Road trip to Manifesta 9 and Documenta 13: 1st part

July 2, 2012
Author Vytautas Michelkevičius
Published in Review from Lithuania

Like every trip, this road trip started with high hopes, rolling expectations about big world-famous exhibitions, adventures on every corner, good road music and stops on the way to have coffee, to fill in and out. A curators-artists’ team from Nida Art Colony (of Vilnius Academy of Arts) and Lithuanian Interdisciplinary Artists’ Association headed towards West in boarding ferry from Klaipėda to Germany.

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“The dance was very frenetic, lively, rattling, clanging, rolling, contorted, and lasted for a long time. “ as said by dOCUMENTA curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. This situation was experienced by the team after 2 hours stuck in a traffic jam on German highway.

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Finally in the evening we landed in an unknown hotel with a nice balcony for drinking Belgium beer and eating cheese.

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In the morning we have finally reached our first long-waited art venue – the former coal mine of Andre Dumont in Genk. The big number 9 was proudly shining on the façade and we swarmed into the heart of industrial kingdom.

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The thirst of art was brought down by coffee break and reading of the Manifesta newspaper and trying to grasp the curatorial concept of it. Suddenly the happy line took our sights – the guided tours are offered for free and we moved to the exhibition spaces to meet the mediator.

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She was kind and helpful and we followed her voice for the first hour without any prior knowledge about the show.

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However not the show but the interior of the building itself was firstly coming into our eyes and minds. The building was staying abandoned for some years; however some nice details from Jugendstil were still present. The exhibition was spinning around three main concepts and sections: Poetics of Restructuring (Contemporary Art section), The Age of Coal (Historical Art section) and 17 Tons (Section about Cultural Heritage on the mining industry).

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The Historical art section was neatly done with some classical artists like Christian Boltanski and Richard Long. However one can doubt about necessity and curatorial decision to bring to the coal mine a piece of land art made of coals (Richard Long, Bolivian Coal Line, 1992). It is clear that literal installations don’t make the exhibition stronger. The biggest discovery for me was docu-modernism (a film programme on the industrialization in 1920s and 1930s) and specially for exhibition made wooden box-gallery loaded with artworks from couple of hundreds of years and arranged according to the topics, for example:  Underground as Hell, Aesthetics of Pollution, Carboniferous Landscape, Stakhanovism, Dark Matter, etc. It was the most consistent part of the Manifesta probably thanks to British co-curator Dawn Ades.

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The Contemporary Art section was referring to the topics of industrialism, capitalism, labour, effects of globalization, etc. However it was curated quite randomly and it was not clear why all these works come together. The massive work by Chinese artist Ni Haifeng “Para-production” was occupying the large hall and trying to terrify Western world with tremendous amount of textile waste which was brought to China.

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I have found much more interesting the fact that artist Rossella Biscotti has brought recycled copper (500 kg) from Ignalina Nuclear power plant and transformed it into wires which provided electricity for the whole Manifesta venue.

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The mood of the exhibition was set by the pile of loudspeakers which were amplifying and playing Internationale outside every time when the visitors were turning the handle of the musical box inside the building. It was a piece by Croatian artist Nemanja Cvijanovic. And of course the white chairs were always inviting for a cup of coffee.

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And finally here is a view to the backside of Manifesta venue. It is true that Modernity is falling apart as the Coal mine does. The Manifesta 9 with its undertitle “The Deep of the Modern” is a try to go back to the deepness of the Modern and this time it is highly site-specific which might be not so tasty to the international contemporary art public.

The full catalogue of works can be accessed here.