Art Insight #21: Hedwig Fijen
Director of Manifesta
‘Manifesta’ is one of the three most prestigious art events in Europe, alongside the ‘Venice Biennale’ and Kassel’s ‘Documenta’. What distinguishes it from the others is its nomadic nature. ‘Manifesta’ is not tied to a specific place like Venice or Kassel, but is held in different cities across Europe for each iteration.
Under the aim to expand the world of visual art and promote exchange with the hosting city’s social, historical, economical, and architectural context, ‘Manifesta’ has roamed the continent for more than 20 years since 1996. Starting in Rotterdam, it has moved through cities like Luxembourg, Ljubljana, St. Petersburg, and now Zurich for its 11th edition. At the center of this long history has been Hedwig Fijen, co-founder and director of ‘Manifesta’. We spoke to her about the behind-the-scenes of operating such an internationally renowned event.
‘Manifesta’ can ask more critical questions than local stakeholders, and at the same time as an outside party it is our task to put a mirror in front of the local communities. - Hedwig Fijen -
Q. What is your role in ‘Manifesta’? Could you describe the scope of your responsibilities?
As operations director of each edition I am responsible for the entire development and execution of all aspects of the biennale, including the selection of the cities and the curator, as well as supporting the curator to realize his concept. In advance of the biennale, I create a conceptual, strategic outline of what the edition should deal with thematically and what sort of profile of a curator should be looked for. Specifically, the selection of host cities determines how ‘Manifesta’ creates a legacy of addressing how culture can create a vision of how society is changing. My responsibility is to ensure that the biennale is conceptually, logistically, and precisely positioned, as well as taking care of its economic position, and at the same time making sure that each ‘Manifesta’ is asking the right questions.
Q. From an art world perspective, ‘Manifesta’ seems similar in concept to a biennale. Yet the name itself suggests a point of differentiation, and perhaps even a distinct ideology. Can you say something about Manifesta’s identity in the age of the biennale?
‘Manifesta’ is a biennale and is taking place every two years, and acts as a start-up, since it moves geographically within the boundaries of Europe. ‘Manifesta’ acts as a protagonist, which means that we start up a project, which is then taken over by local institutions to create long-term legacies. Sometimes ‘Manifesta’ can ask more critical questions than local stakeholders, and at the same time as an outside party it is our task to put a mirror in front of the local communities.
Q. Every ‘Manifesta’ incorporates a large number of events and exhibitions throughout the host city. How do you decide the location for each exhibition?
‘Manifesta’ decides upon the venues of the biennale with the curator according to the basic concept of which edition, which is related to a theme(architectural, performative, and other interdisciplinary discourses and interventions).
Q. Can you describe the procedure by which you choose an art director, as well as the selection procedure for participating artists? What criteria or principles underpin these selections?
The curator/Creative Mediator is selected by the director with the help of a jury or an advisory board on the basis of a brief that describes what sort of profile the curator should represent. We experiment largely with the role of a curator in terms of interdisciplinary teams of specialists who are working together on the topic of each ‘Manifesta’ to make sure that we are not approaching the biennale only from a visual art perspective. Since our work is mostly site-specific, re-thinking the city is mandatory.
Q. Does ‘Manifesta’ accept sponsorship from corporations or companies? What criteria and ethical standards are applied when seeking financial support?
‘Manifesta’ is working with public and private organizations in which each edition the structure of collaboration is different. But mostly we are dealing with a huge amount of sponsors and partners from the private sector to the public. We are very selective in terms of ethical rules with whom we want to work and with whom we don’t. ‘Manifesta’ is not looking for a single source of financial support but to create collaborations, which includes a form of reciprocity in terms of branding, marketing, cross-marketing, and long-term relations.
Q. Assuming there is some kind of synergy between the corporations that sponsor contemporary art and the art world itself, what do you think this synergy amounts to? How would you characterize the relationships that have developed between big business and large-scale art events over the past 30 years?
The synergy between private corporations and contemporary art is mostly based on branding, marketing, and creating a profile which links very much to the corporate profile—that is social corporate responsibility and environmental responsibility, which art events are able to visualize and identify for the corporation. For instance, the floating Pavilion of Reflections is very important for us and our main sponsor, EKZ, to visualize and profile their current environmental policies. There has been a huge change in working relationships between private corporations and the art world over the past 30 years. Mainly due to the rise of more than 500 corporate collections for contemporary art, the development of corporate museums for contemporary art, and the enormous amount of investments from private partners, which for the public sector is difficult due to cuts in funding.
Q. As director of ‘Manifesta’, what are your plans for future editions? Is there some guiding principle or long-term concept?
The scope of ‘Manifesta’ for the next decade is to create an interdisciplinary platform which incorporates all disciplines, such as performative arts, theatre, architecture, and urbanistic studies. But first and foremost is to create synergies with scientific areas like healthcare and the environmental world to research and develop projects that are linked to the most urgent themes of our times, migration and climate change, and the effect these two issues have on our lives and the urban context in which we live. ‘Manifesta’ will also play an important role in the discourse about how we can create a more sustainable, collective, responsible Europe, which has a more visionary impact to our communities than the political scenarios. ■ with ARTINPOST
Pavillon of Reflections 2016
ⓒ Manifesta 11/ Eduard Meltzer
Sharon Lockhart Lunch Break Installation, "Duane Hanson: Sculptures of Life," 14 December 2002 - 23 February 2003, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art 2003
Four framed chromogenic prints 182.9 x 307.3 cm each edition of 6 © Sharon Lockhart, 2003 Courtesy the artist, neugerriemschneider, Berlin and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels
Jennifer Tee, Ether Plane, Performance, Löwenbräukunst
Photo (c) Manifesta11/ Eduard Meltzer
Mike Bouchet <The Zurich Load> Löwenbräukunst 2016
Manifesta11 Photo ⓒ Camilo Brau
Cabaret der Kuenstler 2016
ⓒ Manifesta11/ Livio Baumgartner
Opening Ceremony of Manifesta 11 2016
ⓒ Mainfesta11/ Wolfgang Traeger
ⓒ Manifesta11/Eduard Meltzer
Una Szeemann Installation view at Löwenbräukunst
ⓒ Manifesta11/Camilo Brau
Nicole Bachmann at Cabaret der Kuenstler 2016
Hedwig Fijen is the founding director of ‘Manifesta’ since 1993. She studied art history and historical science at the University of Amsterdam. She is in charge of all aspects of the ‘Manifesta’ organization, including the selection of host cities for the biennale, thematic content, and curatorial selection. The final execution of the concept of the curators is her responsibility. Under Fijen’s direction, ‘Manifesta’ has developed into one of the three most important large-scale art events in Europe.