Fotograf Magazine

Sicilian Lemons Actually Come from Burma Manifesta 12: The Planetary Garden

Manifesta seems to have got a second wind. The last editions (in
St. Petersburg and Zurich) of this almost 25-year-old travelling biennial
tried (in a slightly forced way) to redefine its original mission – to create
a new unified identity, establish a network of renewed cultural exchanges,
and help Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Manifesta in Palermo
is not looking for the right direction anymore, and urgently reflects the
contemporary climate at both the political and artistic scene. It suggests
the likely future when Manifesta would like to be not only an artistic
biennial, but also an interdisciplinary tool for the real social change of the
urban landscape it enters to leaves its long legacy.

The Manifesta council showed this remarkable ambition, which seems
to be one of the few meaningful and sustainable solutions after the long time
when the biennial had been criticized as a tool of colonizing exploitation,
before selecting this year’s curators when it asked OMA Remus Koolhaase,
a Dutch architectural studio, to do complex research on the city of Palermo.
The aim of the research was to prepare not only a manual for the appropriate
management of the urban space for the Manifesta curators, but also
a study for the inhabitants of Palermo, presenting the possibilities of the city
development in both the short and long term.

I do not dare judge to what extent the suggested solutions will be
successful in the coming decades. But as a biennial visitor, I had not before
experienced such accurate and sensitive dialogue between contemporary
art and the fine webs of the social, cultural, historical and political context.
Palermo, the ancient crossroads of relations between Europe, Africa and
Asia, highlights the impact of the current urgent issues we usually perceive
only in the distance. Watching Forensic Oceanography a few steps from
the Mediterranean port a few days after the Italian border had been officially
closed to immigrants is unexpectedly intense. The voices of Laura Poitras,
Tanii Bruguera and Trevor Paglena, two hours away from one of the four
largest US radar stations for drone control, suddenly seem sharper. The
issues of climate change, gentrification, uncontrolled economic development
and the devastating force of tourism in Palermo also seem to have a different
meaning than in the sheltered white cubes of world museums.

Everything in Palermo has a very friendly, human scale, and visitors
do not face the typical biennial exhaustion caused by the plethora of art.
Moreover, one of the main actors of the biennial is the city itself with its
hidden riches. We can only hope that Manifesta will keep this spirit even in the coming years. By the way, Prague has been twice officially approached
as a possible hosting city, but the political representation of the Czech
capital has not realized the possible importance of such an offer yet.

Jen Kratochvil

Veduta di Palermo, Francesco Lojacono, 1875, Palermo Atlas, courtesy of OMA