Every two years, starting from 1990, Manifesta chooses an unexpected place in Europe in which to take residency and give new perspectives to its vocation as a nomadic Biennale. The choice of elliptical cities for contemporary art, the last two being Marseille and Palermo, is intimately linked to the artistic project of Manifesta: rethinking the relations between culture and society as well as the relationship between civic and cultural commitment. It is precisely in liminal places that this relationship can be really enriched and imagined again, and with the choice of the capital of Kosovo—Prishtina—as a host city for Manifesta 14, this intuition is more vivid than ever.
Since July, the city has been the scene of a radically local program, with more than half of the participating artists from the Western Balkan area. During the 100 days of the event, the artists invited the citizens of Prishtina to interact with the biennial, in an effort of “co-creation” mediated in the first place by architecture. In fact, Manifesta 14 began its dialogue with the city well before its opening to the public, through the intervention of the Turin—based studio Carlo Ratti Associati, thanks to what the firm defined as an experiment of “open—source urbanism”. All the interventions designed by CRA have been realized thanks to a participatory approach based on citizen feedback.
The heart of these urban interventions is the creation of the Center for Narrative Practice, the first building in the history of Manifesta destined to be permanently installed in one of its host cities. Born from the Hivzi Sylejmani Library, this building serves as the irradiating center for this edition’s concept and title: “it matters what worlds world worlds: how to tell stories otherwise”. Manifesta 14 is devoted to collective storytelling, understood not as simple historiography, but as a system of survival and regeneration. Narrative is examined here in all its transformative power, as a social, cultural, and political tool.
The Republic of Kosovo has one of the youngest populations in Europe, which remains confined to the country due to travel restrictions to the Schengen area. Through storytelling, the Biennial aims to extend an interrupted dialogue between the artistic community of the country and the rest of Europe and the world. It is precisely in places marked by a history of war and political division that it becomes clear that you can’t have narrative without action and that words are objects and vice versa: cultural exchange is always an act of reconstruction.
Performative action and architectural creation are the two expressions gathered around the Ibar River in the project Unbordering Worlds: New Narratives for Northern Kosovo. The Ibar River is the geographical border that after the 1998—1999 war divides into two parts the city of Mitrovica, Northern Kosovo, the birthplace of the curator of the project Petrit Abazi (1983, Republic of Kosovo). Often described as “the most divided city in Europe”, the river has splintered the Mitrovica into Serbian north and Albanian south banks with different languages, religions, mayors, and currencies. Within the river take place the projects of Piers Greville (1972, Australia), a former mountain endurance athlete whose practice involves tracing the landscape through extensive use of his body; and Stanislava Pinchuk (1988, Ukraine) an artist working on how landscape holds memory and is testament to political events, data—mapping the changing topographies of war and conflict zones.
What is Here, the work of Greville, had its beginning as a performance held during the opening days of Manifesta right under one of the disused bridges on the Ibar river in Mitrovica. Here the artist and the people of the city swam upstream in the waters of the river, challenging the stream to remain at a precise point and totaling a symbolic distance, equivalent to the 35.1 km that separates the city from the Serbian border. The performance—or the construction of a new bridge—was simultaneously projected on the carpet of room 506 of the Grand Hotel Prishtina, to form the center panel of a triptych, in between two flags drawn on silk. On the flags are represented the two lands crossed by the river, horizons without roads and territories without dominion.
Right on the nearby hills, located at a strategic point to be contemplated by the inhabitants of both sides of the river, stands in its 19 meters the Monument to Fallen Miners. Designed and built by Bogdan Bogdanović in what was still Yugoslavia, it is a memorial that honors both Serbian and Albanian victims who rose against Nazi Occupation in the local Trepča mines. What once used to represent unity and solidarity, now belongs uncomfortably to everybody and nobody at the same time. The architect Bogdanovic used to “Dream of a Europe without monuments. By that I mean without monuments of death and disaster. Perhaps philosophical construction: monuments to love, to joy, to jokes and laughter”.
On what would have been the hundredth birthday of his creator, Stanislava Pinchuk with her installation Europe Without Monuments places an open reproduction of the monument on the riverbed, once again a fluid boundary rather than a geopolitical divide as well as a communal space.
In this artistic intervention past and present quotations intersect in circumstances that continue to repeat themselves, as reported in this excerpt from the Site of Pinchuk: “On July 22, Manifesta will open in Kosovo. 700km away, Ukraine will enter day 149 of the invasion of Russia. Kharkiv, the hometown of Pinchuk, will enter another day with scaffolding protecting its monuments. While we dream of a Europe without monuments to death and catastrophes, we are still faced with a Europe that could be without monuments”.