This year one of the major nomadic biennales in Europe, Manifesta 11 is going on in Zurich. Manifesta was born in the 90s as a response to the Cold War where artists were reflecting on social, political and cultural realities in the area. The curator this year is German artist Christian Jankowski, and the title is “What People do For Money – Some Joint Ventures”. Essentially there are 30 artists making new commissions, 30 satellite venues and two main institutions showing the work. I love the curator’s statement on so many levels, excerpts here:
Professions are about more than making money. Many of us grapple with career choices our whole life long. And it often seems like the professions we pursue affect how we perceive ourselves as individuals – as well as how others perceive us. After a while, you might start speaking like a teacher, traveling like a salesperson, drinking like a barkeeper, thinking like a banker….I don’t think artworks are supposed to argue something directly. I find it much more interesting when an artwork both celebrates something – is an homage to something – and at the same time undermines it or considers it critically. Faced with this dilemma, the viewer might ask him or herself: “What is the artist’s stance?” or even “How do I view this topic?” Even if it sounds moralistic, the title What People Do for Money is just a simple question. The biennial is neither merely about money, nor merely about work. As an art biennial, it is first and foremost about art. At the end, when the art stands there, we can be sure it will unmask us.
The sprawling venue is ripe for the artists collaborating with non-artists, chosen specifically for their vocation. Each artist has chosen to collaborate with a professional in the city and create a work. There are also “story tellers” who vary from seamstress to social worker who have created commentary for the works in Manifesta. My favorite snippet is from the social worker:
Art belongs to society and cultural workings of humans and that’s why I think it’s good to have a closer look on that and bring up your own thoughts. Regarding art, it might be good in trusting your own spontaneous thoughts in contrast to an art mediator’s view for example. So you say “hey this is what I can see in these paintings” and I guess that’s also the artist’s intention to stimulate people’s inspirations….art should be related to society and have a political aspect.
My researching the Manifesta 11 made me wonder about whether professions seep into our work as artists. If you work as a graphic designer, will that seep into your art in some way? Or if you work as a bar tender to pay for your studio time, does your work reflect that? Or the opposite – is your professional life so different that you use your art as your escape? The fantasy of not dealing with the reality of x, y or z? Is that healthy? Are you using materials of your everyday or profession in your work?
From 1973-79 Mary Kelly made a diary of her child’s first year the “Post-Partum Document” – she did this in such an artistic and esoteric way that it caught the attention of the establishment. She famously recorded everything in her young son’s life, including his number of bowel movements. In 2016 at the Manifesta 11 show there is a piece by California artist Mike Bouchet garnering a lot of press titled “The Zurich Load”. He collaborated with the the Werdhölzi Wastewater Treatment Plant, where the day’s worth of human waste was collected and mixed with concrete. The work is a cross between the Walter de Maria’s “Earth Room”, Carle Andre’s brick installation, and poo.
Also at the Manifesta 11 a Paralympic champion Edith Wolf-Hunkeler was “exhibited” gliding on Lake Zurich in her wheel chair. This wheel chair performance was orchestrated none other than by Maurizio Cattelan, who swore off art after his 2012 retrospective at the Guggenheim, and is no stranger to the scatological. I’m still trying to decipher this trickster’s intention with the piece. You know he did just install a 18-karat gold toilet seat at the Guggenheim in New York City. I am wondering where the inspiration came for this tender image of the Paralympian for Manifesta 11.
While I won’t head to Europe until next year’s art safari, I’m loving the theme if this year’s Manifesta. Smashing together artists and non-artists has never been so timely. I started my blog five years ago with the intentions of exploring this even more. While I consider it in my approach to art always, I’ve only made one explicit crossover out of 196 entries. Wondering why one camp may be allergic to the other. So what do you do for money?
Tagged: Biennale, Carl Andre, Christian Jankowski, Manifesta, Manifesta 11, Mary Kelly, Maurizio Cattelan, Mike Bouchet, Zurich