The Italian duo Masbedo Protocol. No 90/6, 2018. Commissioned by Manifesta. Photo: Disclosure

When Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini banned the disembarkation of 629 migrants from the ship Aquarius last June, Palermo Mayor Leoluca Orlando tried to counter the order: “We are convinced that immigrants are not a problem. This situation is an opportunity to defend the rights of all human beings to move and live in the place that suits them”, said Orlando at that time. As the Italian ports are under the care of the federal power, the immigrants had to disembark in Spain, almost a week later. The defense of free transit, however, echoed in the following days, when the mayor participated in the opening events of the 12th Manifesta edition, the traveling biennial in Europe, which continues in Palermo until November 4th. A rare politician, he stole the attention of journalists who followed the opening days, with speeches that contrast with the conservative and reactionary scenario of the current world.

Born in Palermo, where he studied law, Orlando, 71, studied in Heidelberg, Germany, with professors such as philosophers Martin Heidegger and Hans Georg Gadamer. Elected mayor of Palermo in 1985, he was one of the leaders who managed to reduce the power of the mafia, historically in control of Sicily.

Jelili Atiku, Festival of the earth, Alaraagbo XII, 2018. Performance held at Planetary Garden during Manifesta 12 in Palermo. Photo: Disclosure

Since then, he has been re-elected four times and the current term was won with 74% of the votes. Since the 1990s, 2015 mobsters have been arrested and Orlando's pro-immigration speech, consolidated in the Palermo Charter of 400, is not just theoretical: in the last two years, 5 immigrants have entered Sicily, an impressive amount for a population of XNUMX million inhabitants.

planetary garden

This context could not be more favorable to an exhibition like Manifesta: “We want to be a radically local and relevant biennial, so it is an exhibition about Palermo, and the essential issues here, from an island between three continents, which fights crime , against racism and global warming,” said Hedwig Fijen, director and creator of Manifesta.

Since 1996, Manifesta has visited 12 European cities, starting with Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, where the biennial was conceived, and going through Saint Petersburg (2014) and Zurich (2016), in the most recent editions.

In Palermo, the conception of the show began with a project led by the Dutch architectural firm OMA, which created the “Palermo Atlas”, a compilation of information on the architecture, culture and history of the city.

The exhibition itself was organized by a team of four cultural mediators, two of them architects — the Spaniard Andrès Jaque and the Italian Ippolito Pestelleni Laparelli, who also works at OMA — the Dutch artist Bregtje van der Haak — who participated in the 27th Bienal de SP, in 2006, and the Swiss curator Mirjam Varadinis.

“We worked together both in the selection and in the choice of locations, the objective was to look for spaces that do not usually present art, since there are great museums here, to create a new route through the city itself”, Haak told arte!brasileiros. To do so, the show is divided into 20 spaces, from small chapels, through immense palaces, to the city's Botanical Garden.

It is from there, by the way, that the name of this Manifestation comes: “The Planetary Garden”. The term is borrowed from the French botanist Gilles Clément who, in 1991, used the expression planetary garden to point out how nature and human culture are co-responsible for maintaining the Earth. Based on this concept, the show develops into three sections: Jardim dos Flows, Sala sem Controle, Cidade no Palco.

In the street 

The part of the exhibition in the Botanical Garden, however, is the least exciting part of Manifesta, after all it is difficult to compete with the plants that have grown there since 1789, one of the world references for the study of exotic species. Originally, the site was created for the cultivation and research of medicinal plants by the Academy of Studies of Palermo. Currently, it has more than 12 thousand species. Of the eight artists participating in this section, Colombian Alberto Baraya is the one who best explores the relationship with space, using a well-known series, in which he brings together fake plants and presents them as if they were objects of scientific study, which was presented at the Bienal of São Paulo in 2006. “It's a job that I couldn't really avoid here, after all it's totally suited to the Jar-
Botanical dim”, he said, near a window with several pieces of ceramic Sicilian lemons in one of the nurseries in the space.

However, it is in this friction between the city, its places and the artists' interventions that Manifesta takes place, and one of the best examples of this were the processions held in the opening week. They took place inspired by the dozens of religious festivities that take place throughout the year in Palermo, including that of the city's patron saint, Santa Rosalia, one of the landmarks of Sicilian culture explored by Coppola in the films of "The Godfather", an impossible reference to avoid there.

The Nigerian Jelili Atiku, the Italian Matilde Cassani, and the Italian duo Masbedo used the streets of Palermo, each in their own way, creating situations that simulated processions and public festivities. In the case of Atiku, the performance Festino dela Terra mixed the celebrations of Santa Rosalia with ancient archetypes of the Yoruba culture of men.
green. Cassani, on the other hand, occupied the most sumptuous intersection in the city, Quattro Canti, with an action called Tutto, throwing thousands of colored papers in the place, a reference to the baroque tradition of the city. These works are part of the Cidade no Palco section.

Matilde Cassani, performance held in Palermo with the collaboration of Francesco Bellina and Stefano Edward. Photo: Disclosure.


Manifesta’s most striking works are part of the Sala sem Controle section, an explicit irony of the term Control Room, and in it artists such as the Cuban Tania Bruguera, the French Kater Attia, the Turkish Erkan Özgen, the Dutch Patricia Kaersenhout and the Italian Filippo Minelli, among others, give a political tone to the show, by portraying contemporary dramas.

These artists are divided into two palaces: Ajutamicristo and Forcella de Setta, both examples of sumptuous Palermo in the 18th and 19th centuries, but decaying after the period when the mafia dominated the city throughout the 20th century. for the piece Palermo, Palermo, which the German choreographer Pina Bausch created in the city in 1989.

At the Ajutamicristo Palace, Bruguera makes an installation in collaboration with Movimento No
Muos, contrary to the system called Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), used by a US base that controls drones for war uses and whose satellite dishes are harmful to the inhabitants of Niscemi, the Sicilian city where they are installed. The installation is a sort of compilation of Italian militants' protest materials against MUOS. The American artist Laura Poitras also addresses
the same theme, presenting in a projection the region where the satellite dishes are located. Özgen is showing “Purple Muslim”, an installation created in collaboration with refugees about the impact of war on women fleeing conflict zones, a documentary that portrays the traumas of violence through sensitive accounts. Finally, Minelli hung dozens of protest flags from various origins in Palazzo Ajutamicristo, including a green and yellow one with the word “coup” highlighted.

Current and attentive to local issues that deserve global attention, Manifesta 12 is a vibrant edition that explores Palermo in a respectful way: at the same time that it reveals spaces that were previously unvisited, it fills them with impactful works and urgent content.

  • Also read about Manifesta 13, here.

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