Palermo, Italy—Manifesta 12’s The Planetary Garden. Cultivating Coexistence, which opened on June 16 in Palermo, Sicily, re-casts the garden as a space of diversity focusing on Sicily’s unique history in the European-Mediterranean region.
For the first time, Manifesta was led by an interdisciplinary team from leaders in fields as diverse as design, architecture and film, including architects Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli and Andrés Jacque, filmmaker Bregtje van der Haak and art curator Mirjam Varadinis. The result is an event that pushes boundaries and explores the history and city of Palermo with respect to the numerous cultures that have influenced it.
In venues spread throughout the city, contemporary artists are given the chance to intervene and create projects amongst the crumbling, statuesque beauty of the ancient city. In the old, half-weathered Palazzo Forcella de Seta, a new film by Erkan Özgen reports on the lives and conditions of Yazidi women who portray their suffering and experiences.
One of the most interesting venues, the botanical garden of Palermo (Orto Botanico), was founded in 1789 as a laboratory to nurture, study, test, mix and gather diverse species. Entitled Garden of Flows, the project here allows viewers to explore diverse themes at the intersection of art and nature, including how toxicity, plant life and the culture of gardening in relation to different cultures have taken place here over the centuries.
Over at the Palazzo Ajutamicristo, a collection of works by James Bridle, Tania Bruguera, John Gerrard, Filippo Minelli, Lydia Ourahmane, Trevor Paglen, Peng! Collective, Rayyane Tabet, and Richard Vijgen, form a section of Manifesta 12 called the Out of Control Room. In it, artists are given the chance to inhabit a magnificent and spelling binding Gothic-Catalan architecture with baroque balconies and portal, in projects that examine issues like the refugee crisis, political art and the increasingly dominant role surveillance technologies in our daily lives.
This year, Manifesta also provided an interesting parallel program. Entitled 5x5x5, the program invites international and national players to propose an experimental pop-up event for Manifesta 12 in close collaboration with the local art scene and/or local professionals, held in several of Palermo’s amazing venues, churches, museums and palazzos.
One of the most ambitious of the parallel projects was organized by E X I L E Gallery, May the bridges I burn light the way, which invited artists to develop performative interventions at Cre.Zi Plus and the infamous Ballarò Market, one of which was a 25 meter banner made by Narine Arakelyan that unravels to reveal the word “Hope.”
Above all, the Palermo edition of Manifesta highlights the city not as a peripheral European capital, but rather as the center and point of exchange between Africa and the Middle East too, highlighting how centuries of traditions can be reinvigorated through contemporary art.
Manifesta 12’s The Planetary Garden. Cultivating Coexistence is on view through November 4.