Given the current economical situation it is not easy to agree with the Manifesta statement, reminded by Viktor Misiano in this year publication: “the present is better than the past, and with the hope that the future would be better than the present”. After Rotterdam, Luxembourg, Ljubljana, Frankfurt am Main, Donostia and San Sebastiàn, Nicosia (cancelled), Trentino Alto-Adige and Murcia is Limburg and in particular Genk (Belgium), June 2 - September 30, 2012, the location chosen for the new edition of Manifesta 9, the nomadic European Biennial of Contemporary Art.
“The deep of modern” is a huge exhibition about work, in a time where most of the European countries are suffering from an economical crisis resulting in unprecedented unemployment rates. You can clearly perceive the focus of the exhibition while visiting the historical part of the show – “The age of coal” – curated by Professor Dawn Ades.
Walking through the different sections you have to face how the coal industry dramatically affected our environment, the precarious conditions of the miners, the pollution, the re-definition of the geopolitical boarders and the propaganda, till the end, where in the “Epics of Redundancy” the curator focuses on the beginning of the end of the European coal industry seen as the starting point of the whole industrial crisis.
Nevertheless you will be able to contemplate some of the most important works in the history of art, among others Marcel Duschamp’s Coal Sacks Ceiling, Max Ernst’s Histoire Naturelle, Marcel Broodthaers’s Trois tas de charbon and Moules Oeufs Frites Pots Charbon, David Hammons’ Closing the blue train, Richard Long’s Bolivian Coal line and the big installation of Christian Boltanski Les régistres du Grand-Hornu.
“17 Ton”, the heritage section curated by Hedgar Hermans, is well organized and installed. It allows the public to go deep inside the cultural memories and the experiences that were common not only in Limburg but also in the neighboring countries. The curator chose to put together the music of Rocco Granata, (I am sure you heard the song Marina!), the prayer mats of the first-generation of Turkish immigrants, comics books and many workers’ employment booklets.
This mix aims to create a sort of bridge between locals and contemporary art. As Hermans declared in an interview “Contemporary art is often conceptual, philosophical or even very much reserved […]. The heritage and the historical art sections of Manifesta9 will certainly inspire many people who have no experience with contemporary art to make an effort and to discover how exciting and enriching art can be.”
The chief curator Cuauhtémoc Medina had an interesting intuition when he decided to put together history, heritage and contemporary art. For the first time the location for the exhibition is only one, but we are talking about Waterschei, a huge building that in the past had a total surface area of 23,000 m2!
The 39 artists invited were asked to respond to the changes occurred in the production system around the world and I can affirm that everyone has worked thoroughly on this idea. Every work explores one particular aspect of work, for instance Rossella Biscotti in Title One: The Tasks of the Community and A Conductor, transformed used materials acquired from an old nuclear power plant in Lithuania, lead and copper, to produce an installation and to supply electricity to the Manifesta 9 venue; Kuai Shen with Oh!m1gas, explores the relationship between human technology and the sociality of ants and uses the animals to produce sounds.
Carlo Amorales with Coal Drawing Machine explores the relationship between humans and machines through a huge machine that uses charcoal, the most elemental graphic tool; Jota Izquierdo is exploring the actual mass-produced consumer goods from China to itinerant vendors in Mexico City and Valencia in Capitalismo Amarillo: Special Economic Zon; and at the end, to remind us that we are seeing an exhibition about work, Monument to the Memory of the Idea of Internationale by Nemanja Cvijanović is resonating in every space.
To conclude, The Deep of Modern is a linear exhibition in both time and space, but it is not so experimental and you will have no surprises while visiting it. In addition, the younger artists invited were born in the ’70s and they are established in the international art world, which is slightly departed from the mission of Manifesta itself -intended as the presentation of young professionals in Europe.