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Global exhibitions and the problem of “local” on example of Manifesta 12 and the Riga Biennale of Contemporary Art


The global “center” today can’t be described in terms of physical geography. The "center" is rather a certain power, ideology, which is projected onto the "periphery". It can be characterized by the terms “Eurocentrism” or “Westcentrism”. This ideology is a direct consequence of the global colonial system. Despite the fact that the colonial empires no longer exist today, a common “colonial matrix of power” continues to present in modern society, combining racism, exploitation of labor, and the Western monopoly of knowledge.


Classical “Eurocentrism” had a significant impact on the global history of art, from which most of the countries of the so-called “third world” were excluded. In the modern world of increasing globalization, Western dominance has undergone significant revision. Criticism of “Eurocentrism” in post- and decolonial texts leads to a process of rethinking the global history of art.  These trends have influenced the work of contemporary art institutions, including such exhibition events as Manifesta and various biennials. Recently international exhibition projects have been actively criticizing current geopolitics, offering their own ways of understanding contemporary problems of global and local scale.

Despite this, general neocolonial logic aimed at the art of the “periphery” continues to be reproduced. The center’s interest in the periphery supports the old logic of their relationship. Western institutions are appropriating global trends and shaping dominant events in the art world.


This west-centric strategy is analyzed on the example of the last Manifesta, held in 2018 in Palermo under the heading “Planetary Garden. Cultivating Coexistence”. Under the general idea about new practices of coexistence and universal interconnection, the project reveals three separate subtopics: Garden of flows, Out of control room, and City on stage. The latter two are directly focused on the relationship between local and global, conceptually combining works focused on the distribution of power (Out of control room) and the historical, cultural, and social history of Palermo (City on stage).


The opposite strategy of a productive conversation about the “local” in the global world is described on the example of the Riga Biennale of Contemporary Art (RIBOCA), the first issue of which was held in Riga in 2018 under the slogan “Everything was forever, until it was no more”. Under the general theme of global change, Biennale raises issues of social, cultural, and historical adaptation, combining the works about the Soviet and post-Soviet history of Latvia, and more broadly, the place of local in a global changeable world.

By comparing conceptual strategies, chosen artworks, and venues of both events two strategies for working with the theme of “local” are presented: from the inside and the outside.  Manifesta continues to reproduce the “alien invasion” strategy and does not give any guarantees for the further development of the region. The local context, despite highlighting it as a separate topic, remains only on a level of a conceptual idea. The Riga Biennale of Contemporary Art offers an alternative approach based on active work with the place, local context, and artistic practices. This approach coincides with Piotr Piotrowski’s concept of “horizontal art history”, which implies localization of the speaker and comparative analysis in the art history. At the Riga Biennale artworks, representing various art scenes of one region, are presented with each other, focusing on the critical rethinking of the historical past of the region.