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October 7, 2022

Field Notes: Hana Halilaj on Manifesta 14

Art & Education

Centre for Narrative Practice, Prishtina. Photo: Ivan Erofeev. Courtesy Manifesta 14.

Cevdet Erek, Brutal Times, 2022. Rilindja Press Palace, Prishtina, Manifesta 14, July 22–October 30, 2022. Photo: Hana Halilaj.

Centre for Narrative Practice, Prishtina. Photo: Ivan Erofeev. Courtesy Manifesta 14.

Cevdet Erek, Brutal Times, 2022. Rilindja Press Palace, Prishtina, Manifesta 14, July 22–October 30, 2022. © Cevdet Erek. Photo: Ivan Erofeev. Courtesy Manifesta 14.

Field Notes: Rilindja Press Palace and Centre for Narrative Practice, Manifesta 14
by Hana Halilaj

What repercussions does a nomadic European biennial hold for a country that is not a part of the European Union? The answer will only become clear in due time. “To biennale or not to biennale, that is the question,” wrote the multimedia artist Driton Selmani on an empty billboard atop the Palace of Youth and Sports in Prishtina, Kosovo, an intervention that came between two other billboards, one announcing the Autostrada Biennale, which was held from July to September 2021, and the other Manifesta 14, which opened this July 22. What distinguishes Manifesta among the biennials and periodic shows that opened this year after pandemic postponements is precisely its roving aspect and the customized curatorial framework each edition institutes in its host city. In Prishtina, Manifesta 14 took on the daunting task of “telling stories otherwise” in a country that has undergone profound sociopolitical upheavals and exhibits a distinct paucity of in-depth literature on its art and cultural histories. Conceived by the writer and curator Catherine Nichols, creative mediator for Manifesta 14’s artistic program, the concept and themes of this edition center around collective storytelling as theorized by the feminist scholar Donna Haraway, an approach that invites viewers and participants to reflectively engage with narratives that reclaim public spaces and discourses.

As part of Manifesta’s ongoing endeavor to change the biennial model into something more agentive that responds to its respective localities, as the last two editions in Palermo, Italy, and Marseille, France, sought to do, the fourteenth edition has focused on urban transformation by reviving shuttered venues as exhibition and community-engagement spaces. Manifesta 14’s prioritizing of cultural urban development is evident in Public After All, a publication made in collaboration with the biennial’s creative mediator for urban vision CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati. The book presents the pre-biennial research into the revitalization and reclamation of Prishtina’s public spaces, including not only the venues that host Manifesta 14’s artistic program but also other public commons identified around the city. Importantly, the twenty-five sites in which Manifesta 14 has unfolded since July surface Prishtina’s many histories in their architecture, from the city’s Austro-Hungarian occupation in the nineteenth century to its Yugoslav period of the mid-twentieth and from the violent annexation of Kosovo’s autonomy in the 1990s to the war of independence at the end of that decade and the postwar transition that accelerated the refurbishment and repurposing of buildings so to reimagine the future. Consequently, considering how historically charged most of these venues are with Prishtina’s complex geopolitical history, the forthcoming exhibition catalog necessarily explicates their role in and the connection of the artistic interventions in them to this specific context.

Of course, the revitalization of abandoned public spaces is a recurring feature of contemporary art exhibitions that touch down in places that lack the art infrastructure for such events. A multitude of initiatives and projects in Kosovo have themselves independently sustained exhibition and cultural spaces and become pivotal in the fight against state and local authorities by advocating for the potential and cultural significance of such venues. In the case of Manifesta 14, the interventions at Rilindja Press Palace, namely Cevdet Erek’s work, and the Centre for Narrative Practice are prime examples of these civic and cultural engagements.

Read more of Hana Halilaj’s Field Notes review on Art & Education.

Field Notes is a series of reviews from the next generation of art writers. Featuring texts on the 59th Venice Biennale, Documenta 15, and Manifesta 14 contributed by students and recent graduates, Field Notes makes original connections between the work and the world and takes a closer look at what other observers might have missed.

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