Manifesta 7: The European Biennial of Contemporary Art

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Manifesta 7: The European Biennial of Contemporary Art

Various venues Trentino and South Tyrol July 19 to November 2

The organisers of this year's Manifesta can breathe a collective sigh of relief that the seventh edition of the European biennial of contemporary art is actually happening. After the trauma of the eleventh-hour cancellation of Manifesta 6 in Cyprus due to an eruption of local sensitivities, it is somewhat of a miracle that the biennial is back from the brink. Beyond just happening, Manifesta 7, which takes place in the mountainous Italian provinces of Trentino and South Tyrol, is an attempt to return to the spiritual roots and sense of mission of the 'Manifesta Decade' and restore its tarnished credibility. Manifesta 7 steers well clear of politics, which is understandable given that the curatorial desire to foster peace between Turkish and Greek Cypriots in Nicosia backfired so disastrously. Consequently, the concepts of the four exhibitions that make up the biennial, curated by Adam Budak, Anselm Franke and Hila Peleg, and the Raqs Media Collective, deal with abstract notions of regionalism, European identity and the residues of industrial culture.

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Budak's exhibition, entitled 'Principle Hope', is spread between a disused tobacco factory and a former cocoa plant in Rovereto, and derives from the idea of hope as 'dreaming forward' and the implications of critical regionalist theory. The Manifattura Tabacchi is the most rundown of the venues, and many of the most effective works in the show acknowledge the material history of the building. Such is the case with Claire Fontaine's lightbox Visions of the World, Rovereto, 2008, which records an anonymous pencil sketch from the walls of the factory depicting sunset over the surrounding mountains at the winter equinox in the late 60s. In Guido van der Werve's mesmerising film Nummer Acht, Everything is Going to be Alright, 2007, the artist walks a few steps ahead of an icebreaker across the frozen Finnish sea, suggesting the persistence of a fragile hope in the face of unimaginable odds. Among the many attempts to connect with the local legacy of Futurism, Uqbar Foundation researched the Futurist archive of MART, Rovereto's impressive new museum of contemporary art, for its installation Fuga di un Piano (Flight of a Piano), 2008, that touches on the modernist fascination with African masks.

The other Rovereto venue, Ex-Peterlini, was recently reclaimed from local anarchists, and the history of the squat provides a point of reference for a number of artists. Miklos Erhardt and Little Warsaw transpose the group dynamics of a local Italian autonomist cell into a fictionalised Hungarian context in a film entitled The Ship of Fools, 2008, which points to the inaccessibility of past revolutionary scenarios. Claire Fontaine's neon sign We Are With You In The Night, 2008, repeats Italian graffiti of the 70s showing solidarity with imprisoned leftwing activists, and is further suggestive of the powerlessness and invisibility of radical politics in contemporary society. Igor Eskinja sidesteps such concerns in his meticulous use of simple materials to conceptual effect, creating street lamps from adhesive tape and an elegant carpet from sand in Project for Untitled Piece, 2008.

Franke and Peleg were allocated a former post office in Trento, the nearest venue to a white cube, but also the most challenging due to its maze of small airless rooms. The Council of Trent that launched the Counter-Reformation was held here in the 16th Century, and the exhibition 'The Soul' takes as its starting point the doctrine that confession should include the innermost thoughts and fantasies of the believer. Among many outstanding works, Rosalind Nashashibi's The Prisoner, 2008, involves a single film reel looping through two adjacent projectors, with the resulting time lag between the two images enough to render an unknown woman's journey around the South Bank Centre sinister and fascinating. …