Manifesta 12 Palermo concept released: The Planetary Garden. Cultivating Coexistence.

Manifesta 12

Veduta di Palermo by Francesco Lojacono, 1875. Manifesta 12 Palermo Atlas by OMA, 2017, Courtesy OMA

Manifesta 12 Creative Mediators Bregtje van der Haak, Andrés Jaque, Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli and Mirjam Varadinis have unveiled the concept for the upcoming Manifesta 12 biennial in Palermo, opening on 16 June 2018 until 4 November 2018.

The concept was announced during a press conference in Rome on 27 November 2017, with introductions by the Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage and Tourism Dario Franceschini, the Director and Founder of Manifesta Hedwig Fijen, the Mayor of Palermo Leoluca Orlando, and Palermo’s Councilor of Culture Andrea Cusumano, and in Palermo on 28 November 2017.

Manifesta 12, taking place in Palermo in 2018, is the latest installment of the world’s only nomadic biennial of contemporary art and culture. Throughout its 11 editions, Manifesta has always been politically and socially engaged, beyond producing an experimental and emerging art experience. From Ljubljana in 2000, Trentino – South Tyrol in 2008 and Saint-Petersburg in 2014 to Manifesta 12 Palermo in 2018 and Manifesta 13 Marseille in 2020, Manifesta has consistently chosen unexpected host locations that reflect the changing DNA of Europe and shed new light on its key issues and transformations.

Palermo is an excellent host city in this context, allowing Manifesta 12 to continue its story of decoding Europe. On the one hand, Manifesta 12 will investigate contemporary challenges from Palermo’s perspective as the Mediterranean hub. On the other, it will attempt to mobilise the existing energy of the city through intensive education programmes, Manifesta’s international network and long-term projects that will kick-off during the biennial but, hopefully, create a sustainable impact after Manifesta.

Manifesta 12 Palermo Concept

Titled “The Planetary Garden. Cultivating Coexistence”, the concept explores coexistence in a world moved by invisible networks, transnational private interests, algorithmic intelligence and ever-increasing inequalities through the unique lens of Palermo – a crossroads of three continents in the heart of the Mediterranean. Closely collaborating with Palermitan partners, Manifesta 12 will co-inhabit Palermo as a laboratory to investigate the challenges of our time and look for traces of possible futures.

Throughout history, the City of Palermo has been a laboratory for diversity and cross-pollination, shaped by continuous migration. In the 1875 painting by Francesco Lojacono, View of Palermo (in the collection of the GAM Museum in Palermo), nothing was indigenous. Olive trees came from Asia, aspen from the Middle East and eucalyptus from Australia. Citrus trees – the symbol of Sicily – were introduced under Arab sovereignty. The botanical garden of Palermo, Orto Botanico, was founded in 1789 as a laboratory to nurture, test, mix and gather diverse species. Inspired by Palermo’s Orto Botanico, Manifesta 12 will look at the idea of the “garden”, exploring its capacity to aggregate difference and to compose life out of movement and migration.

Gardens are places where diverse forms of life mix and adapt to co-exist. They allow for cross-pollination based on encounter. In 1997, French Botanist Gilles Clément described the world as a “planetary garden” with humanity in charge of being its gardener. Twenty years later, Manifesta 12 will revisit the metaphor of the “garden”, not as a space for humans to take control, but rather as a site where “gardeners” recognise their dependency on other species, and respond to climate, time, or an array of social factors, in a shared responsibility.

“The Planetary Garden. Cultivating Coexistence” will host 4 main sections, each touching on key topics of the concept: Garden of Flows, Out of Control Room, City on Stage and Teatro Garibaldi as the main center of Manifesta 12 (currently hosting a pre-biennial programme “Aspettando Manifesta 12” – Waiting for Maniefsta 12).

Palermo Atlas by OMA 

The Manifesta 12 concept was extracted from the city itself through a preliminary phase of investigation by OMA, Palermo Atlas. It was the first time that Manifesta had kicked-off the biennial with a research by an architecture office. The goal was to have a deeper understanding of social, cultural and geographical textures of the city; highlight its existing opportunities; and provide a source for audiences to understand contemporary transformations through “the eyes” of Palermo.

 “Palermo Atlas is a study of the past and present city, a collection of patterns, perceptions, stories and testimonies gathered on the ground and supported by data. On the one hand, the Atlas uses the city of Palermo as a point of departure to tell the story of the Mediterranean and Europe at large; on the other it is a reflection on characteristics that are specific to Palermo. Together with artists and other practitioners, we walked the city with dozens of individual ‘Palermitani’ who toured us through samples and sections of their city, visiting over 100 sites ranging in character, history, cultural, civic and social relevance. The collection of journeys, stories and encounters has allowed us to approach the many milieus existing within Palermo and to start ascertaining its complexity. Out of this engagement, Manifesta 12 is partnering with Palermo to mobilise those who live there and to leave a lasting legacy.” – Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli on Palermo Atlas, Manifesta 12 Creative Mediator and Partner at OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture)

Palermo Atlas will be published in print and e-book formats in 2018. In addition, it will be represented in the main Manifesta 12 biennial programme. Currently, the Atlas can be viewed at Manifesta 12 headquarter in Palermo, Teatro Garibaldi.


Along with the biennial programme itself, Manifesta 12 parcours will invite local and international audiences to discover the material and immaterial heritage of Palermo. Visitors will have a choice of enjoying an accessible and walkable parcours or venturing further into the city to explore some of the long-term projects designed to create a tangible legacy for Palermitans.

“Manifesta 12’s thematic and geographic organisation are intertwined, triggering a journey through the city like a section through its anatomy: from the abandoned and derelict heritage of the historical centre, to the failed utopia of the periphery; from the glorious history of its gardens to its neglected and toxic coast.”- Manifesta 12 Creative Mediators

Further parcours details will be released in the coming months as the programme evolves.

Interdisciplinary approach

One of the key characteristics of “The Planetary Garden” concept and Manifesta 12 at large is an interdisciplinary approach. Manifesta 12 is the first edition to include not only traditional art curators, but an interdisciplinary group of specialists in the curatorial team. Bregtje van der Haak is a renowned Dutch journalist and filmmaker; Andrés Jaque is a Spanish architect, founder of the Office for Political Innovation and professor at Columbia University; Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli is a Sicilian-born architect and partner at OMA/AMO, and Mirjam Varadinis is a Swiss contemporary art curator at Kunsthaus Zurich.

This curatorial model was necessary to understand how to decode Palermo in all its complexities and amplify the already existing energy of the city in experimental ways. Each of the Manifesta 12 Creative Mediators have used their respective expertise and background to contribute to the biennial programme. This will be evident through the diversity of projects in Manifesta 12 that will extend beyond contemporary art into architecture, public space, science, geography, agronomy, literature, food, cinema, anthropology, social design, storytelling and more. Further details on the Manifesta 12 participants and projects will be unveiled as the biennial approaches its opening.

Local production and collaborations

Manifesta 12’s main objective is to act as an incubator for Palermo and engage with local groups and professionals who are involved in local production, activism and cultural collaboration. The Creative Mediators choose to be “radically local in engaging with the city in all of its diverse components”, instigating a dialogue between Manifesta 12 participants and local communities, as well as mobilising local partners through all stages of the biennial development. In addition to this, Manifesta 12 will attempt to connect Palermo’s existing energy with an international network to contextualise the city’s issues on a larger mental map.

Some of these collaborations have already started to take shape, such as the agreement with the University of Palermo, which will include exchange between local and international students on joint research projects, and learning opportunities for UNIPA students within the Manifesta 12 framework. For example, Manifesta 12 is currently hosting a shared research project with the students of Utrecht School of Arts and University of Palermo, which is part of the students’ curriculum. More projects will come from this co-lab in the coming months. Soon, Manifesta 12 will begin the collaboration with the students of Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia.

This October, Creative Mediator Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli has initiated academic research studios bringing together four celebrated schools of architecture: Architectural Association School of Architecture from London, Royal College of Arts from London, Delft University of Technology and University of Palermo. Each studio will investigate, reflect and propose future scenarios for Palermo, freely based on the Palermo Atlas by OMA and the curatorial proposal by the Creative Mediators.

Manifesta 12’s Department of Education has launched Education Hub in collaboration with the University of Palermo, Academy of Fine Arts and the local transport company AMAT. The hub is a travelling education platform to reach out to and engage with various communities in neighborhoods of Palermo. Under the guidance of Madrid-based architectural bureau ENORME Studio recommended by Creative Mediator Andrés Jaque, students of UNIPA and Academy of Fine Arts will radically transform a city bus donated by AMAT for the project. The Education Hub is supported by DGAAP, the Contemporary Art and Architecture Department of the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Tourism.

Aside from these preliminary collaborations, Manifesta 12 has introduced a new parallel programme in addition to the traditional Manifesta Collateral Events, called 5x5x5. The programme is designed to foster an exchange and networking between local and international cultural spheres, inviting national and international artists, schools and galleries to feature a pop-up project in Palermo in collaboration with a local professional or organisation. This includes 5 artists-in-residence, 5 pop-up gallery shows and 5 summer schools during Manifesta 12 in Palermo. Each project has to actively involve local communities and professionals as the selection requirement. Manifesta 12 is currently inviting proposals for participation, more information can be found here.

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