Manifesta is a new European biennial of contemporary art, held for the first time in Rotterdam in the summer of 1996. Manifesta is a travelling exhibition, taking place every two years in a different European city. It is the first real endeavour in the field of contemporary art to respond to the political and social changes arising out of recent developments on the European continent.
Emerging into a Europe undergoing radical change, Manifesta aims to harness the new artistic energies and to establish a network of exchange covering the whole of Europe. Because of its nomadism Manifesta is a work in progress, constantly enriched by the cultural contexts it encounters in city after city, each one different and unique. But Manifesta is also an instrument of cross-border communication and dialogue, weaving an increasingly dense fabric of relations between artists, curators, critics and others active in the contemporary art world.
Though very much sought after in the years following the raising of the iron curtain, Eastern European artists - once subject to an almost "fashionable" interest - have been gradually disappearing from the international art scene. This reality has been the starting point of Manifesta. According to its founders, Manifesta should become the experimental ground for a new wave of major international exhibitions by taking into account the new European cultural space as it is emerging at the end of the 1990s.
We consider that the originality of Manifesta should be taken seriously. So we have decided that the exhibition of the second edition of this new Biennial of Contemporary Art should be the result of thorough investigations in all European countries rather than of a predefined concept. In other words, rather than hinging on a precise theme (e.g. "migration", "identity"), Manifesta 2 will be a major exhibition of international scope based on in-depth soundings on the spot.
Our recent journeys which made us travel from one country to the next and from one city to the next, and made us criss-cross the European continent from north to south and from east to west, revealed a surprising diversity of artistic tendencies and traditions. We suddenly realised that "Eastern Europe" cannot be reduced to one general concept. In fact, what appeared to us was a proliferation of situations and dynamics all very different from one another. Whereas in the 1980s some major centres still set the trend, the artistic production has today become of equal value from one end of the continent to the other particularly as a new generation of young artists who have not experienced communism, are emerging on the international scene. Of course, Manifesta should not be considered as an exclusively "Eastern European" art event. The artists should not be judged according to geographical, national or regional criteria but should be treated and considered as equals taking part in a high-quality exhibition. Manifesta 2 should by no means be a diplomatic exhibition. Since it is not bound to any quota of national representation, Manifesta 2 aims at proving that, henceforth, the spotlight is turned on top contemporary art produced on the major international scenes - in Europe and worldwide.
Robert Fleck, Maria Lind, Barbara Vanderlinden
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