Manifest Biennial
Virgínia de Medeiros, still from "Trem em trance", 2019. The work will be shown at the Berlin Biennale. Courtesy of the artist.

A 13th Manifestation and 11th Berlin Biennale will open in August and September, respectively, just a few months after Europe went through periods of quarantine in a radical way, quite different from the Brazilian tropical-suicide relativism. If there is one thing that characterizes biennials, it is to serve as a thermometer of the present. So, the inevitable question is how it becomes possible to continue with the exhibitions conceived before this very dramatic moment, marked by the collapse of health on the one hand, and on the other hand,  manifestations anti-racists arising from the murder of George Floyd by another.

What seems clear in both is that the two biennials already started from questions that, if they did not predict a virus like the one that spread across the planet, already pointed to a somewhat catastrophic scenario. “For us, the pandemic makes it clear that the themes of the 11th Berlin Biennale, such as the fight against fanaticism and extractivism, the vulnerability of individuals living in camps or situations of confinement, the existence of sex-dissident bodies, acquire greater urgency” , say the curators – the collective defines itself in the female voice – of the show, María Berríos, Renata Cervetto, Lisette Lagnado and Agustín Pérez Rubio, in a collective message via email.

Carlos Pertuis, Untitled, 1950. Oil on paper, 36 x 54 cm. Photo: Courtesy Museum of Images of the Unconscious.

According to them, “against this dystopia, we highlight artistic practices that value territorial claims, solidarity initiatives such as eco and hydrofeminism, or even forces that claim to be self-healing. With Covid-19, countries closed their borders, and the whole problem of political mobility became invisible.”

Berlin, now scheduled to open on September 5, was conceived by a group of curators with a Latin American pulse – Pérez Rubio, the only European, ended a four-year period in charge of the Museum of Latin American Art in Buenos Aires in 2018. (Malba). The biennial was already supported by the dissident thinking of thinkers such as Nise da Silveira (1905-1999). With her pioneering work at the Engenho de Dentro Psychiatric Center, in Rio de Janeiro, in providing patients with experiences in painting studios, she was also the creator of the Museum of Images of the Unconscious. Works created by two patients were selected to go to Berlin.

“The thermometer for understanding the present is not so different from Dr. Nise da Silveira's diagnosis, that is, that humanity lacks human warmth and that 'we are all responsible'”, remember the curators from Berlin.

Manifest Biennial
Adelina Gomes, Untitled. Oil on canvas, 1962, 64 x 53 cm, Museum of Images of the Unconscious. Courtesy of the Museum.

The interest in the artistic production of patients from psychiatric institutes finds resonance in the figure of the artist Flávio de Carvalho (1899-1973). He was the creator of the Clube dos Artistas Modernos (CAM), where he organized, in 1933, the event “Mês das Crianças e dos Loucos”, with the psychiatrist Osório Cesar, who also worked on art with the inmates of the Juqueri Psychiatric Hospital.

In turn, CAM is another inspiration for the scale of this edition of the Berlin Biennale, without spectacular aspirations, but with strong roots in the periphery of the German capital, since the headquarters of the first activities of the show is in the place where printers were manufactured. Rotaprint, in the working-class neighborhood of Wedding. It was there that the Brazilian artist Virginia de Medeiros participated in the exp. 2 with the collective Feministische Gesundheitsrecherchegruppe, a feminist health research group, between November of last year and February of this year.

According to the curators, the 11th Berlin Biennale was “conceived in a porous and procedural way; the experimental space we opened to the public last year in ExRotaprint allowed us to present the ideas that were outlined in the project and publicly rehearse a relationship with the local audience”. And they summarize: “We didn't work with a frame that came ready to be simply applied here; it is always difficult to bring a context without falling into exoticism and it was necessary to calibrate a lot in discursive terms.”

In addition to the ExRotaprint, the last “experience of the Berlin Biennale, called the epilogue, will take place in three other spaces: the Kunst-Werke (KW), the original headquarters of the show, the second floor of the Gropius Bau, an immense exhibition space built in the 19th XNUMX, near the completely renovated Potsdamerplatz, and the daad gallery, in the Kreuzberg district, a Turkish immigration region.

Manifest Biennial
“Paradise”, by French artist Martine Derain, who participates in Manifesta 13. Photo: Publicity.

grand puzzle

Attention to the local culture, to the city where the show takes place, has been a very particular mark and quality of Manifesta, the nomadic biennial that each edition takes place in a European city.  In 2020, the city of Marseille was chosen - it is already defined that 2022 the Manifesta will be in Pristina, Kosovo - and the opening scheduled for the next 28 August.

“Our audience comprises 75% of regional visitors and now, even more than before, we will need to transform the biennial into a locally focused social and cultural change platform that can help strengthen existing infrastructure and become more prominent. adjusted towards what communities need”, explains Dutch Hedwig Fijen, director of Manifesta.

In fact, in the last editions, and especially the most recent one, in Palermo, the show focused a lot on the city and now, in Marseille, the director points out that the trend already had this direction: “Manifest 13 was already quite aligned with some of the demands we now face, to move deliberately towards the local and towards true engagement with the community”.

With a team of international curators, made up of Alya Sebti (ifa gallery, from Berlin), Katerina Chuchalina (VAC Foundation, from Moscow) and Stefan Kalmár (ICA, from London), one of the tools for a reflection on the city is the Grand Puzzle, an urban survey by MVRDV (by Winy Maas). “This is an interdisciplinary study that analyzed Marseille and gathered an incredible amount of data that served as a tool for contextualization, analysis and inspiration from which Manifesta 13 participants were encouraged to engage in the development of creative interventions that engage with the city,” explains Fijen.

The Musée Grobet-Labadié, a 19th-century palace and one of the spaces that will host Manifesta 13 in Marseille
The Musée Grobet-Labadié, a 19th century palace and one of the spaces that will host Manifesta 13 in Marseille. Photo: Disclosure.

In Palermo, in the last edition, this study was carried out by the architectural firm of Rem Koolhas, an excellent guide to the Italian city.

In view of the new conditions imposed by the pandemic, the places that will host the main exhibition will no longer open all together, with alternating hours to avoid crowds and without the opening week for guests. “Instead, the launch program will be spread out over a three-month period, broken up into even smaller events, like a festival,” he says.

The exhibition, entitled Traits d'union.s (union treaties), will take place in six spaces in the city, none of them with a history in contemporary art, except for the Museum of Fine Arts. Thus, Manifesta continues to produce interventions that favor dialogues with local history, by placing current production in unusual spaces such as the Musée Grobet-Labadié, a 19th century palace.

With 47 participants, including many linked to literature, such as Georges Bataille and Roland Barthes, the Brazilian presence in this edition comes with Benjamin de Burca & Bárbara Wagner.

Focused on the location and with community engagement, Manifesta proves to be an important reference when the art world takes a break and needs to reinvent itself beyond the tireless VIP circuit, expensive and unnecessary events. ✱

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