Curated by: Hedwig Fijen,Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, Bregtje van der Haak, Andrés Jaque, Mirjam Varadinis

Only a couple of weeks left to visit Manifesta Palermo 12. Meditating on Hannah Arendt’s essay We Refugees – published in 1943 – Giorgio Agamben develops an analyses of the concept of human being and citizen through the current (and even past) European scenario. Lastly, he realized that nowadays “in the context of the inexorable decline of the nation-state and the general corrosion of traditional legal-political categories, the refugee is perhaps the only imaginable figure of the people in our day”. Is it possible, in a historical period characterized by a global economical dimension and a rhizomatic way of create knowledge, to imagine the coexistence of heterogenous identities? And, can we conceive a collective based on extraterritoriality (or a-territoriality, non-territoriality) principles and represented by denizens (the “non-citizens” of Tomas Hammar’s inquiry)?


Filippo Minelli, Across the Border (2010- till now). Courtesy of Manifesta 12

Manifesta was born in the early 90s as European Nomadic Biennial in order to support the artistic and cultural research after the dramatic event of the Cold War. Two primary features about the curatorial approach to the exhibition can be noticed: the dialectical compresence of various typologies of languages (architectural, artistic, philosophic, aesthetic and anthropological) and the dynamic connection between the project and the space  (the Sicilian city of Palermo).


Rotor, Da quassù è tutta un’altra cosa (2018). Courtesy of Manifesta 12

Palermo (lat. Panormus) boasted in origin a “vegetal” and “plan-related” name, being called ziz (flower) in the Phoenicians translation. Later, the Greek transliteration of the toponym in Pànormos (“tutto porto”) underlines the relation between the urban center, the open water (gr. Thálassa) and the port trades (gr. limáni, harbor). Since the date of its birth the city has been pointing out a natural and fruitful multiplicity of traditions and an experience which increases its own cultural identity. The arabic-norman “introverted” architecture, closed into cube-shaped structure and interrupted by pointed arches and hemispherical domes evocatively compares itself both with Renaissance traces (such as in S. Maria dello Spasimo, founded in 1509) and  with 70’s insulae of the Zen area, a controversial form of collective housing designed by Vittorio Gregotti. 


S. Giovanni degli Eremiti, Palermo. Ph: Valentina


S. Maria dello Spasimo, Palermo. Ph: Valentina Bartalesi

Palermo restores a liquid, fluent and hybrid etnogenesi. It symbolizes a jumble of “genetic” contradictions. In this way, the Sicilian centre stimulates the regeneration of signs, images, iconographies and gestures through the axis North-South  and Western-Eastern of the world. 


Palazzo Abatellis, Palermo. Ph: Valentina Bartalesi

From an artistic point of view, a main approach can be identified:  a video approch by means of short film-clip oriented to a critical and polemical contents. This peculiar medium emphasizes a certain direction of the artistic research in XXI century, which can be defined as post-medial. For example, Forensic Ocenography presents Liquid Violence (2018) at Palazzo Forcella de Seta, a documentary that examines the direct and indirect violence used around the nautical borders of Mediterraneo.


Forensic Oceonography, Liquid Violence (2018). Courtesy of Manifesta 12

Moreover, the works of art shown at Manifesta 12 fall under the definition of Gesamtkunstwerk (“total work of art”), formed by the works and the architecture/space which contains them (Palaces, Churches, Gardens, Public spaces).


Patricia Kaersenhout, The Soul of Salt (2016), Palazzo Forcella de Seta. Ph: Valentina Bartalesi


Alberto Baraya, New Herbs from Palermo and Surroundings. A Sicilian Expedition (2018), Orto Botanico. Ph: Valentina Bartalesi

Another moving video-clip was installed in a bamboo clearing inside the Orto Botanico of Palermo. Pteridophilia (2016 – till now) by Zheng Bo, celebrates the internal connection between humans and plants expressed through an amorous liaison. The body, the derma, the fern and the oxygen nullify themselves in a sensorial explosion of pleasures and thought. The regressus ad uterum corresponds to a poetical and intimate return to the Earth. The conformity between the real landscape (the Palermitan bamboo clearing) and the artificial one (the Taiwan’s forest immortalized during the performance) seems perfectly clear. 


Zheng Bo, Pteridophilia (2016- till now). Courtesy of Manifesta 12


The bamboo clearing in Palermo, Orto Botanico. Ph: Valentina Bartalesi

At last, there are almost two other kinds of work exhibited at Manifesta 12. An ultimate form of painting influenced by the Postmodern experience, has been created by Maria Thereza Alves with Una proposta di sincretismo (questa volta senza genocidio) (2018) at Palazzo Butera Cantiere Aperto. This irregular painting – made by the juxtaposition of different ceramic tiles – glorifies in a very solar, colorful and Mediterranean way thePalermitan Syncretism. From Brazil to Jaracanda, passing across the Andes, the Sicilian vegetation seems to be truly “international” and in progress.


Maria Thereza Alves, Una proposta di sincretismo (questa volta senza genocidio) (2018), Palazzo Butera Cantiere Aperto. Ph: Valentina Bartalesi

In the spacious hall of Palazzo Butera Renato Leotta exhibits Giardino (2018), a “bucolic” installation based on the compresence of two liminal and consequential spaces. The work presents a regular floor composed by different terracotta tiles interrupted by the traces of fallen lemons. The physical space is the terracotta floor, while the imaginary space is represented by the Notte of San Lorenzo, a virtual citrus plantation. Lemons seems comets with a peculiar weight and mass. They leave materic traces.


Renato Leotta, Giardino (2018), Palazzo Butera Cantiere Aperto. Ph: Valentina Bartalesi

Definitely, Manifesta 12 Palermo weaves a substantial connection between humans and plants, migrants and seeds, anthropological and natural space. The coexistence seems possible. The extraterritorial model appears the only practicable schema in order to face the continual flow of people, seeds and goods. In closing, the majority of works based on a documentary video research, risks to emphasize a progressive detachment between the aesthetic language (the expression of the work of art) and the pure mental content.  


Manifesta 12 

16.06.18 – 04.11.18


Text by: Valentina Bartalesi