Logistics for tapeworms
TAZ | 28.05.2002
++++ The fourth Manifesta for contemporary art is being held in Frankfurt. A lot of care has been taken with the visual presentation but something grating or failed is missing, something disruptive
++++ Shortly before the start of Manifesta 4 in Frankfurt, the Swiss artist, Christoph Büchel, simply auctioned off his official invitation at eBay. He called his artistic contribution Invite Yourself and with the highest bidder, the New York artist Sal Randolph, the United States came on board nevertheless for 15,099 dollars, on board the biennial for young European art which was called to life in the Netherlands in 1990. Randolph calls her contribution Free Manifesta, with which she has already infiltrated with a further 100 artists into Manifesta according to the principle, Everyone Is Invited.
Büchel’s well-placed serve and Randolph's return under www.freemanifesta.org boycott the principle according to which participation in an event such as Manifesta (or in the upcoming documenta) can only happen as a privilege with which an artist is honoured who proves to be worthy on the basis of their work and commitment. Just like the City of Frankfurt, which is now playing host to Manifesta, whose special feature lies in the fact that the location at which it takes place every two years is always a different one. This nomadic character of the biennial for art only means that in the background all the more is offered in a game of poker so that the board of the Manifesta foundation is persuaded that in this city and no other the best conditions for holding the biennial will be provided. The honour, of course, has its price because the organization and preparations at the exhibition venues are expensive. The European Biennial for Contemporary Art in Frankfurt has cost 2.1 million euros. A sum of 1.3 million came from the City, and the Frankfurt Trade Fair is proud to have paid the highest sponsor contribution in the history of the trade fair. Quite apart from the fact that the trade fair management sensibly postponed Art Frankfurt for one month so that on the Sunday just after the opening of Manifesta it was able to begin, and with an art auction of the group Apsolutno itself has the function of a Manifesta venue.
The honour therefore does have a yield which consists in the fact that Frankfurt now stands "at the centre of European art tourism," as Nicholas Schafhausen puts it, who, as the director of the Kunstverein, contributed substantially to Manifesta coming to the metropolis on the River Main. Hans-Bernhard Nordhoff too, the Cultural Affairs Officer of the newly prospering financial trading place, was certain at the press conference that "contemporary art and business complement each other".
Perhaps it is for this reason that at Manifesta 4 the conceptual works are striking which, like the contributions from Büchel and Randolph, put an emphasis on the crude charm of the marketplace, its promiscuity and equalizing tendency. Dirk Fleischmann, for example, has set up a bistro in the canteen of the former Municipal Drainage Bureau which, as Frankensteiner Hof, is one of the main Manifesta venues. Under the names of some of the participating artists he is offering drinks and snacks there. So that he now offers the latte macchiato as ‘finger’, for instance, the artists in the group of that name have renounced their Manifesta fee of 250 euros. However, in return they receive the profits from the sale of their milk coffee. Anyone who does not exactly offer herbal tea from Schwebheim, like Dirk Fleischmann himself, will go home with their Manifesta fee multiplied many times over. Why shouldn't a few artists use art tourism for their own ends?
In any case, the omnipresent useful instrumentalization of Manifesta could scarcely have been disclosed and criticized in a more friendly way. Especially here, in the Municipal Drainage Bureau which has been standing vacant for many years, and thus represents a town planning problem, which the Cultural Affairs Officer later on at the press conference hoped would be helped to gain a new use through art being shown at this location.
Those who think that they have discovered the problem of Manifesta in the continual covert or overt references to the beneficial effects of the exhibition deceive themselves in two ways. First – as the Italian artist Davide Grassi cites the British journalist GK Chesterton in his video and internet work, problemarket.com – a problem is only a challenge which has been falsely called a difficulty. A problem is thus only a catalyst for creativity and new exertions so that it absolutely must be traded and valued on the Problem Stock Exchange, a bourse which Grassi has set up together with his Slovenian co-author, Igor Tromajer. However, it soon becomes apparent that the works and projects which are collected together in the Städel Art Institute, Portikus, the Kunstverein, Frankensteiner Hof, or which unfold their highly headstrong stances throughout the public domain, nevertheless lack usefulness and efficiency, which can be experienced during a tour of inspection in a thoroughly enjoyable way.
The stories are often too absurd and the investigations are too useless, like Christoph Fink's minute records Movement No. 52. You do not have to like the tacky listing of times and events, of means of transport and their timetables, which are spread out on the first floor of the Kunstverein over an expanse of several metres in a glass cabinet. But the thought is attractive that this tapeworm of Fink's simple walk through Frankfurt is put on an equal footing with the sophisticated logistics which forms the foundation of the European air cargo hub in Frankfurt, especially since in the abstract scribbling the city remains a vacuous space.
This also applies to the other exhibited works which are less site-specific. Young art in Europe which the three curators, Iara Boubnova from Bulgaria, Nuria Enguita Mayo from Spain and Stéphanie Moisdon Trembley from France have extensively researched and followed up in association with numerous institutions and individuals, at first seems to be heterogeneous, hybrid and rather individualistic at Manifesta 4. Mostly you really do come across new names, but not new questions, new materials or new methods. The game with the perception of space at Frankensteiner Hof is very well-known when Massimo Bartolini in Two Horizons causes the furniture in a room to sink into the elevated floor, or when Monika Sosnowska in Untitled sends visitors repeatedly into identical rooms although they keep on opening new doors. But especially Sosnowska succeeds nevertheless in communicating a feeling of eeriness, giddiness and oppressiveness.
Perhaps because the questions concerning what is knowledge, what is observation and what happens to us when we observe what is happening with things and situations, are not new, the attention is drawn by the individual works. Jonas Dahlberg's seemingly endless, gentle video journey through a night-time One-Way Street glistening in the rain is, despite all the modernistic illuminated cubes on the edge of the street which reveal the model, a magnificent horror show and rather Gothic in its atmosphere of déjà vu. Florian Pumhösl's Wall Image, the photographic diagram of a minimalist grid of points behind which a scientific experiment could be conjectured, leads to a monitor on which a static image seems to show pretty branches. Of course it starts to move and in a completely different way from being shaken by the wind. It is a heap of stick-insects. And when the title starts, "Several times you have pre-empted the most recent developments in the exact natural sciences...", the installation has an especially painterly effect.
This impression, projected up onto two large projection screens, is created also by Kalin Serapionov's video observation from the meeting point at the central railway station in Zurich. An almost unnecessary elegance of editing and synchronization of camera positions lead to sumptuous images which, in spite of that, remain quite quotidian. On the whole, the artists at Manifesta, who were born mostly at the end of the sixties or at the beginning of the seventies, tend to be perfectionists. That causes some surprise in the case of young people with little experience with exhibitions and not a great deal of resources. For this reason, one third of the Manifesta budget has been channelled into the production of new works. Solid, circumspect, rational are epithets with which most of the manners of speaking, investigations, documentation and actions can be characterized that are unfolded in videos, assemblages, performances, photography, installations and archives and which lead beyond the exhibition space and the urban domain via the Trespassing Space of radio, television and internet. Solid, circumspect, rational also means that questions of identity, migration, politics are pursued, for instance, by wemgehörtdiestadt (who does this town belong to?) or by the training programs for war reporters, Risk Assessment Service, in complex investigations which are a little bit stuffy like seminars. What is missing is something grating, something perhaps malicious, ultimately something which has failed or is bothersome, something which is clearly disruptive. It is not detrimental on the other hand that a great work is missing which would have totally absorbed visitors’ attention, caused consternation or triggered boundless enthusiasm. Nobody would really have liked to have conceded such a coup to greedy Frankfurt.
Manifesta 4, until 25 August, short guide 5 euros, catalogue 20 euros
von/by Brigitte Werneburg