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.
The site for Manifesta 11 was the City of Zürich, the heart of a dynamic and ever-changing urbanity. Once an agricultural country, Switzerland developed into an international centre of finance and service. Hardly any other city has been influenced as much by trade and business as Zurich. Manifesta 11 was titled “What People Do For Money”, an existential question deeply linked with the economic crisis, then one of the most urgent socio-political issues in Europe, and with the status of labour.
The German artist Christian Jankowski curated Manifesta 11. His curatorial concept was based on a participatory approach, bringing together artists and local professional of various occupations in so-called Joint Ventures. Each of the new commissions was the result of an encounter between an artist and a Zurich citizen who was not professionally active in contemporary art. The resulting artworks were unpredictable and revelatory, inviting critical questions about employment and the relationship between people and work.
Zurich hosted the biennial in three ways: the Pavillon of Reflections, a specially built floating wooden structure on Lake Zurich; the Cabaret der Künstler – Zunfthaus Voltaire which held “a guildhall for artists”; and Joint Ventures , shown mostly in the workplaces of Zurich’s citizens. By dissolving the boundaries between art and the spaces in which art could be shown, Jankowski created an awareness that art could be an integral part of people’s lives. Exhibited in these satellite venues, art penetrated the very social fabric of the city. The Joint Ventures were complemented with overlapping exhibitions in two Zurich museums, which created a dialogue between the history of labour and the history of art from the past fifty years.
The Pavilion of Reflections, built on Lake Zurich, served as an open-air cinema, showing 30 films that were co-produced by local high school students. In the role of “art detectives” they teamed up with filmmakers to go behind the scenes and create art documentaries on each of the joint ventures between artists and locals.
The historical artistic nightclub Cabaret Voltaire, founded by Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings in 1916 and the birthplace of the Dada movement, was transformed into Cabaret der Künstler – Zunfthaus Voltaire. “Aguildhall for artists”, it was inspired by traditional guilds, where like minded people collectively represented their profession. In so called Joint Venture performances each artist who wished to join the guild worked with someone from another profession to create a stage performance for the venue. Everyone who realised a Joint Venture performance became a member of the guild of artists and was able to see all following performances.
The educational programme of the biennial aimed to broaden the discussion around the social, economic and ethical aspects of the labour market, specifically from the local Swiss perspective. Another goal was to generate new connections, and strengthen existing connections, between art professionals and mediators from Switzerland and other countries. Peer-to-peer learning, as opposed to public debates, was chosen as the most fruitful approach to mediationIn-depth conversations were facilitated by twelve trained Storytellers and by the Summer School which hosted 35 students from all over the world.