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.

For the first time in Manifesta's history, the edition in Genk, Belgium took place in one single venue. This venue was the large-scale industrial complex of the former coal mine of Waterschei. The ninth edition of Manifesta, titled The Deep of the Modern, intended to create a complex dialogue between layers of art, heritage and history. Its point of departure was the geographical location itself, the former coalmining region of the Campine in Northeastern Belgium. A locus for different imaginary and ecological issues aligned to industrial capitalism as a global phenomenon.

The 9th edition of Manifesta took place in Genk and fostered a complex dialogue between disciplines and generations, rooted in the city’s history, heritage and collective imagination. This was the first time that the biennial deviated in such a large scale from its original principle of commissioning only emerging contemporary artistic practices.

The work by the Belgian artist Ante Timmermans reflected on the thousands of miners that once worked underground in the Waterschei mine. Part performance and part installation, the piece compared the claustrophobia of mine tunnels to the mental confinement of an office. Stacks of blank paper were piled on the racks, ready to be processed. The artist perforated page after page, sealing them with a variety of stamps and piling his cuttings in a heap that contrasted with a mountain made of coal.

Genk is part of the Campine natural region, formerly a significant coal mining area of Belgium. Throughout the 20th century Genk and its surroundings were transformed into a geographical-ecological “mining machine” with garden cities, new landscaping plans, canals, roads and railroads, all catering to the coal mining industry. This complex economic restructuring became the starting point for Manifesta 9 to examine the role that art, heritage and culture can play in society, specifically in the context of industrial capitalism as a global phenomenon.

Manifesta 9 took a new direction in choosing to hold the biennial in one single venue, the large-scale industrial complex of the former coal mine of Waterschei, a suburb in Genk. The remains of the mine became the stage for the exhibition, with works dispersed over three sections within the former mine building, integrating heritage, art history and contemporary art production in this local context.

The inside space of the Waterschei was split into three sections: a heritage section, a contemporary section and a historical section, the latter which consisted of a white cube being built within to show the notion of coal in the context of art history.

The contemporary section focused on aesthetic responses to the global economic restructuring of the production system. The historical exhibition contained artworks from the 1800s to the early 21st century, reflecting their aesthetic relationship to the industrial era. The third section incorporated a multidisciplinary cultural programme involving local institutions and organisations; the aim was to activate and capture collective memory and to preserve the material and nonmaterial heritage of coal mining in the region.

Manifesta 9 was significant for redirecting the course of the biennial, away from an emphasis on curatorial self-consciousness and “direct cultural action” and towards a new reflexivity about art production within the context of history and previous generations. The exhibition addressed the complex mediations of artworks, images, historical information and cultural institutions that have taken place in the development of modern and post-industrial ways of thinking. It attempted to explore the way art and culture are inherent to social processes, allowing specific social formations to be recorded and transformed.

A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe is a development of the Turkish artist Emre Hüner’s 2011 project Quixotic, which drew on the history of Fordlandia, the prefabricated industrial town founded by Henry Ford in 1928 in the Amazon rainforest to extract rubber for tyres. This enterprise failed as neither the native workers nor the jungle conformed to the principles of Fordism. Hüner, with this installation, questions how we deal with modernity and industry.