities, histories, and differences are flattened to favor a project where unity feels like a threatening hegemony. An equally scary scenario, though, emerges if we consider that Europe is in danger of splitting into the nationalisms that formerly destroyed it in the World Wars that are still fresh in cultural memory, promoting xenophobia, racism, and cultural protectionism as a reaction to the shortcomings of unity. The crystallization into one position (pan-Europeanism) or the other (nationalism) leads back to the aporia that Derrida anticipated, and that cannot be resolved but only continually negotiated. In the end, I choose to be optimistic. Can art play a role in this negotiation? Manifesta 13 has declared an intention to evolve the legacy of the Sicilian iteration to “not only co-exist, but actually come together to create new forms of care and ties of solidarity.”[xxv] Will Traits d’union.s confirm the assertion of its title and finally offer us a different case in point? I truly hope that the global crisis we are facing is not only postponing the scheduled events but also providing an expanded and creative space in which to stimulate innovative approaches to the difficult practice of unity and solidarity in the wider European context.

3. Concluding Remarks for a Post- Time

I am aware that this paper has raised many questions and contributed only a few answers. Yet, how could it be otherwise? Words do not solve problems; actions do. As a person who was born and raised in a place called an island, incessantly floating between the eagerness of Europe and the heritage of Africa, and who left its southern shores to chase the nebulous shadow of a European identity, I am very much aware of the difference between words and actions. However, the former is the very first step towards the latter and a viable methodology to begin deconstructing the world and its contradictions. I do not endorse a prospect where institutions like biennials set goals for themselves that resemble the agenda of a politician. But once again, it is not fruitful to demonize an institution alone, when the problem is the world of contemporary art as a whole. From the funds it pursues to the dynamics it enacts and the language it uses, it is evident that our contemporary art field is still largely attached to, or at least affected by, the legacy of the imperial project of modernity, which has found a perfect partner in the society of the spectacle of our century. Biennials are only one of the most visible symptoms emerging at the surface. Hence, going back to the point of the map we departed from, if we would admit that a shared European market does not have to be imagined as a monolithic identity, we could finally employ our energies to search for ways to get together and cooperate—and not to isolate and divide—which thrive on difference, and constructive chaos, rather than controlled harmony. As for Manifesta: can the biennial ever be a true guest when, in fact, it is more a host in disguise? And can hosts take on responsibility for their own artistic communities when they apply for the guest biennial to join their households? In fact, an art institution like a biennial is not a traveller looking for refuge, whose access should be granted on the basis of a fundamental right, but a privileged visitor who carries an established political influence and, as such, a secular power that cannot be underestimated. With these concluding question marks, I look forward to a time after the virus—or a different time with it?—with the wish that the shaking of certainties will involve some of the stagnant facets of the art world as well.


Miriam La Rosa is a curator and PhD Candidate at the University of Melbourne. Her research looks at the relationship between host and guest in the context of the artist residency with a focus on the notion of the South. In 2019, she co-curated, with Kade McDonald, a cross-cultural exchange project through residencies between Sicily (Italy), Gippsland and Peppimenarti (Australia) involving artists Giuseppe Lana, Regina Pilawuk Wilson, and Steaphan Paton. She is a sessional tutor for the subjects ‘Contemporary Art’ and ‘Biennials, Triennials and Documenta’ at the University of Melbourne, a founding member of the Graduate Academy, Centre of Visual Arts (CoVA) and a member of the executive board of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA) Australia. Previously, she worked as Senior Researcher for the art consultancy agency Montabonel & Partners, London, and was a member of Five Years, an artist-run space active in London since 1998. She has contributed to projects in the Education, Public Program, and Exhibition departments of institutions including Whitechapel Gallery, London (for the 2015 exhibition Rivane Neuenschwander: The Name of Fear), the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (for the 2015 exhibition ZERO: Let Us Explore the Stars), and the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (for the 2013 exhibitions Sheela Gowda: Open Eye Policy and Piero Gilardi – Samen Werken). Miriam holds an MA in Curating the Contemporary from London Metropolitan University, a Master of Museology from Reinwardt Academy, Amsterdam, and a BA (Hons) in Art History from Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Brescia.


[i] “Declaration of solidarity of the United Nations in the face of the challenges posed by COVID-19” General Assembly of the United Nations, 30 March 2020, accessed 12 April 2020, https://www.un.org/pga/74/2020/03/30/declaration-of-solidarity-of-the-united-nations-in-the-face-of-the-challenges-posed-by-covid-19/

[ii] ““Solidarity” clinical trial for COVID-19 treatments” World Health Organization, accessed 12 April 2020, https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/global-research-on-novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov/solidarity-clinical-trial-for-covid-19-treatments

[iii] The history of Manifesta has been thoroughly reconstructed and analysed by Charles Green and Anthony Gardner in their genealogy of biennials, triennials and documenta. Charles Green and Anthony Gardner, Biennials, Triennials, and Documenta: The Exhibitions That Created Contemporary Art (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2016). Previous references include: Renee et.al. Block, "How a European Biennial of Contemporary Art Began," in The Manifesta Decade : Debates on Contemporary Art Exhibitions and Biennials in Post-Wall Europe, ed. Barbara and Elena Filipovic Vanderlinden (MIT Press, 2005). Charlotte Bydler, "Manifesta - the European Biennial," in The Global Artworld Inc. : On the Globalization of Contemporary Art (Uppsala University, 2004).

[iv] Bydler, "Manifesta - the European Biennial." 144.

[v] “Manifesta 1. Foundation of European Art Manifestation” Manifesta Biennial, accessed 12 April 2020, http://m1.manifesta.org/statement.htm

[vi] Jacques Derrida, The Other Heading : Reflections on Today's Europe / Jacques Derrida ; Translated by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael B. Naas ; Introduction by Michael B. Naas., Studies in Continental Thought (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992).

[vii] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London; New York: Verso, 2006; 1983).

[viii] Examples are Palazzo Ajutamicristo, partly own by the Sicilian regional government, Palazzo Costantino or Palazzo Butera, labelled la reggia dei gattopardi for its baroque splendour, re-opened during Manifesta after the Valsecchi family purchased it in 2016 for restoration.

[ix] Adrian  Searle, "Manifesta 12 Review - Plant Sex, Puppets and a Dial-a-Spy Booth," The Guardian 2018.

[x] Arseny Zhilyaev, "Revisiting Manifesta 12, Palermo," Art Agenda (2018).

[xi] The selected artists were either originating from or based in one the following countries: Italy, Belgium, Croatia, The Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, France, Greece, United Kingdom, Jerusalem, Lebanon, Kurdistan / Turkey, Algeria, Russia, China, United States, Colombia, Brazil, Cuba, Nigeria and South Africa. Italian artists represented approximately one quarter of the participants – with very few Sicilian, e.g. artist Renato Leotta and architect Roberto Collovà as well as the Fare Ala collective, involved by Wu Ming 2 + Wu Ming Foundation within the project Viva Menilicchi! The full list can be found on the biennial’s website: “Participants” Manifesta 12, accessed 12 April 2020, http://m12.manifesta.org/participants/

[xii] Enwezor also referred to Manifesta as a simulation of the European Cultural Capital, another mobile initiative that would move from one European city to another every year.

[xiii] Block, "How a European Biennial of Contemporary Art Began."

[xiv] I spoke with Giusi Diana on a phone conversation on 19 April 2020.

[xv] Green and Gardner, Biennials, Triennials, and Documenta: The Exhibitions That Created Contemporary Art. 144-179

[xvi] “What is Manifesta?” Manifesta 12, accessed 12 April 2020, http://m12.manifesta.org/agen-domino99-online-yg-mudah-menang/

[xvii] The installation was part of Politics of Dissonance curated by Mike Watson.

[xviii] A nation of poets, of artists, of heroes, of saints, of thinkers, of scientists, of navigators, of trans-migrants. (Author’s translation).

[xix] In Italian: “Ricordate Manifesta? Palermo, un anno dopo: i numeri, i soldi (spesi) e cosa resta” Balarm, accessed 12 April 2020, https://www.balarm.it/blog/ricordate-manifesta-palermo-un-anno-dopo-i-numeri-i-soldi-spesi-e-cosa-resta-106944; “Palermo, Teatro Garibaldi: dopo Manifesta resta il vuoto di una città apatica” ilSicilia.it, accessed 12 April 2020, https://www.ilsicilia.it/palermo-teatro-garibaldi-dopo-manifesta-resta-il-vuoto-di-una-citta-apatica/.

[xx] Jacques Derrida and Anne Dufourmantelle, Of Hospitality, Cultural Memory in the Present (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2000., 2000). Jacques Derrida, On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, Thinking in Action (London; New York: Routledge, 2001., 2001).

[xxi] “Host” Online Etymology Dictionary, accessed 12 April 2020, https://www.etymonline.com/word/host

[xxii] “It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit patih “master, husband;” Greek posis, Lithuanian patis “husband;” Latin potis “powerful, able, capable; possible.”” Ibid.

[xxiii] Jacques Derrida, Barry Stocker, and Forbes Morlock, "Hostipitality," Angelaki 5, no. 3 (2000).

[xxiv] Pier Paolo Pasolini, "Sviluppo E Progresso," in Saggi sulla politica e società, Scritti Corsari, ed. Walter Siti (Milano1999).

[xxv] “The Concept” Manifesta 13, accessed 12 April 2020, https://manifesta13.org/traits-dunion-s/concept/



Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London; New York: Verso, 2006; 1983.

Block, Renee et.al. "How a European Biennial of Contemporary Art Began." In The Manifesta Decade : Debates on Contemporary Art Exhibitions and Biennials in Post-Wall Europe, edited by Barbara and Elena Filipovic Vanderlinden: MIT Press, 2005.

Bydler, Charlotte. "Manifesta - the European Biennial." In The Global Artworld Inc. : On the Globalization of Contemporary Art: Uppsala University, 2004.

Derrida, Jacques. On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness. Thinking in Action. London ; New York: Routledge, 2001., 2001.

———. The Other Heading : Reflections on Today's Europe / Jacques Derrida ; Translated by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael B. Naas ; Introduction by Michael B. Naas. Studies in Continental Thought. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.

Derrida, Jacques, and Anne Dufourmantelle. Of Hospitality. Cultural Memory in the Present. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2000., 2000.

Derrida, Jacques, Barry Stocker, and Forbes Morlock. "Hostipitality." Angelaki 5, no. 3 (2000): 3-18.

Green, Charles, and Anthony Gardner. Biennials, Triennials, and Documenta: The Exhibitions That Created Contemporary Art. John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2016.

Pasolini, Pier Paolo. "Sviluppo E Progresso." In Saggi sulla politica e società, Scritti Corsari, edited by Walter Siti. Milano, 1999.

Searle, Adrian "Manifesta 12 Review - Plant Sex, Puppets and a Dial-a-Spy Booth." The Guardian, 2018.

Zhilyaev, Arseny. "Revisiting Manifesta 12, Palermo." Art Agenda (2018). Published electronically 25 September 2018.

Go back

Issue 46 / June 2020

Contemporary Art Biennales – Our Hegemonic Machines in Times of Emergency

by Ronald Kolb, Shwetal A. Patel, Dorothee Richter


by Daniel Knorr

European Influenza

by Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv

Detox Dance

by Delia Popa

Mice Insanity

by Diana Dulgheru

50 HZ

by Daniel Knorr

Instant Community

by Farid Rakun


by Raqs Media Collective


by Defne Ayas and Natasha Ginwala


by Ekaterina Degot


by Yung Ma


by Eva González-Sancho Bodero and Per Gunnar Eeg-Tverbakk


by Raluca Voinea


by Răzvan Ion


by Daniel Knorr

Trams and Institutions

by Lara van Meeteren and Bart Wissink

Biennials and Hegemony: Experiences from the Thai Laboratory

by Raqs Media Collective

Freeing the Weights of the Habitual

by Robert E. D’Souza

Before, During, After Biennale

By Manifesta 12 Creative Mediators: Bregtje van der Haak, Andrés Jaque, Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, Mirjam Varadinis

The Planetary Garden. Cultivating Coexistence.

WHW in conversation with Omar Kholeif

Curating the Revolution: Meeting Points 7 [1]

by Henk Slager


by Vasyl Cherepanyn

East Europe Biennial Alliance

by Ksenija Orelj

We’re Off

by Catherine David

documenta X

by Okwui Enwezor

The Black Box

by Sabeth Buchmann and Ilse Lafer

On the Documenta 14 in Athens

by Julia Bethwaite and Anni Kangas

The Paradoxes of the Biennale

by Federica Martini

One Biennale, Many Biennials

by Vittoria Martini

Venice, the Biennale and the Bees