Constantly and periodically for nearly ten years now Manifesta is the subject of our professional debates. Manifesta, as one of the youngest biennials declared itself in the middle of 1990ies as a “new”, “oriented towards the younger generation”, “reacting to the political changes”, “European” event. It is produced by “new”, “young”, “European” curators among whom there are a lot of women and a lot of Eastern Europeans. These are all things that we want to be unconditionally associated with.
In spite of the fact that from the 1st to the 4th edition of Manifesta the politics of uniting the Western and the Eastern European art into one common artistic scene started loosing its urgency, the event is still one of the few tracks where there is an equal start for artists from “there” and “here”. Unlike our colleagues from Ljubljana in 2000 we did not experience “Manifesta in our Backyard” 1 and the encounter with the “foreign” character of the project was never direct. Although as a member of the curatorial team of Manifesta 4 I spent hours in heated debates over the subject, I am still maintaining that Manifesta is the most “ours” biennial. By “ours” I have in mind the communities of contemporary art in the countries of Eastern Europe, or the post-totalitarian states, if you wish. The ones where the language, the infrastructure, the self-consciousness, the heroic and successful figures in the field were built up, took shape and were even institutionalized in the 1990ies. In a way we are of the same generation as Manifesta. That’s why the expectations related to precisely this periodical event are so specific.
Here in Bulgaria the Manifesta related expectations were born when one of us (Luchezar Boyadjiev) was invited in 1994 to submit his ideas for the concept of a new international art event. The expectations turned out to be justified the moment when Nedko Solakov realized his ambitious project in the first event in Rotterdam in 1996 (in spite of my fruitless attempts to find local funding for the “voluntary annual contribution”). The meetings of Robert Fleck, one of the curators of Manifesta 2, in 1997 with more then 20 artists from Sofia and Plovdiv, as well as the participation of Galentin Gatev M.D. in the event supported financially for the first (and last) time by the Ministry of Culture, confirmed our ideas about the importance of this biennial. The “regular” presence of Bulgaria in the following Manifesta events and the opportunity to instrumentalize their by now group experiences, gave birth to the hope for a feedback as well as for adequate reactions back home. This publication is investigating some of these reactions in the context of Bulgarian success in Manifesta. In as much as the expectations have a powerful potential it makes sense to suppose that the answers we are looking for will roll the ball back to Manifesta. Because after nearly ten years of its existence Manifesta has started loosing something of its initial motivation and meaning just like art and the world we live in are changing.
The Manifesta model is not only changing along the way but it takes into account the appearance of new forums some of which, like the Tirana/Prague Biennial, are borrowing a lot from Manifesta. Manifesta now is different from what it used to be... The feedback however, presupposes a change in the art scenes and context that are sincerely involved and interested by the event. This is what we see as the meaning of this book.
Iara Boubnova, "MANIFESTA and us"