Saturday July 19 marked the official opening of the seventh edition of Manifesta, the European Biennale of Contemporary Art. Curated by New Delhi-based Raqs Media Collective, “The Rest of Now” is one of four primary exhibition programs constituting Manifesta7. Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula and Shuddhabrata Sengupta are members of the cross-disciplinary trio whose own broad-ranging practice has included essays, book projects and installations at major international venues such as documenta11, the Venice Biennale in 2003 and 2005 and the 10th Istanbul Biennale in 2007. Raqs Media’s diverse endeavors are mirrored here in the works they selected: site-specific installations, specially commissioned projects and architectural interventions.
Following a precedent set by the previous two biennales, Manifesta7 is situated in a region of contested national and ethnic identity: four Italian towns in Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtiro, a region marked by its Austro-Hungarian legacy and its early-20th century annexation to Italy. Located on the industrial periphery of Bolzano/Bozen, the Raqs-curated show taps into the region’s complex history, one of the exhibition’s main themes. Nearly 50 kilometers from the closest other Manifesta7 site, the show is not easy to reach by public transit, and locals are not always sympathetic to visiting European or overseas art tourists.
Housed in the Ex Alumix building, a disused aluminum factory from the Mussolini era, “The Rest of Now” opens with Harold De Bree’s M1 SS Bailey Bridge (2008). A functional, rapid-deployment bridge modeled on those used by Allied Forces during World War II, De Bree’s bridge spans the large exterior pond but is rendered useless by its lack of a final destination. Inside, the display is formally divergent: on one end of the spectrum is architect Jorge Otero-Pailos’ monumental cast of the building’s decades-old grime in thin sheets of semi-translucent latex. On the other is a different sort of reconfiguration of cultural residue in works like Anders Kreuger’s compelling Subtitles (2008)—part translation exercise, part original video essay—composed of footage from an early 1970s Swedish children’s television show. Neil Cummings and Marysia Lewandowska’s Post-Production (2008), an hour-long film from an archive of work by Socialist-era amateur Polish film clubs, is shown here in a highly stylized microcinema, encircled by a heavy, red curtain and furnished with plush theater seating. In between the works are subtle, unlabeled modifications to the building carried out by the curators themselves: a long rectangular window installed in the otherwise windowless, concrete back wall and another opening in the factory floor, two gestures that open up the imposing host building.
In addition to the works on view, Raqs Media has organized “Tabula Rasa,” a series of events centered around a specially commissioned table designed by architects Nikolaus Hirsch and Michel Müller, who have individually collaborated with Raqs Media Collective in the past. For the 111 days of the exhibition, the curators will host talks and activities around the “blank slate” of the table. Manifesta7 will remain on view through November 2.