“Please raise your hands if you are from northern Africa.”
No response on the bus.
“I’m sure there was someone . . . Yes my darling, where are you from? Morocco? Can we please have a round of applause for our friend from northern Africa. We are happy to see you.”
Now a familiar character on the biennial circuit, Thierry Geoffroy (or rather, his alter ego Colonel) gathers data on a pressing matter. Dressed in safari gear, he embarks on a mission into hostile territories to track down an elusive creature. The biennial ‘motto’ has had several suspected sightings at Manifesta 8, but no conclusive evidence to confirm its existence… Using the tools of investigative journalism, Colonel conducts on-the-street reportage with the locals: “Do you know any Algerians?” he asks one woman. “Would you like to meet one?”
Thierry Geoffroy/Colonel: Penetration Space (2010), San Anton Prison, Cartagena; image held here.
The Manifesta Foundation chose the Murcia region of Spain for its 8th edition of the nomadic European Biennial of Contemporary Art. Located at the southern edge of Europe, Manifesta 8 proposed that a dialogue with northern Africa would ensue. Colonel was not alone in his quest to dismantle this thematic approach. Overall, it was largely side-stepped and replaced with a more urgent set of questions: What is the nature of citizenship? What is the function of art? How does the media reflect and construct local and global realities?
Manifesta 8 proposed an innovative model for exhibition making, replacing the individual curatorial statement with a more discursive, collaborative inquiry, to reflect on the current burgeoning return of the group formation within art practice. Three curatorial collectives – Tranzit.org, Chamber of Public Secrets (C.P.S), and Alexandria Contemporary Arts Forum (A.C.A.F) – carried out independent projects that shared contexts and had obvious points of intersection. Over one hundred artists displayed predominantly newly commissioned artworks across fourteen different venues, outdoor spaces, and media platforms.
Sung Hwan Kim: Manahatas Dance, 2009, Pavilion 1, tranzit.org, Murcia, 2010, photo Ilya Rabinovich; image held here.
The outcome of this collective curatorial model produced complexity which was often challenging to track, but this network of inter-connected relationships allowed for a transparency of evolving relational encounters; conversations, broadcasts, critiques, think-tanks, interviews, along with audience participation. Dialogue was very much on display, functioning both as a methodology and as an archive of process.
Employing institutional critique to question existing models and routine conventions, Tranzit.org formulated a ‘Constitution for Temporary Display.’ Critiquing the biennial “spectacularisation of culture” and the dichotomy between local and global, Tranzit.org worked collaboratively with artists to forge new ways for diverse narratives to co-exist within the ephemeral exhibition space. The dominance of site-specifity provoked a reflection on human histories within a particular location, although some stories were more persuasive than others. Manahatas Dance (2009), a compelling video work by Sung Hwan Kim, drew the audience into a seductive world of memory. The figurative sequences were quirky and melodic, while alluding to the political within eerie apparitions.
For Manifesta 8, A.C.A.F formulated a complex ‘Theory of Enigmatics’ which analyzed the condition of art today. Examining the function of the historical archive, the dissemination of fact and the subjective nature of truth, A.C.A.F aimed to re-address the existing knowledge and vocabulary that we rely on to reflect on human issues.
Jean Marc Superville Sovak: It Can’t Last, No Rush (2010), installation, commissioned by ACAF for Manifesta 8.
Displaying a ‘monument to impermanence,’ Jean Marc Superville Sovak’s It Can’t Last, No Rush (2010) offered a welcome tactile relief to the onslaught of dialogue. A precarious stack of crumbling red bricks each stamped with the word ‘Empire,’ attested to the notion that under the buildings of churches can be found the remains of mosques. This acted as a timely reminder that in the grand scheme of things, empires come and go.