Relay race of underworld boats: Manifesta 4 shows young network art
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung | 25.05.2002
++++ Young, open, networked: Manifesta 4 makes Frankfurt to a centre of art tourism
++++ What is an optimist? A sailing boat of the smallest class. The specimen made by Hans Schabus can also the folded together and then moved around like a wheelbarrow when there is no water around. Forlorn announces the name of the yawl in which, if you can believe your eyes, the successor to Odysseus suggests he has travelled from Vienna to Frankfurt without having gotten lost. He has also been in New York, despite the Atlantic in between. In his luggage the recollections of Jan Bas Ader who really got lost and whose obstinate actions were more acerbic, crazy and in no way capable of consensus. Above all, however, Schabus follows the call of deep and slips, if we can believe his film Western, just like the Third Man through the sound hole of the zither into the underworld of the sewage canals of Vienna. But to where do you travel on this stream of faeces and garbage? To the West, like many hopeful colonizers and migrants? Rilke already wrote sceptically, "A god can do it. But how, tell me, can a man follow him through the small lyre?"
What is a Manifesta? If you believe the many speakers who at the press conference in Frankfurt tirelessly celebrated each other and the ambitious enterprise, it seems to be a small Olympics for artistic new blood. This European Biennial of Contemporary Art is supposed to be one thing above all: a transparent, specific process. It cost 2.1 million euros and, because young art is still booming and everybody is open and communicative, they all tune in to a great canon of consensus. Nicolaus Schafhausen, the director of the local Kunstverein which made an essential contribution to Manifesta 4 coming to Frankfurt, expressed already from the start what the issue is. Frankfurt is now "at the centre of European art tourism". That's how things are.
Not even one's own proper name can still anchor one's identity, as one can learn from the serious-ironic video by Jun Yang, who was born in China in 1975 and emigrated with his family to Vienna in 1979. If his name is already pronounced in different ways in Chinese, its pronunciation alters breathtakingly in the context of a foreign culture. Jun Yang, is that the soldier woodsman, or the beautiful poplar? And Jun quickly becomes June, and thus a woman. Whether he likes it or not. Or Yang swiftly becomes Young in English.
Where is the unique individual? More often than not, the individual gets lost, as the pretty parable shows. Scarcely less perplexing appears the game in which Gerard Byrne entangles reality with a pinch of Brecht and a dialogue which Frank Sinatra and the former head of Chrysler, Lee Iacocca, had in 1980 about a new luxury limousine and which Byrne took from an advertisement in the National Geographic Magazine. His video becomes a broken street scene where you can only determine with difficulty whether it has been invented, reproduced, is authentic or just fun. Is the world a finely branched system, the individual a nameless drifting particle, and the whole thing just the invention of advertising writers? One comes up against many such questions at Manifesta 4 and fewer answers. But you can find surprising, hesitating, absurd stories, apparently useless analyses which continually throw up different questions. How do we experience something? How is knowledge constituted? And how does the subject change through this? Is there in all of what we believe we know about the world, what we construe in texts and images and call reality, something which we could still call a foundation? Or does a fragment only crop up every now and again?
This Manifesta is a non-trivial relational machine. Many enter an input into it, but no one knows what kind of output will come out. What this machine produces is an urban, networked field of art, a terrain of approximation and investigation. Video, performance, photography, assemblages, installations – a kind of art is shown after the dissolution of all genres and limits. Art products from the conveyor belt of the present – mediatized, networked, young.
That which today calls itself a project instead of an exhibition because it presupposes that its spatial, temporal, political and institutional borders have been waived, owes its existence in the case of Manifesta 4 to three curators, Iara Boubnova, Nuria Enguita Mayo and Stéphanie Moisdon Trembley as well as the support of many institutions and individuals throughout Europe. And what is concentrated at four main venues, Frankfurt Kunstverein, Portikus, Städel Art Institute and Frankensteiner Hof, and dispersed here and there in the public domain, is only a cross-section of a proliferating complex which continues in a Trespassing Space, on the radio, on television and the internet.
Those who hope for order or even an overview of such an open mixture concocted from various cultures, media and institutions, must be disappointed. Instead, a diversity of various perspectives and ways of reading is unfolded where visitors are invited to look for their own points of access, to select, to miss, to find again. A depreciation of individual works through a high degree of plurality can scarcely be avoided. Is that still art, some will ask who have scarcely come into contact with the networks of young people. But that is no longer the issue since there is obviously no other domain than that of art in which such a diversity of investigations, documentation, modes of narration, maskings and demaskings could take place, without simultaneously having to be productive, efficient, useful. This art is positively obsessed with experiencing one's own ego, the fast-changing world, relations and perspectives, and with simply getting something out of it, no matter what is achieved or has been said in the end. Everything is culture, so let's play along.
Confronted with so much openness it is scarcely surprising that every opportunity is used to secure support. This is demonstrated by the number of advisory boards and the numerous archives which have been set up. The publisher, Christoph Keller, calls his wandering and changing archive Kiosk. It is composed of publications from seventy small publishing houses and, apart from books, brochures and videos, also displays forms of financing and distribution. When even the research work of the Manifesta team is put on display like a small Salon des Refugés, you start to rub your eyes in amazement. Everything becomes transparent, but nobody speaks of responsibility and power.
This incongruous and continually relocatable archive, for which Mathieu Mercier designed mobile modules, is framed by a subtle series of drawings by Fernando Bryce who views the ups and downs of history in his home country, Peru, in the twentieth century through the perspective of advertising, official propaganda, tourism brochures and official announcements and incidentally also uncovers integration into the worldwide streams of commodities and ideologies, from Eternit asbestos cement to Ford. Apart from that there are numerous reflections on the stamp left by modern life, for instance, when Jonas Dahlberg entices visitors to look into a model-like, nocturnal One-way Street framed by illuminated, cubic glasshouses and the smooth journey, with a view of the adjacent Technical Town Hall, seems to be never-ending. Studies on the profile and the influence of an average citizen are carried out by Måns Wrange using the example of a scarcely revolutionary Marianne, and by way of detour, immediately political elements penetrate, risk assessment services are documented which offer training programs for journalists who work in crisis regions or as war reporters.
These artists are not satisfied with presenting an inadequate existing reality using the proven means of art. They want to investigate, understand and perhaps even change what seems to have rigidified into complexity. Despite all this, they do not penetrate through to the real. The striving for consensus and transparency already protect them from that, and also a project which is so open that it does not risk much and serves everybody.
Until 25 August at various venues in Frankfurt. A short guide costs 5 euros, the catalogue from Hatje Cantz costs 20 euros.
von/by Thomas Wagner