Documenta + European Biennials

Exhibits, In Brief

It’s a great summer season when the best-known biennials, documenta and Manifesta, arrive in the same year. But they aren’t the only show in town, errr, on the continent. In fact, this year there is a slew of fascinating forays into exhibition making that utilize the locales they are in to drive home the curatorial message (even one delineated by AI!). Plus, who doesn’t want to check out cities like Ljubljana and Bucharest, which often make it to top-underrated European city lists?

Despite the controversy surrounding documenta 15 and the Indonesian collective ruangrupa organizing this edition, the once-every-five-years event hasn’t lost its importance as the first major European exhibition ever curated by a collective of artists from the global south. Most of the works on view in Kassell are also by artists from outside Europe and the U.S., with a strong focus on non-commercial works such as little-known archival projects, challenging video works, and large-scale site-specific installations. One highlight: the “Out of Egypt” group of textiles by Malgorzata Mirga-Tas at the Fridericianum.

Malgorzata Mirga-Tas, installation view _Out of Egypt,_ at the Fridericianum, Documenta 15. Photo: Frank Sperling
Malgorzata Mirga-Tas, installation view, Out of Egypt,  at the Fridericianum, Documenta 15. Photo: Frank Sperling
Wakija Kwetu, Wajukuu Art Project entrance intervention at the Documenta Halle. Photo: Nicolas Wefers
Wakija Kwetu, Wajukuu Art Project entrance intervention at the Documenta Halle. Photo: Nicolas Wefers.

Take a stroll among the 26 installations of the Sculpture Garden Geneva Biennale, over half of which were created for this third edition of the Biennial. Curator Devrim Bayar of WIELS art center Brussels has focused the exhibition on contemporary sculpture exploring technology’s destabilizing impact on human relationships from artists like Liz Deschenes, Gabriel Kuri, and Meriem Bennani. Scattered among palatial gardens and lakeside lawns, new works include Ana Alenso’s Liquid Agreements and Oil Interventions, a criticism of extraction economies installed just off-shore, and Daniel Lie’s Them, a sanctuary formed by linking clustered Giant Sequoias together with hanging textiles.

Daniel Lie, _Them,_ 2022, Sculpture Garden Geneva
Daniel Lie, Them, 2022, Sculpture Garden Geneva
Sculpture Garden Geneva_s Waterfront
Sculpture Garden Geneva's Waterfront.

For the 12th edition of the highly experimental Berlin Biennial, French artist and curator Kader Attia reviews the last two decades of decolonial art through the lens of repair, “in order to find ways together to care for them now.” Engaging with future ecologies, repatriation, and non-western feminism, Still Present! looks outside the commercial art world toward avant-garde archives and non-Western and indigenous artists and collectives. While the reviews of the exhibition aren’t stellar, we hear it’s a fascinating prompt for how a decolonized exhibition can and should function.

Sammy Baloij, installation view, _…and to those North Sea Waves Whispering Sunken Stories (II),_ 2021, 12th Berlin Biennale. Photo_ dotgain.info
Sammy Baloij, installation view, …and to those North Sea Waves Whispering Sunken Stories (II),2021, 12th Berlin Biennale. Photo: dotgain.info
Dao-Chau Hai, installation view,
Dao-Chau Hai, installation view.

The 27th edition of BIO, the Biennial of Design held continuously in Ljubljana, Slovenia since 1964 focuses on the growing movement of architects and designers finding solutions to pressing ecological issues through previously-ignored vernacular traditions. BIO is often regarded as a secret sanctuary for future-thinking design and functional art, and everyone we know who has been comes back raving. Titled this year, Super Vernacular, projects include low-energy air conditioning, natural urban water management, and zero-waste food systems, each with a hyper-local approach. The Italian company WASP presents Tecla, the first-ever home 3D printed entirely out of sustainable, reusable local clay—sneak inside to spend the night?

WASP, Tecla 3D-printed house
WASP, Tecla, 3D-printed house

Based on the concept, “Everybody Deserves to Challenge Popular Culture,” the 10th Bucharest Biennial is curated entirely by an AI named Jarvis. No, not Iron Man’s butler, but a novel AI trained to select participants, perform all other executive decision-making, and even write texts. Unsettled? Not convinced? Read Jarvis’s credo, which begins, “Adaptability has always been the step towards success and innovation.” Catch the exhibition before it closes July 3 to witness a selection of some of the most forward-thinking approaches to new digital mediums from Romania and elsewhere, like the CGI-based video installation “Two double combo menus,” by Bogdan Matei.

Bogdan Matei, _Two doube combo menus,_ 2020, still from CGI video installation
Bogdan Matei, Two double combo menus, 2020, still from CGI video installation.

Though its July 22nd opening is still a month away, Manifesta this year lands in Prishtina, Kosovo for its 14th edition. Describing itself as an “instrument of civic engagement projects,” the Nomadic European Biennial focuses on unexpected cities like Prishtina, where it hopes to help citizens reclaim public spaces and point towards a future as an open-minded European capital by combining art with urbanism. 37% of the 100+ participants are from Kosovo and an additional 23% hail from the surrounding region for this hyper-local approach to the theme of “storytelling.” All offerings are free and unticketed, and the organizers highly recommend scheduling a guide for one of five different 90-minute mediated tours.

Copyright Manifesta 14 Prishtina, photo Majlinda Hoxha
Copyright Manifesta 14 Prishtina, photo Majlinda Hoxha.
Copywright Manifesta 14 Prishtina, photo Majlinda Hoxha2
Copywright Manifesta 14 Prishtina, photo Majlinda Hoxha.