Reports from Manifesta

Three “Manifesta’stions” of Curatorial Autonomy

by Erik Hagoort

Only after some time – half-way our four-day visit to Manifesta – while travelling by bus from Murcia to Cartagena, it became clear to me that this Manifesta actually consisted of three separate Manifesta’s. Each of the three curator collectives invited to create this Manifesta 8 – the Alexandria Contemporary Arts Forum (ACAF), the Chamber of Public Secrets (CPS) and – had organized its own Manifesta. CPS presented ¿The rest is history?, ACAF presented Overscore, and presented Constitution for Temporary Display. Each collective also used its own buildings and venues. There was no interaction between these three Manifesta’s.

Three Manifesta’s in one Manifesta catalogue

I could have known, that I would visit three Manifesta’s instead of one, if I had read theCuratorial Preface to the catalogue, in which the three collectives state: “…our projects exist as autonomous curatorial contributions. (…). All have their own scheme”. At the entrance of each Manifesta location in Murcia and Cartagena it was also clearly announced which curator collective had organized the show inside: big text boards explained that either, or Chamber of Public Secrets, or ACAF curated the show at that location. In the free maps and the free manual, to be used during the visit, each curator collective was marked by its own color. So I couldn’t have not notice it.

“Manifesta 8 does not present a coherent perspective on a given motto”, say the three curator collectives in their preface to the Manifesta 8 catalogue. So we shouldn’t search for a coherent perspective, that would be unfair. The point is, however, that during my visit time and again I was confronted with striking similarities between each of the three Manifesta’s. All locations with more artists and projects on show, shared projects concerning historical film footage; all presented projects revolving around workshops; all hosted projects consisting of discussions; all locations offered artistic ‘criticality’ projects, criticizing contemporary curatorship in general and the Manifesta organization in particular; all locations offered work based on interviews. And so on. There were also big similarities in content, intentions, and interests. This conclusion by the way doesn’t say anything about the works themselves.

Three Manifesta’s in Murcia

Of course there would be similarity between all shows and projects: Manifesta 8 commissioned the curator collectives to focus on the region of Murcia in all its historical, ideological, geographical and socio-political complexities. Naturally the outcome of all curatorial efforts was expected to overlap. But while visiting the shows the overlap was so striking. At first I honestly hoped that the curator collectives were fooling me, that they secretly had organized Manifesta 8 together. I might not share all choices of such a joint effort, but at least these would have been the outcome of an interesting process. Because why showing your autonomy as a curator collective when you have the unique chance to try to work it out all together and creating Manifesta as one joint effort? But alas, I was confronted with “autonomous curatorial contributions”.

What would the result have been if the three collectives had given up their own autonomy? Would the outcome be more or less similar to what I experienced now? I don’t think so, it would have been more adventurous, hazardous, raising questions instead of trying to answer questions. CPS, ACAF and, though each of them internally working collectively, seem to operate from their own autonomous collective identity. They seem to have their mentalities fixed; they have their convictions, which they clearly present in texts and way of working. Nothing wrong about a strong conviction. But if these three collectives had taken the chance to work it out together, each would have been urged by the other ones to look at itself vis-a-vis the other ones. Nothing could have been taken for granted. That was exactly, what could have made this Manifesta 8 into more than three shows of self-evident curatorial autonomy.

Three Manifesta’s in Cartagena

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