Manifesta, The European Biennial of Contemporary Art, was born as a nomadic contemporary art event, and has developed into a flexible and mobile structure, capable of continuously changing and reinventing itself.
It sees itself as an open-ended, dialogical process, initiating international collaborative projects and of adding a dimension of its own to a wide range of independently organised initiatives. At the same time, Manifesta works to develop new audiences for contemporary art and stimulate new approaches to artistic production and display. Its various programmes are designed to offer artists and curators alike the greatest possible freedom to experiment with innovative working methods and approaches to communicating with different publics.
Manifesta was launched as the only roving art event and project in the early 90s, by a Dutch initiative that later took shape as the International Foundation Manifesta (IFM), an independent and not-for-profit organisation with offices in Amsterdam. As a response to the political and economic changes brought about by the end of the Cold War and the consequent moves towards European integration, it aspired to provide a moveable platform that could support a growing network of visual arts professionals throughout the region. For this reason, it proclaimed from the outset that it aimed, not only to organise a biennial exhibition, but to stimulate an expanding artistic network and develop on-going workshops for research and experimentation, which would involve individual artists and artistic communities from diverse backgrounds all over the continent.
In adherence to its mandate of continuing to play a critical role in the advancement and enhancement of dialogue within Europe, Manifesta has always worked with artists and professionals who have limited access to the dominant mainstream discourse in contemporary art. This decision to work in more complex situations and geo-political areas has far reaching implications, not only in terms of the evolution of Manifesta, but also in relation to the international art scene as a whole.
The complex nature of each different location provides challenges as well as specific opportunities for each individual Manifesta edition. Manifesta aims to engage itself each time in a different way, to make use of the location and its reality, not to merely utilize it for site specific projects but rather to integrate the sites into the artistic project as a resource of intellectual capital that will provide all participants ample opportunity for research and innovation.
Manifesta, the itinerant biennial changes location every two years, in response to changing artistic imperatives and a variety of social, political and geographical considerations. It strives to stay at a distance from the dominant centres of artistic production and looks for fertile grounds for the mapping of new directions curatorial practices, exhibition models and education. The Manifesta Biennial aimed to become a nomadic, pan-European event, with the inbuilt ability to respond flexibly to the changing conditions of society and of contemporary artistic practice. What is the mission of Manifesta?
Inherent in its nomadic character is the desire to explore the psychological and geographical territory of Europe, both as expanding topography and concept. This process aims to establish closer dialogue between specific cultural and artistic situations and the broader, international context of contemporary art, theory and politics in a changing society. Manifesta has a pan-European vocation and has successfully presented artists, as well as involving young professionals and trainees, from as many as thirty to forty different countries. With the expansion of the European community from twelve to twenty-five countries, with a possible target of around thirty in the foreseeable future, Manifesta is also increasingly aiming at to create links with Europe’s neighbouring regions in Asia, the East Mediterranean and North Africa, at the same time as continuing to pay special attention to minority groups and cultures within Europe itself.
Manifesta thus looks forward to expanding its network still further and to building new creative partnerships with organisations, curators, arts professionals and individuals, within Europe and beyond, on a widely connected map of contemporary art.