On July 22 was the official opening of the 14th edition of the nomadic biennial MANIFESTA in Pristina . The geographic proximity attracted many Bulgarian artists and curators to visit the event, which spread across the city and includes installations, performances, workshops, and discussions. Surprisingly, for most of us, it was the first visit to this city, captivating by its energy and vitality. The big themes set by Manifesta this year were directly responded to by the artist Miryana Todorova, whose installation and performance were part of the opening program and the main exhibition at the Grand Hotel Prishtina, as well as by ICA-Sofia, who as a partner in the Western Balkans satellite project participates with the exhibition Self-splaining (Triumph of Empathy), giving many Bulgarian artists the opportunity to present themselves at the international forum. The 0GMS 'parasitic' gallery also opens the field for a few more artistic interventions at one of the most interesting platforms of the Biennale, the newly created Centre for Narrative Practice.
After a week of lively discussions around the opening, we invited artists and curators to share their impressions of Manifesta 14, as well as to talk about those works that impressed them. In this way, we hope to continue the important conversation for our community and open it up to those who haven't had the opportunity to go to Pristina yet. Manifesta 14 is on view until 30 October.
Katia Anguelova / curator
Kosovo is the epitome of the complexities we face in our times – the recognition of a nation, visa-free movement, coexistence with different peoples, and, in principle, acceptance of difference. Therefore, it is no coincidence that the curators Catherine Nichols and Carlo Ratti with his design and innovation agency Carlo Ratti Associati are called 'creative mediators’. With his method of participatory urbanism, Ratti aims to activate the neglected longing for change and a number of processes that turn Manifesta into an opportunity to understand urban phenomena and reclaim public space. On the other hand, under the title it matters what worlds world worlds: how to tell stories otherwise Catherine Nichols employs narratives to make sense of the horrors of the past and an opportunity to imagine a new future, using art as a vehicle for social change. These are narratives that use the poetics of living space, the dialogue between space and the individual, and the techniques of constructing a narrative in architectural space as belonging and uniting people around a common cause. It is for a reason that for the first time in Manifesta's history, a new cultural institution has been activated that aims to be permanent: the Centre for Narrative Practice, a long-term interdisciplinary project for which the Biennial will provide financial support in its first years. It remains an open question how it will be managed, who will take care of it after the Biennial is over.
One of the most effective installations in the exhibition for me was the work of Cevdet Erek, Brutal Times (2022): a spatial installation based on sounds and lights that inhabit one of the icons of Brutalist architecture, the Rilindja Press Palace, from the 1970s, then the headquarters of the publishing house of the Albanian newspaper Rilindja. The artist uses sound and light to link the newspaper production process with techno music (one second of the work is one day of history). Another installation is by the Rwandan artist Cristian Niyampeta, who participates with Sometimes It Was Beautiful (2018), projected on a big screen in the abandoned 1950s cinema Rinia. Niyampeta's work was inspired by Senegalese writer and filmmaker Ousmane Sembène's (1923-2007) idea of cinema as a site for collective learning, a means of social intervention, an effective tool for engaging a wider audience, and the cinema seating in the project was provided by various people from Pristina, bearing their individual stories.
Luchezar Boyadjiev / curator
I couldn’t see enough of the Manifesta 14 in Pristina. At least not so far. The reason is that I was fully occupied with the preparation, installation, and presentation of the exhibition Self-splaining (a Triumph of Empathy), part of M14, which includes works by 25 artists working in Bulgaria. Started two years ago as part of the M14 parallel program in partnership with ICA-Sofia, this exhibition project seems to have found a positive response among the public. From the little I was able to see, and from the much I was able to read, as well as the work with Catherine Nichols since October 2021, I can say that this edition of Manifesta has been successful, meaningful and entirely in the spirit of the Biennial's manifested ambitions – new territories for art are being activated, new names and contexts are being introduced (our participation is one of them), new questions and topics about the future are being raised – mostly related to the diversity of narratives about the world that need equal visibility, linguistic translatability, respect, and correlation without hierarchy.
As individual works, I would point to Petrit Halilaj's intervention, visible to all, on the roof of the Grand Hotel Pristina, the main venue of M14; Cevdet Erek's endlessly empathetic sound installation in the former printing house; Lee Bul's “zeppelin” in the former sports hall of the Palace of Youth and Sports. As well as the performances by Selma Selman at the National Gallery of Kosovo, and Miryana Todorova's work, again at the Grand Hotel Pristina. I’d especially like to mention the wonderful work on the renovation and recycling of the old Hivzi Sylejmani Library in Pristina. In October 2021, during our preliminary visit to Pristina with Kalin Serapionov (with whom we did the exhibition Self-splaining on behalf of ICA-Sofia), we saw it in a romantic but completely abandoned form. Now it has been reborn for a new life and, if an active community of artists in Kosovo embraces it in the future, this will be a truly wonderful ‘legacy’ left by M14 for the city!
Rayna Teneva / artist
Pristina is a particularly welcoming city, wrapped in a growing and fast-moving capitalist dynamic. You can feel the fluctuation of people, cars, and capital coming mainly from Western Europe. At the same time, symbols, layers, and outlines of the recent past are visible and tangible but seem to be fading away. The Nomadic Biennial thus feels quite at home on this complex terrain, and the choice of the main location – Grand Hotel Pristina – is more than successful. You can immerse without forgetting where you are. You can climb floors and jump over large mental territories, while not losing touch with the outside, with the center. I was most impressed by Marta Popivoda's work, Yugoslavia, How Ideology Moved Our Collective Body (2013). As part of the last generation of pioneers in Tito's Yugoslavia, Marta Popivoda explores how ideology is expressed in public space through mass choreographies, sports, and youth manifestations and celebrations. The idea of brotherhood, love and unity was manifested in socialist society through the so-called "social choreography" practiced in public spaces. Later, this same social choreography became social drama – the Gazimestan speech of Milošević, the mass protests against his rule, events, and moments in history that carried the sense that change was possible. The video work analyzes television archival material from 1945–2000, and seeks to understand what kept the collective body together, but also how and why its disintegration occurred.
Another work I’d like to share is that of the Albanian artist Silvi Naçi, actions that make my hands hurt (2019), in which the choreography is individual. The artist gesticulates in front of the camera in two continuous doubles (there is no montage), and the actions of the hands congest the processing of the material (capital?) that is not visible between the two hands. The head is also invisible in the frame, and the tension and dynamism in the gestures intensifies and moves from playful to aggressive.
Viktoria Draganova / curator
Through its focus on the Balkans, this year's Manifesta seemed to raise anew the issue of belonging, opening up the question of what are the issues and problems that a community decides to put before itself. This also resonates with the times of strong localism and the need for introspection, care and local activism during the Covid crisis. The opening itself was a fiesta with the entire Kosovar pop scene and all the dignitaries in attendance. Such a forum, without the cooperation of local and state structures and its openness to the whole cultural scene, would have been unthinkable – which is perhaps why it is still so unfeasible here in Sofia.
The main exhibition in the Grand Hotel is divided into themes, where the key ones for the region, "transition" and "migration", appeared, but also a very differentiated reading of the "capital" and "speculation", as well as a curious introduction to the themes "ecology", "water" and "love". Without lapsing into curatorial eccentricity, the biennial creates an opportunity for artists – many of them from the region – to be contextualized through a topical reading of interactions. Most of the works were narrative or exploratory, atmospheric or highly emotional, but all inclusive in their messages, far from irony, conceptualism, and fetishism. These observations come together in Lee Bul's sculpture Willing to Be Vulnerable – Metalized Balloon V4 (2015/20), a huge, fantastically luminous object soaring high in the former Sports Hall, turned into a parking lot, an installation that is veritable tour de force and, therefore a gift to the citizens of Pristina, who may not see the entire biennial, but will be invited to seek the better world beyond ideologies and utopias. And because we are in Kosovo, one of the most traumatized regions in recent history, the Biennial also caters to healing: for example, the work of Majlinda Hoxha, who opens up the hotel suite once used by Milošević, and through photographs and audio recordings brings us closer not only to the then art collection in the hotel but also to the difficult stories of those who worked there.
Martina Yordanova / curator
The Manifesta editions in Zurich (2016) and in Palermo (2018) were similar in that the visitors had the opportunity to explore the city through different forms of art placed in buildings and territories bearing historical and social significance. It is the same with Manifesta 14 in Pristina, which occupies a large part of the urban environment and incorporates the Grand Hotel Pristina with the Palace of Youth and Sports, the Observatory, art institutions, faculties, independent spaces, cinema halls, etc. Catherine Nichols, the creative mediator of Manifesta 14, furthermore achieves a homogeneous focus on the region called by many names but best known as the Balkans, with more than half of the artists being local and regional.
Among the works that made the strongest impression on me, Europe Without Monuments (2022) by the Ukrainian artist Stanislava Pinchuk stands out. It is a documentation of her sculptural installation placed under the newly built bridge over the Ibar River in Mitrovica, conditionally dividing the town into north (populated by Serbs) and south (populated by Albanians). The installation functions as both a playground and a pavilion, and its forms are taken from the Monument to the Fallen Miners, built by the architect Bogdan Bogdanović, who shortly before his death stated that he had always dreamed of Europe without monuments dedicated to death and human tragedy. Like the skeleton of a whale washed ashore, the monument's deconstructed scaffolding takes on the role of a rallying point, a place for play and encounters, allowing new stories to form within the otherwise hollow shell. Another work is that of Marta Popivoda, exploring ideologies of fraternity and unity in the former Yugoslavia. I would also like to draw attention to the work of the Kosovar artist Vigan Nimani, whose work most often reflects modernist architecture. The political charge of what is depicted remains unimportant to the artist for a long time, but with the frequent and literal erasure of modernist architecture at the expense of rampant turbo-capitalism, the artist's paintings have become a kind of source of cultural memory and resistance.
Voin de Voin / artist
For me, this was the most powerful and important Manifesta so far. The boundaries between spectator, author, and orator were finely approximated. Present was not only the possibility but the need for the voice of the Other. A context for genuine dialogue was created. A dialogue, even through the perspective of the stranger. It was a brave step forward in times where art has been replaced by the idea of commerce and capital, losing its power and repositioning itself in another category. There are new connections made in the context of a panopticon – in this case, Kosovo, which is like a locked circle and we are outside observers. This geopolitical case in the middle of Europe somehow affects us all and requires a position. Manifesta is an impetus for a re-evaluation of the notion of "democracy" in the contemporary context of painfully familiar processes and our role as its guardians/citizens. I choose to share the work of the Berlin-based artist and activist Raul Walch, part of the discursive platform and space for work, debate, and encounters led by raumlaborberlin at the Brick Factory. The fountain as a symbol as well as the water in the red vinyl wrapping gives the feeling of a trauma that has passed, of something that only the memory of water carries with it until the end.
Nikola Mihov / artist
The incredible energy of Prishtina, which reminds me a bit of Sofia in the 90s, combined with the large number of local artists and the untypical venues for exhibitions, such as a semi-abandoned hotel in the city centre, the printing house of the local party newspaper and a giant Yugoslav-era sports hall used as a parking lot, make this edition of Manifesta a success. I was particularly impressed by the video trilogy by Driant Zeneli, The Animals (2019/21/22), shown on the 9th floor of the Grand Hotel Prishtina, in which three iconic buildings from the socialist era in Prishtina, Skopje and Tirana become the backdrop for three fables by Aesop, acted out with paper animals. The video manages to escape the clichés that are typical when working with such buildings, and that are visible with the image of Buzludzha, for example. An interesting decision is the inclusion in the exhibition in Grand Hotel Prishtina of a booth with jars of pickles, ajvar and the local variety of "paprika u pavlaci". The goods are produced by the Kosovar Agricultural Cooperative Krusha. It was founded by a local woman whose husband disappeared without a trace during the 1999 war, along with 242 other men from the village who were allegedly victims of a mass murder committed by Serbian forces. Today, the cooperative employs 50 women, the products are on the shelves of all supermarkets in Prishtina, and a community finds its feet thanks to a cooperative effort despite the turbo-capitalist conditions.
Under the heading "Why don't we have one of these here?" (in Sofia, BG – ed.) comes the Centre for Narrative Practice, a former Jewish merchant's house built in the 1930s which housed the Kosovo Committee of the Yugoslav Communist Party in 1944 and converted into a library in 1948 before being neglected because of the war. The building, renovated for Manifesta and that will continue to exist after the Biennial, includes several small exhibition spaces and a brand new library with several hundred editions on contemporary art, civic activism, architecture, and various artistic practices, which will soon be joined by Bulgarian editions representing our art scene.
Maria Nalbantova / artist
One of the strongest impressions Manifesta 14 left on me was the personal stories shared and discussed by many of the works participating in the biennial. They point us to much deeper and important issues related to our complex present – conflict zones, war, nationalism, visas and restrictions, prejudices, etc. The selected spaces also have a defining character, such as the surrealist Grand Hotel Pristina, the former Brick Factory and the Great Hamam, or the former Hivzi Sylejmani Library, completely renovated, which currently houses the Centre for Narrative Practice and will continue to exist as an interdisciplinary space after the end of the program.
To a large extent, my impressions are also related to the preparation of Self-Splaining (a Triumph of Empathy), as well as my participation in the Centre for Narrative Practice through the invitation of the 0GMS Gallery. Outside of these, I was particularly strongly drawn to the work of Ukrainian artist Alevtina Kakhidze, in which she addresses various topics such as abduction, domination and belonging through the perspective of plants. Wonderful is the work Above Everyone (2022) by Alban Muja, a small house perched on the building of a former department store, as a reaction to the present and the issue of ownership in relation to the postwar period in Kosovo when illegal constructions appeared on many buildings. All this together with the big (good) stray dogs that accompanied us to our "home", the KFOR troops in the streets, the salep in the cafés, the miniature replica of the Statue of Liberty on one of the hotels, the many meetings and conversations, formed a kind of general and diverse picture in my mind.
Antoni Rayzhekov / artist
I’d love to go back to Pristina again, not only to finish my visit of Manifesta 14, but also to immerse myself in the city again. It reminds me of Sofia in the 90s. I also like the idea of a travelling biennial that discovers and creates in each place, for example the Centre for Narrative Practice in the former Hivzi Sylejmani Library. Most of my time in Pristina went into preparing and installing the works in our exhibition (Self-Splaining – ed.). It was both wonderful and a bit exhausting, but it turned out to be a good exhibition, including five generations of Bulgarian artists. In the few days left, I did manage to see the exhibition at the Grand Hotel and found some very good works there, for example the installation there are crossroads where ghostly signals flash from the traffic (2022) by Edona Kryeziu with sound by Fabian Saul, which encapsulates the state of isolation so well. Also the outstanding video work Sin (2004) by Driton Hajredini, which I believe goes beyond the documentary and we can find in one way or another a part of ourselves in it.
Galena Sardamova / architect
My impressions of Manifesta are primarily defined by my participation in a summer school that was part of the official Manifesta program dedicated to the redevelopment of an abandoned brick factory on the outskirts of Pristina and led by raumlaborberlin, a collective of experimental architects and urbanists. Thanks to them, the factory was transformed into a place for ecologically conscious learning and 'making'. Particularly valuable were the moments of (self)reflection connected to the place. "Only we know what happened here, but nobody ever asks us. Our bodies carry the history of the factory.". This was written on a fragment of the mural created during a workshop with the mentors Klodiana Millona and Veronika Zaripova. The words are those of one of the men who had worked in the factory in the recent past, and remind me of a number of discussions that arose during the process: what is our role in recontextualizing such a historically and socially charged place? Who will these newly built structures (pool, garden, kitchen) be for? How can we give sustainability to what we create – and how can we make sure that it is not simply a transfer of models established elsewhere, but a delicate and carefully considered gesture, in keeping with the place and the people to whom it originally belongs; with their past, present and future; with a particular sensibility and worldview? The two weeks I spent in Pristina reminded me of the importance of approaching local potential for rebuilding and co-building with particular care, and left me with the sense of a very special sharing of histories, nuances, contexts, ways of being.