REVIEW of Manifesta, Pristina

Manifesta 14, “It matters what worlds world worlds: how to tell stories otherwise”
by Cathryn Drake

For its 14th edition, the nomadic European biennial Manifesta has taken up temporary residence in various cultural institutions and derelict spaces in and around Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, where creative mediator Catherine Nichols invited artists and practitioners to explore modes of storytelling across cultures. As a contested nation state, Kosovo embodies many of the most pressing and complex issues facing society today. When is a country a country? How many people have to say it is for it to be? Who has the authority to declare a territory as a nation? Does the population need to be homogenous? Who is nationalism good for? How can we all live together and be free? Roaming the city in search of the exhibitions and “artistic interventions”—by 102 artists in 25 locations, from an Ottoman-era hammam to a former brick factory—I attempted to plot pieces of the puzzle into a coherent picture. Interacting with locals in Pristina was inevitable, both to find the far-flung (and often vaguely signposted) locations and to glean how the tumultuous, not-so-distant past led to the complex present.

The main exhibition, titled “The Grand Scheme of Things,” is hosted on seven floors of the Grand Hotel Pristina, a decadent specter of a structure that has hardly changed since it opened in 1978. Each floor is dedicated to a theme—transition, migration, water, capital, love, ecology, and speculation—expressed in everything from photographs, paintings, and sculptures to engaging films and immersive installations. Among these are the soft dolls of Dardan Zhegrova’s Your enthusiasm to tell a story (2015–22), which invite you to lay down, put your ear on their hearts, and hear the artist whisper intimate poetry. In embroidered tapestries titled The Frequency of Frankness (2012–22), Jakup Ferri depicts a magical universe where various species communicate and care for each other. It is worth making the trip to Pristina just to see the engaging and heartfelt work of artists from the Balkans, who comprise more than half of the exhibition.

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