Manifesta purposely strives to keep its distance from what are often seen as the dominant centres of artistic production, instead seeking fresh and fertile terrain for the mapping of a new cultural topography.

Manifesta 10 celebrated its 20th anniversary of the European Nomadic Biennial, formerly known as the European Biennial of Contemporary Art, in St. Petersburg. The opening press conference was held in the recently renovated General Staff Building of the State Hermitage Museum, the key venue of the biennial.

Celebrating the biennial’s second decade, Manifesta 10 was hosted by the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg on the occasion of its 250th birthday. The museum was an appropriate location from which to reflect on the relationship between the formerly divided East and West of Europe that had developed in the previous twenty years.

The politically turbulent year of 2014 made this edition one of the most disputed, as it was marked by escalated geopolitical tensions. The government of Vladimir Putin had slowly started to violate human rights within Russia, and had also invaded Ukrainian sovereign territory in Crimea. Then, a civilian Dutch aeroplane was shot down and 300 people died. After Russia introduced its notorious anti-gay law, many international artists, institutions and curators called for a boycott of St Petersburg as host city of Manifesta.

Manifesta 10 took place in the State Hermitage Museum of where the presentations were split up over the Winter Palace and the General Staff Building. There were 35 newly commissioned works. In addition to this, a public programme took place across the entire city.

In the General Staff Building, Manifesta showcased the work of various participants amongst whom were Thomas Hirschhorn, Wolfgang Tillmans and Eric van Lieshout.

Hedwig Fijen, Kasper König and the team decided to stay, on condition that there was space for critical responses and no censorship. The decision to stay was partly based on the many requests from local social, political and cultural organisations that considered Manifesta to be a catalyst for change. Obeying the boycott and leaving St Petersburg would have meant a failure to facilitate dialogue about the relevance of culture to be an incubator for social change. In its curatorial concept, Manifesta 10 sought to intensify the artistic exchange that had been made possible by the fall of the Iron Curtain and the dissolution of the Soviet Union that marked the official end of the Cold War and to revitalise the critical response to the post-communist period.

With the Intervention in public space Soft Power artist Alexandra Pirici challenged the politics of remembrance and the ontology of city monuments. Romanian artist Alexandra Pirici created sculptural performances in St. Petersburg echoing and responding to the statues of the Bronze Horseman, Catherine the Great and Lenin.

Francis Alÿs, Lada « Kopeila » Project. Brussels-St. Petersburg, 2014 © Manifesta 10. Performance commissioned by Manifesta 10 and the resulting video was exhibited within the Manifesta 10 exhibition at the General Staff Building.

This video documented a long dreamed-of journey. The story began when the Belgian artist and his brother first began plotting to drive their Lada Kopelka to the USSR’s border. Their first attempt failed as the car broke down a few kilometres away from the East German border. Thirty years later, in 2014, the brothers were reunited and made another attempt, this time departing from Brussels for St. Petersburg. Upon arriving successfully in the Russian city, Francis Alÿs crashed the Lada Kopelka into a tree in the Winter Palace courtyard. This destruction of the automative symbol of communism provided an ending to the narrative.

The renovated General Staff Building and the Winter Palace exhibited parts of the Hermitage’s historical collections alongside 35 newly commissioned works, with the opulent palace halls creating a contrast with the modern top floor spaces of the Hermitage Museum. This time, instead of offering an encompassing overview of contemporary art, Manifesta chose to reflect on it by connecting it to other periods and cultures; for example, 35 Matisse paintings were juxtaposed with works of contemporary artist Wolfgang Tillmans.

The Public Programme, curated by Joanna Warsza, critically responded to the social-political circumstances of the time, and the place of art within them. Warsza invited artists from cities that used to be part of Communist or Soviet Europe, which were all accessible by train from St. Petersburg’s Vitebsk Station, one of the key venues of the Public Programme. A series of performative projects were staged in St. Petersburg with its cultural, historical and social complexity. They included site-specific commissions, debates, events, pop-up shows and discursive platforms. A film programme devised by Nathalie Hoyos and Rainald Schumacher from Office for Art (Berlin) offered a survey of films by artists from the early 1970s until today. More than 70 films were shown in the General Staff Building of the Hermitage as well as in the waiting hall of the Vitebsk Station.

The artist Marlene Dumas presents for the first time 16 drawings of 'Great Men', her ongoing series on famous gay men who made major contributions to art and science, at Manifesta 10 in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia. As an answer to the anti-homosexual legislation taking place in Russia between 2013 and 2014, Marlene Dumas portraits series include Russian historical society representatives such as Eisenstein, that have made major contributions to the development of Russian culture.