PRINT May 2004

International Shorts

Manifesta 5

FOR ITS FIFTH EDITION, THE MOST NOMADIC of European art expos will materialize from June 11 to September 30 in Spain’s Basque country, distributing some fifty artists’ works through six venues in two neighboring cities—the tourist hub of Donostia–San Sebastián and the industrial port of Pasaia—under the curatorial stewardship of Marta Kuzma and Massimiliano Gioni. This set of hands may be steady (Kuzma, now an independent curator, previously helmed the WPA/Corcoran in Washington, DC, while Gioni directs Milan’s Trussardi Foundation and co-runs New York’s Wrong Gallery), but the chosen territory is anything but. Indeed, so emblematic of the region is the instability arising from its linguistic and social pluralism and its fractious relationship with the rest of Spain that the curators focused, they say, on creating an intelligent analogy of it. In so doing, they decided not to limit themselves to showing younger artists (as is Manifesta’s tradition) and also bypassed overtly political art in favor of what Gioni calls “works that refused to be immediately translatable or transparent . . . [by] artists who develop private worlds and universes.” The result is a show where reanimated metaphors from the past—Bas Jan Ader’s films of himself falling, for example—play against contextually pertinent newer works such as Sven Augustijnen’s documentaries of aphasia sufferers, and where familiar names such as Daniel Roth, Gillian Wearing, and John Bock stud a list of lesser lights. What’s critical here, it seems, is to get the right art—art whose hieroglyphic subtlety might reflect how polemics are encoded in images, institutions, and social dynamics—rather than the newest.

Of potentially greater impact than any individual work, though, is what’s happening in Pasaia, a site chosen to reflect what Kuzma calls the “spectral doubling” that characterizes San Sebastián. Thanks to the negotiating efforts of Manifesta 5’s research wing, the Office of Alternative Urban Planning, two dead industrial spaces on the town’s coastline (Casa Ciriza, a defunct fish warehouse, and Ondartxo, a disused shipbuilding plant) will be reactivated, not just temporarily as exhibition spaces, but for an indefinite time after the show’s three-month run, when they will become multidisciplinary laboratories for “researching the importance of cultural production as a mechanism for urban revival,” as Kuzma puts it. In light of current debates about art’s social instrumentality, this approach is right on the money—and suggests that while Manifesta may be footloose by nature, the shoeprints it leaves could become permanent.

Martin Herbert is a writer and critic based in Tunbridge Wells, Kent.