Manifesta is a research biennial. Every two years it initiates a research project that explores Europe’s peripheries on the basis of its history, its changing identity, its urbanity, the notion of the place, and its identification as a catalyst for regional communication.
Manifesta has to reconfigure itself every two years as a result of its nomadic character and prove itself on the basis of its site specificity. In terms of artistic research it has to prove itself through the artistic concept in relation to socio-geo-political and economical contexts.
Manifesta is the only roving biennial in the world, changing locations every two years in response to its founding aim of addressing the disbalance between East and West Europe after the fall of the Wall at the end of the 1980s. St. Petersburg in its relationship to Europe is a key city for questioning such a disbalance today. Alexander Pushkin called the former capital of Russia the “window to Europe.”
The Board of Manifesta Foundation in Amsterdam pre-selects European cities on the basis of their bid to host a Manifesta biennial. The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg fits Manifesta Foundation’s ambition for the 10th jubilee edition to return to Manifesta’s origins as a pan-European event, in which the social and art historical context in which it is embedded, as well as the audience-related educational projects that are foreseen, provide grounds for the city’s selection.
The State Hermitage Museum expressed its interest in hosting Manifesta 10 in 2014 as a collaboration celebrating a meeting of anniversaries and shared historical relationships. In the words of State Hermitage Director, Dr. Piotrovsky: “With the arrival of Manifesta 10 the Hermitage will have the opportunity to highlight its traditions: its roots within the epoch of Catherine the Great and her passion for the contemporary art of her time, and the role that the museum’s collections and exhibitions have always played in the artistic life of Russia. We see contemporary art as a natural, albeit intricate, development of these age-old traditions. Therefore, the key moment in Manifesta 10 for us will be the theme of the Hermitage in today’s context.”
Every Manifesta edition is completely different. After Manifesta 9’s focus on a dialogue between history, heritage, and contemporary art, Manifesta 10 might explore notions of historization, giving context to future perspectives of museum collections, and the relevance of the State Hermitage collection in art historical narratives.
The objective of Manifesta 10 as a large-scale exhibition is to create a broad intellectual platform in St. Petersburg in order to address particular curatorial concerns as well as to encourage the diversification of curatorial models in regard to the practice and theory of international exhibition making.
Both the Host and the Manifesta Foundation, in the person of the Director of the Manifesta Foundation, have a voice in selecting the venues. The venues are largely selected before the Biennial curator is appointed. In the case of Manifesta 10 (with the State Hermitage Museum as Host), the General Staff Building of the State Hermitage Museum will serve as the main venue for Manifesta 10. The history of the site, its identity, and the role of the venue in the urban context is important for Manifesta’s methodology, in which a high degree of responsiveness to a broader community, not only made up of art audiences, is desired.
The bidding process of every Manifesta Biennial edition follows the same model. The local Host, in this case the State Hermitage Museum, is responsible for the basic funding of the Biennial from both public and private sources. Manifesta Foundation is responsible for international funding. Manifesta 10 is a collaboration between The Hermitage Museum XXI Century Foundation, the State Hermitage Museum acting within the framework of “Hermitage 20/21 project for contemporary art,” and the Manifesta Foundation in Amsterdam. As in each Manifesta edition, the cities and regions are facilitators on both logistic and financial levels.
The three aforementioned parties, the Manifesta Foundation, the State Hermitage Museum and The Hermitage Museum XXI Century Foundation, establish a new Manifesta 10 foundation, Foundation Manifesta 10 St Petersburg, in which both international and local cultural stakeholders will be represented, and which is responsible for the legal and practical execution of the concept.
As in each Manifesta edition, a specially-composed subcommittee, involving representatives of the Host and the Manifesta Foundation under the aegis of the Manifesta director, Hedwig Fijen, is responsible for the curatorial selection process. For Manifesta 10, the subcommittee is composed of: State Hermitage Museum director Dr. Mikhail Piotrovsky; the Chair of the Manifesta Foundation, Russian curator, Viktor Misiano; Manifesta Foundation board member Esther Regueira, and curator of contemporary art at the State Hermitage Museum, Dimitri Ozerkov. Based on a brief, three candidates were invited to conduct research in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and make a precise proposal for the concept for Manifesta 10, including notions of discourse, research, mediation, publications, and art historical narrative.
A fundamental aim of Manifesta 10 will be to underline the importance of rethinking history, advocating a shift from a traditional art historical perspective to a more transversal non-linear narrative. Fundamental to Manifesta’s approach is site-specificity, collaboration, participation, community-based mediation, and a broad and critical pan-European vision. These are important discursive issues to be addressed by Manifesta today. Manifesta 10’s challenge is to create a new philosophical, museo-logical approach to address such themes without oversimplifying or positioning them only within the narrative of globalization.
The spirit of the European enlightenment movement in the eighteenth century, in which the notion of the Encyclopédie, edited by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert and acquired by Catherine The Great for the State Hermitage Museum along with the libraries of both Diderot and Voltaire, can become a moral and spiritual inspiration for Manifesta 10 in 2014. The Encyclopédie collection, which is partly based in the St. Petersburg library and partly in the State Hermitage Museum, could be an interesting starting point for the development of the curatorial concept of the Biennial.
Manifesta is not aligned to any political party nor to any commercial enterprise. Manifesta is a private, non-profit arts organization, which is characterized as a non-monolithic entity in constant flux. The Board of the Manifesta Foundation prides itself on following the Code Cultural Governance as formulated by the Dutch Ministry of Culture to ensure appropriate and transparent governance.
Without the crucial support of the regional and city based structures Manifesta is not able to effectively and efficiently develop the curatorial concept. In applying to host Manifesta 10, the State Hermitage Museum is supported by the City of St. Petersburg and has cordially accepted the conditions and terms in which Manifesta has worked with every previous European Host city or region. In the preparations for the Biennial the city authorities help Manifesta to secure for its venues visibility within the city, and transport and logistics support, as has been the role of all previous Hosts. The artistic autonomy of Manifesta is clearly acknowledged by the State Hermitage Museum and the City of St. Petersburg. In an artistic project of such complexity such as Manifesta 10—which touches upon different fields of interest and contexts of contemporary life such as urbanity, social discourse, activism, and artistic practices—the ability to find moral, practical, and sustainable solutions for unforeseen challenges is of the greatest importance. Manifesta works with its Host cities and regions to allow this process to be achieved to the highest possible standard.