Frankfurter Rundschau | 25.05.2002
++++ The wandering European biennial Manifesta 4 comes to Frankfurt, takes over the city and drills a lot of holes in the system
++++ Sluggishly the river rolls by past the skyscrapers beneath a grey sky. The sun has postponed its appearance until the afternoon. It is waiting for the oranges which are supposed to emerge here soon in a long row on the river surface. Every day in the coming two months of Manifesta 4 in Frankfurt, the Dutch artist, Jasper van den Brink, will make the right balls bubble out from the depths into the light. The oranges are supposed to go on a journey down river.
They will also swim by the small white house which the Italian artist, Gianni Motti, has built on the banks of Main Island. This narrow hut does not tell the story of an optimistic departure, but that of a detention. It is a reconstruction of the cell in which the Kurd leader, Abdullah Öcalan, has been incarcerated for over three years on a Turkish island. Viewed from the Bubis Bridge, it almost looks as if the cubic structure would fall into the river, so closely pressed to the banks of the island it is situated. On the opposite bank of the river, a large board with Picasso’s Guernica comes into view by the Spanish artist, Ibon Aranberri, who has made it into an unambiguous comic-like icon of itself. And if you go on further to the classicist portal of the Portikus exhibition room, you will read painted in large, spidery letters on the columns like a graffiti the word Resist.
But in spite of the Öcalan memorial and the Guernica citation, the general call to resist is not the categorical imperative of this biennial. It is rather, Reflect! Reflect on society, the city, the art system, the exhibition, on yourself as an artist, as a curator, as a visitor.
After Rotterdam, Luxembourg and Ljubljana, Frankfurt is the fourth location for Manifesta which understands itself as a nomadic exhibition with new curators and a new concept each time. The current three curators, Iara Boubnova, Nuria Enguita Mayo and Stéphanie Moisdon Trembley, have intentionally not laid down any overarching motto for the just under 90 participants. They did not want to constrict the mainly young artists by specifying a theme. Despite that, the show makes a coherent impression and is balanced consistently on the edges of the art system.
This can be seen best of all at Frankensteiner Hof, an old administrative building on the Sachsenhausen side of the river main which Manifesta has rededicated as a location for art. The Portuguese artist, Sancho Silva, has built a look-out platform there which, with simple means, sets a complex reflection on exhibitions as a medium of inclusion and exclusion into motion. The work consists of a wooden structure on the first floor which cannot be entered from inside the exhibition, but only via a staircase from the street outside. This installation establishes an exterior in the interior. As an uninvited guest without an admission ticket, you can go in there and look for yourself into the exhibition rooms through a slit, while the real visitors to the exhibition are excluded and suddenly themselves have become exhibition pieces.
To exhibit means to admit the gaze, to guide it and obstruct it. This is also an element of the playful installation by the Japanese artist, Takehito Koganezawa. He has separated off an old lavatory by means of a thin timber wall so that you can only see certain bits of the room through small holes. Two closed-circuit monitors show you the room from an additional perspective so that at first you are confused. Is the image on the monitor genuine or not? In order to exaggerate the bizarre feeling, Koganezawa carries out a performance here in which several actors leap through the room and turn off alarm clocks which are hidden everywhere and start ringing while in a corner a further video shows the metamorphoses of Plasticine figures in an endless loop.
This art is very malleable and amusing. It not only confronts the art system with a mirror, but it also invites visitors on a journey to the wondrous world behind it. And so you can get lost in the labyrinth made of identical rooms with identical doors which the Polish artist, Monika Sosnowka, has built, or suddenly look into brightly lit, high tower rooms. And so that you do not forget for more than a moment to involve yourself with the world outside – reflect! – the figures by Anton Litvin look in through the window every now and then, life-size figures which a giant has torn out of her living room so that now, with the remote control unit for the TV in their hands, incongruously hang on the facade and tell of the fine art of alienation by means of a change of context.
In Frankensteiner Hof, the only paintings to be seen at this Manifesta can be found. They are part of an installation by Alban Hajdinaj from Tirana. A sugary sweet pair of children crouches in three versions on a street. The camera zooms in on them while in the background a car comes threateningly close. The small porcelain figures and crockery arranged in front on a table completes the melancholy scene. In the staircase, however, the Frankfurt group, finger, again shifts the focus to political grass-roots activities. They want to pay ten thousand euros to the winner of a competition for the "self-commissioned design of the social surroundings". Political commitment becomes a social sculpture, while the same projects next door at the Frankfurt Attac Congress could run under the label of politics.
Perhaps, however, it is really completely superfluous to repeatedly ask yourself whether this is still art or already politics or simply just life. More interesting is the investigation of the interrelations between the systems, and one of these systems is the ego. One of the most precise researchers in this regard is the Belgian artist, Christoph Fink, who is exhibiting at the Frankfurt Kunstverein. He documents his own journey to Frankfurt and through the city by means of long strips of paper which are covered with countless marks and notes. They provide information about where he was when, when he slept, perhaps even what he thought, and the subjective appropriation of time and space coagulates into a form. So this is the way he reads this city with his body and his time.
Sometimes, in view of Christoph Fink's and many other works which realize their ideas by means of low-budget handicraft, you get a yearning for well-rounded, shiny works in the old-fashioned sense. But this generation which presents itself at Manifesta has long since turned away from the surfaces of pop. And when it becomes political, it does not try out revolutionary gestures and does not operate with great Utopias and does not even work through the loss of Utopia. Instead of the hammer, this generation uses a small drill and makes a whole here and there in the system, and what is exhibited are the shavings produced by this work on the institution.
Luckily, there are also some nice stories which fall down during this work of sawing and drilling. They are told in Städel where a very persuasive solution for the problem of video presentation has been found. Videos run on six projection screens, but you are still alone with your sound via headphones and come across, for instance, the film of the Viennese artist, Jun Yang. In a soft voice he spins the yarn of his life, tells of his visit to his grandparents in China, of businessmen in Japan, of identification and cultural comparison, and between footage of his own family, he shows every now and again amusing images of Superman or scenes from Bertolucci's Last Emperor.
Also your own biography – that is the conclusion – does not come from yourself, and that is not at all a bad thing. It is not such a bad place there at the edge of art and politics and nationalities where this Manifesta has set itself up without pathos.
Manifesta 4, Frankfurt/Main, until 25 August (www.Manifesta.de).
von/by Elke Buhr