Manifesta Still Plans to Stay in Russia; “We fight for artistic freedom”

by Whitney Kimball on March 25, 2014 Newswire


St. Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum, the site of Manifesta 10

This just in from Manifesta director Hedwig Fijen, and Manifesta curator Kasper König: Manifesta still plans to stay in Russia. The foundation remains unmoved, despite artists’ pleas for divestment and the withdrawal by artists Chto Delat, who write that taking a stand is the “only responsible way to proceed.”

The strangest part of Manifesta’s statements are the frequent gaps between language and reality. König insists that artists won’t be censored, and yet artists are cautioned to operate “within Russian law.” Both König and Fijen insist that the Biennial has goals larger and longer-ranging than standing up to totalitarian rule. As though doing so would limit their historical impact. But what do we remember about the 1968 Olympics, other than the Black Power Salute? And what do we remember about artists who operated within Germany’s guidelines, in 1937?

Manifesta’s statements, below:

Statement by Hedwig Fijen, director Manifesta Foundation

I want to first thank Prof. M. Piotrovsky, director of the State Hermitage museum, for all his personal courageous support in this undertaking from November 2012 up to this date.

As Director of International Foundation Manifesta and Manifesta 10 in St. Petersburg, Russian Federation, I wish to share my reflections and our position on the current escalating crisis. Despite the reactions in the media, Manifesta thinks that there are other ways forward than for calling for a boycott. We are open to all critical statements at large. We would like to offer opportunities for debating the different positions in an open discussion, now and during the Biennial in St. Petersburg. This we offer to artists, art critics, and opinion makers, of both Russian origin or international background, who, like we, struggle with the dilemma of how a contemporary art biennial with an artistic message should engage openly in contested areas where human rights are scattered and so-called criticism is not allowed.

Twenty years ago, I began researching and speaking with others about a model of a biennial that would move to different parts of Europe. Twenty years is a long time. It is of course twenty-five years since the fall of the iron curtain that separated Europe. Manifesta was born out of a historical moment that shifted the geo-political plates that reunited Europe. The ‘cold war’ era created a gap within Europe which held wider political implications globally. It created skepticism, suspicion, and for others, curiosity.

As someone who has witnessed and directed nine different Biennials in nine different European geo-political and socio-economic contexts, I can say that the organization often finds itself in a place of political non-alignment. The ‘dilemma of being engaged or disengaged’ is not only present in the current context of the Russian Federation but our critical engagement should also be proved in West European locations such as Zurich where Manifesta is hosted in 2016, and possibly in future host cities of Manifesta. We fight for artistic freedom, and we support curators and artists to investigate the sites of the Biennial and discuss the importance, sensitivities, and relevance of the proposed projects. We challenge the dialogue with the public and we discuss the relevance of the Biennial not only for the artistic community but also in relation to how it affects the daily lives of the general public. We offer training opportunities for those who are enthusiastic to be involved in a project like Manifesta so that the legacy of our work continues after the Biennial has gone. We are engaged with those communities that are stigmatized and need solidarity.

In regard to the complex situation in Ukraine and Crimea, Manifesta supports all those groups that fight for peaceful and non-violent solutions, whether in Europe or in the Russian Federation. Manifesta cannot and will not accept censor and self-censorship or unlawful intervention from any government in our activities. Our work is one of debate, negotiation, mediation, and diplomacy, that does not shy away from the conflicts of our time. We are not a political party, nor an NGO, and do not operate under the aegis of any governmental authority. We operate autonomously and critically every two years in the complexities of each host city and our intentions should not be manipulated to legitimize the ruling powers. Manifesta supports ethical, curatorial, and artistic independence and tries to strengthen those forces and communities in society who are fighting for freedom of expression against any government that bases its power on censorship.

I appeal to those in power to find peaceful resolutions to any contested and conflicting situation; the current situation in Ukraine in particular, as well as in any country suffering conflict.

Manifesta has chosen to operate within contested areas. We choose to do this because we believe art provides an ultimate perspective and reflection on society. The biennial format offers a chorus of many voices. We choose to engage with a critical, pluralistic view, within a specific context. Manifesta has a responsibility to art and artists and to those who wish to engage with the context in which we situate ourselves. We hope that Manifesta 10 will offer the opportunity for local and international people to come to St. Petersburg, to engage with the program, to have discussions and for these discussions to reverberate within their daily lives.

Biennials like Manifesta should play a vital role in helping us better understand our place in this complex world. Biennials need to prove their relevance to today’s issues in society, and to involve an audience in a critical dialogue that is not just about what they do, but why they do it.

Statement by Kasper König, curator of Manifesta 10

In response to the comments I have received regarding the current geopolitical circumstances, I would like to stress that obviously I am very concerned with the escalating crisis, and because of it I do believe it is and should be our goal to continue to make MANIFESTA 10 happen. It is itself a complex entity, to prompt its artists and its viewers to assume their own strong political positions, to pose questions and raise voices. To neglect and quit, would be a sign of resignation. There is vulnerability in this situation, but also a challenge and we shall have a courage to go on, a decision backed up by many Russian colleagues. It is upon us not to be influenced by prejudices against minorities or nationalist propaganda but to reject it. It is more important than ever to continue our work with courage and conviction for the local and international publics. As someone who has worked in many and various political climates and challenges, the experience tells me to stay calm and continue to work on the complexity and contradiction, that art has to offer and on how it can engage, and oppose the simplifications of our times. I support all efforts – both in art field and at large – in that direction, and I am sure that the presence of critical contemporary art in Hermitage and in the city will contribute to pluralistic and healthy debate on for complexity, and artists’ beauty.

Among the 55 artists listed are Boris Mikhailov, Vadim Fishkin, Elena Kovylina, Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe, Timur Novikov, Ilya Orlov and Natasha Kraevskaya, Pavel Pepperstein, Alexandra Sukhareva, Tatzu Nishi, Marlene Dumas, Nicole Eisenman, Maria Lassnig, Thomas Hirschhorn, Francis Alÿs, Gerhard Richter, Joseph Beuys.

A public program curated by Joanna Warsza will include contributions by Pavel Braila (Moldova), Lado Darakhvelidze (Georgia), Alevtina Kakhidze (Ukraine), Ragnar Kjartansson (Iceland), Deimantas Narkevičius (Lithuania), Kristina Norman (Estonia), Ilya Orlov and Natasha Kraevskaya (Russia), Alexandra Pirici (Romania), and Slavs and Tatars (Eurasia)

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