On Manifesta 14 Prishtina
For the first time in its history, Manifesta Biennial is hosted by a country from the Balkan peninsula. For the second time in its history, it is hosted by a country of the ex-Yugoslav territory, after a 3rd edition held in Ljubljana in 2000.
Manifesta 14 opened on the 23rd of July in the highly symbolic city of Prishtina, the capital of a still partially recognized state where war and ethnic cleansing raged against the Albanian population less than three decades ago. For Manifesta to take place in such a contested site as Kosovo is a statement in itself, as the fact that 39% of exhibiting artists have Kosovar origins, the highest ever number of local participants in any edition of Manifesta. This spotlight also shines on the rest of the Western Balkans, with a further 25% of the participants heralding from the region. The exhibition takes on the most iconic buildings and infrastructures of the city: the imposing, dilapidated, unused Grand Hotel located in the heart of the city; the iconic brutalist Palace of Youth and Sports and the Kosovo National Library, built as a unifying symbol in Yugoslavian times; the National Gallery of Kosovo, the Brick Factory as well as numerous other industrial or cultural infrastructures – abandoned in-door and open-air cinemas, a traditional hammam under renovation, the empty hangar of the Rilindja printing house, a Partisan Martyrs cemetery monument and an ethnographic museum where time has stopped.1
Driant Zeneli: The firefly keeps falling and the snake keeps growing ╱ 2022 ╱ HD Video ╱ 11’46” ╱ color, sound ╱ Courtesy of the artist and Fondazione In Between Art Film
The central exhibition at the Grand Hotel articulates around seven thematic pillars, each occupying one floor of the building. These chapters entitled Transition, Migration, Water, Capital, Love, Ecology and Speculation – are, needless to say, questions burning on both a local and a global level. As the press release points it out: „themes that link the concerns of people in Kosovo with those of people around the world – and indeed those of the planet at large.” The exhibited works range from visual arts through (sound)poetry2 to music. Driant Zeneli’s philosophical animation-tale The firefly keeps falling and the snake keeps growing (2022) redefines the idea of failure, Utopias and dreaming, positioning them as ideas that open possible alternatives. Driton Selmani’s Love Letters (2018-ongoing) take the form of short sentences written on plastic bags. Covering topics from politics to ecology, from art to philosophy, the plastic love letters function as a kind of journal to the last ten thousand years, as an ongoing documentation of everyday epiphanies and postulations, desires and anxieties. Kosovar diaspora child Edona Kryeziu reflects on the unresolved sovereignty of Kosovo and the impact this has on its citizens, especially for getting a visa to enter the EU. Her installation there are crossroads where ghostly signals flash from the traffic (2022) explores the geopolitical, economic and emotional conditions of waiting, where the anticipation, expectation, becoming and dreaming inherent to that waiting are suspended. All works are a reflection on our transitional states, should they be political, economic, social, natural or emotional. A lesson on change and how to change.
2 Katalin Ladik: Phonopoetica, 1976.
Alevtina Kakhidze: Invasions ╱ 2022 ╱ Multimedia installation ╱ Commissioned by Maniesta 14 Prishtina and supported by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung
Edona Kryeziu: there are crossroads where ghostly signals flash from the traffic ╱ 2022 ╱ Multimedia installation ╱ dimensions variable ╱ Courtesy of the artist
The National Gallery of Kosovo reveals a focus on strong women artistic positions showing resilience and resistance such as Ukrainian artist and gardener Alevtina Kakhidze’s piece entitled Invasions (2022) in which she researched the behaviour of plants in native and non-native habitats, addressing the topics of invasion, domination and belonging. With the clear intention to step out of silence and be heard the Secondary Archive platform participates with a sound-based piece composed of the voices of over 160 women artists from Albania, Belarus, Czech Republic, Hungary3, Kosovo, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine, all confessing about life, art and politics, about their dreams of equality, about their hopes, future and reality. In the same spirit, The Haveit Collective performs Baby Blues (2016/2022), a short but loud piece going against gender stereotypes and inequalities, while Selma Selman’s video and live performance entitled You have no idea (2020) shows the artist relentlessly screaming this sentence on the presidential election day in New York, voicing the impossible biopolitical condition of Roma people by referring to her own personal experience as a young woman artist of Roma origins from Bosnia. To pay tribute and remember the fight of socialist and suffragette Rosa Plaveva for the rights of women and workers is Hristina Ivanoska’s intention with Document Missing: Broken Document Breaks out into Poetry (2022), focusing on the Macedonian pendant of Rosa Luxembourg and through her figure, on the vulnerabilities of research in the absence of material evidence by recreating situations and documents “that were and were not” in performances, textile works, drawings and typographies. Jelena Jureša’s Aphasia (Act Three) – A Kid from the Neighbourhood (2019) is a quest to understand why crimes against humanity are continually and repeatedly perpetrated, by describing, interpreting, contextualising and staging without showing it the horrific, well-known photograph of a Serbian paramilitary senselessly kicking the dead body of a Bosnian woman in 1992, one of the many atrocities committed by Serbian nationalist paramilitary Arkan’s Tigers. Of the necessity to keep speaking about the unspeakable.
3 Hungarian women artists featured in the piece are: Nikolett Balázs, Marianne Csáky, Orshi Drozdik, Sári Ember, Andrea Fajgerné Dudás, Viola Fátyol, Kis Judit, Katalin Ladik, Ágnes Éva Molnár, Viktória Monhor, Tímea Oravecz, Katharina Roters, Katarina Šević, Eszter Ágnes Szabó, Eszter Szabó, Lilla Szász, Henrietta Szira, Kata Tranker, Dominika Trapp.
Haveit Collective: Baby Blues ╱ 2017-2022 ╱ Performance ╱ Courtesy of the artists
One might rightfully ask the question: beyond attracting cultural tourists’ attention to a neglected region, certainly attenuating the biased image it has, and apart from bringing a major international contemporary art event to a country where citizens have immense difficulties obtaining visas to travel because of its contested existence, what remains after Manifesta and what tangible legacy does it leave to the city? The Centre for Narrative Practice is such a meaningful institution, inaugurated in a former library as a joint effort by Manifesta 14 Prishtina and other international partners, the interdisciplinary space is conceived as a site for dialogue, learning, engaged story-telling and work with archives to foster post-conflict healing, repair and transformation.4 Manifesta 14 certainly reflects meaningfully on the complex geopolitical, social and historical context of the site it invests, but also on two-tier, unequal European policies, the fragility of peaceful multi-ethnic cohabitation, and through the chosen locations, on the wild, turbo-capitalistic privatisation of public property, the neglect of architectural heritage and infrastructure as well as on the inevitable question of what might come next.