Manifesta 12 Palermo explores coexistence in a world moved by invisible networks, transnational private interests, algorithmic intelligence, environmental crisis and ever-increasing inequalities. It looks at this world through the unique lens of Palermo – a city at the crossroads of three continents in the heart of the Mediterranean. Closely collaborating with Palermitan partners, Manifesta 12 co-inhabits Palermo, as an ideal place to investigate the challenges of our time, and to experiment with traces of possible futures.
Manifesta 12 “The Planetary Garden: Cultivating Coexistence”
June 16 – November 4, 2018
Via Teatro Garibaldi, 46-56, Palermo PA
Manifesta 12 is curated by an interdisciplinary group of Creative Mediators composed of Bregtje van der Haak, a renowned Dutch documentary filmmaker and journalist; Andrés Jaque, a Spanish architect, founder of the Office for Political Innovation and professor at Columbia University; Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, a Sicilian-born architect and partner at OMA/AMO and Mirjam Varadinis, a Swiss contemporary art curator at Kunsthaus Zurich. The biennale was preceded and informed by Palermo Atlas, an urban study by OMA/AMO commissioned by Manifesta 12 and the city of Palermo.
The Planetary Garden: Cultivating Coexistence – Curatorial Text by Bregtje van der Haak, Andrés Jaque, Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, Mirjam Varadinis, Creative Mediators Manifesta 12:
Palermo has always been a laboratory of diversity and cross-pollination. Continuous migration – from the Ancient Greeks, the Arabs and the Normans, to the recent arrivals from Northern Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East – has constantly redefined its form and dynamics. Palermo’s streets, architecture, nature, cultures and personal histories are the result of a longlasting syncretism across the Mediterranean and beyond.
The traces of continuous migration are visible in the 1875 painting Veduta di Palermo by Francesco Lojacono. It seems nothing is indigenous: aspen came from the Middle East, eucalyptus from Australia, the prickly pear from Mexico, loquat from Japan. Citrus trees – a symbol of Sicily – were introduced under Arab sovereignty. Palermo’s Orto Botanico (botanical garden) was founded in 1789 as a testing ground to nurture, study, test, mix and gather diverse species.
Gardens are places where diverse forms of life meet and adapt to coexist. In 1997, French botanist Gilles Clément described the world as a ‘planetary garden’, with humanity in charge as its gardener. But how to tend to a world that is moved by invisible informational networks, transnational private interests, algorithmic intelligence, environmental processes and increasing inequalities? Twenty years later, Clément’s metaphor of the planet as a manageable garden is still attractive, not as a space for humans to take control of, but rather as a site where ‘gardeners’ of diverse species recognise their interdependency and share responsibility.
Palermo Atlas, the study of the city by OMA, served as a form of mediation between Palermo and Manifesta. Composed as a collection of stories gathered on the ground and supported by data, it sets the basis of the curatorial approach. The Atlas reveals Palermo as a node in an expanded geography of movements – of people, capital, goods, data, seeds, germs – that are often invisible, untouchable and beyond our control. Palermo is shaped by these flows and journeys, from Somalia to Scandinavia, from Indonesia to Gibraltar and the Americas. Palermo is a global city, but one of the global problematic, a place where transnational issues converge – from climate change and illegal trafficking to the simultaneous impact of tourism and migration.
Its position at the crossroads of three continents makes Palermo an ideal location for Manifesta 12 to investigate some of the key challenges of our time and to explore alternative modes of civic engagement. In the 1990s Primavera di Palermo, the social movement against the mafia, helped the city emerge from decades of criminal control with a determination to establish new forms of civic agency. Similar ambitions arise in Palermo today, as it embraces migration and proposes new models of citizenship (the call to abolish the residence permit) and human rights (Mayor Leoluca Orlando’s proposal to establish mobility as a human right).
Manifesta 12 Palermo will cohabit and engage with the city’s diverse components. It occupies non-institutional spaces with specific characters and historical, social or political backgrounds that resonate with the main topics of the concept. Manifesta 12’s thematic and geographic organisation are intertwined, triggering a journey through the city, like a section through its anatomy.
The programme and itinerary of The Planetary Garden: Cultivating Coexistence are structured in three main sections, each one addressing key themes of the curatorial concept:
1. Garden of Flows
The painting Veduta di Palermo by Francesco Lojacono (1875) inspired Manifesta 12 Palermo to explore the idea of the garden and its capacity to embrace difference as a generative force, and to compose life out of movement and migration. In gardens, nature and culture collaborate, ecosystems negotiate coexistence with the foreign and the toxic. In the twenty-first century, the planetary garden can be seen as a place for humanity to experiment, to rethink its relationship with non-human agents and their needs, and thus to respond to the urgencies of the contemporary world in a shared endeavour of caring.
‘Garden of Flows’ explores toxicity, plant life and the culture of gardening in relation to the transnational commons in the Orto Botanico and in the recently restored Palazzo Butera.
2. Out of Control Room
In contemporary times, the traditional, centralised power structures of nation states seem to have become obsolete, while our lives are organised in invisible networks whose accelerating forces are yet to be translated into real forms of political administration. How can civic society access levels of power and regain agency in a moment when things seem to be out of control? How can human and non-human agents intervene in the processes that affect them, in today’s regime of global flows?
The works included in ‘Out of Control Room’ make invisible networks visible, the abstract tangible, hence accessible and debatable. Palermo, a city of transnational movements, which, due to decades of criminal exploitation and neglect, has nurtured a culture of civic participation and political experimentation, is the ideal stage on which to test what space is now left for individual or collective, human or non-human political agencies. This section takes place in the ancient Palazzo Ajutamicristo and in the Palazzo Forcella De Seta, facing the sea.
3. City on Stage
‘City on Stage’ is Manifesta 12 Palermo’s attempt to embrace the multilayered nature of the city of Palermo and use it as an instrument to foster critical understanding of different aspects of contemporary urban living. ‘City on Stage’ dialogues with the ephemeral components of Palermo’s urban life. The city’s long tradition of storytelling – cantastorie – is honoured through a series of new narrative productions. It recognises the Santa Rosalia procession as an expression of contemporary syncretism, dialogue and celebration and mobilises a rich cinematographic legacy to present untold stories about the city. This section also builds on existing opportunities in the centre and the outskirts of Palermo to act as a catalyst in a number of public spaces with unfulfilled potential, which represent a disconnection between political planning and civic needs. These interventions include a new mountain track and space for refuge in the contested northern areas of Pizzo Sella and Monte Gallo; a community garden at ZEN 2; a public meeting place in the historical piazza Magione; and a reclaimed maritime landscape on the toxic southern coast.
These projects are presented across the ground floor of the four buildings at Quattro Canti, formerly the political, religious, architectural and symbolic centre of the city.
Manifesta 12’s epicentre is at Teatro Garibaldi, a historic theatre located at the very heart of La Kalsa, the old Arab neighbourhood of Palermo and one of Palermo’s many underused spaces. This is the place for Manifesta 12 visitors to come together, start conversations, explore exhibitions, or simply rest. In Teatro Garibaldi, Manifesta 12 presents its programme of public and live events, including workshops, talks, music performances and film screenings. The theatre is also a space for Manifesta 12 to experiment with practices of hospitality, including lounge areas, a library and a café open to visitors to use and explore.