From the Smelliest to the Most Swiss: Manifesta 11 in Superlatives




Yes it’s in Zurich, yes you’ll be living off sandwiches for a week and BYOB’ing at those parties. The European wandering Biennale has made Switzerland’s largest city its home for the 11th edition. Curator Christian Jankowski, a well-known face on the Berlin art circuit, has united artists with sewage workers, psychologists, dog stylists and float centres among others under the banner of “What People Do For Money: Some Joint Ventures”. Each artist chose a host with whom to collaborate on a work, and the results can be seen at fire stations, hotels, the ETH university and even a Muay Thai boxing arena in addition to the central location at the Löwenbräu-Areal.

While some collaborations are stronger than others, the exhibition gives insight into a plethora of working practices while questioning art’s status as an autonomous endeavor. Here were the five most memorable efforts.


image courtesy of Manifesta 111. Most Swiss

American artist Jon Kessler collaborated with master watchmaker Adriano Toninelli to create a large-scale clockwork apparently powered by a tiny tourbillon. The piece is allegedly a metaphor for “cuckoo” systems of power. However, given its location in luxury watchmaker Les Ambassadeurs with the addition of a real Swiss watchmaker at work on the premises and sponsorship by Panerai it reaffirms rather than satirises.


female by Marguerite Humeau

2. Most likely to chemically castrate you while expanding your concept of love

The Autonomous Systems Lab at Zurich’s university of technology (ETH) hosts all sorts of far out science: their Artificial Intelligence and Drone programmes are world leaders. Marguerite Humeau has collaborated with Mathias Bürki, a PhD candidate in autonomous decision-making processes (read: self-driving cars) to create two creatures based on the first mammals. They spray chemicals at each other while going through a mating dance and emitting mournful wails. Humeau has given the whole thing a wry twist: after a while, they are covered in a fog of chemical castration hormones, starting the cycle anew.


M11_Cattelan_Artwork_Institution_Copyright_Manifesta11_Wolfgang Traeger_IMG_3397d

3. Most Jesus-like

In his first return to art-making since he “retired” in 2011, Italian artist and court-jester Maurizio Cattelan decided on the walking-on-water Jesus metaphor as the most appropriate for his endeavor. Partnering with the Swiss Paralympian champion Edith Wolf-Hunkeler, he created a float which allows her to ride her wheelchair across the surface of Lake Zurich. When Sleek saw the performance, the technician fell in the lake; perhaps a Cattelanian sacrifice to art.


M11_Schmitt_Artwork_Institution_Copyright_Manifesta11_Wolfgang Traeger_IMG_3525d

4. Most likely to get you arrested

Zurich’s cantonal police headquarters are the setting for Marco Schmitt’s film “Xterminating Badges”. Set in the Criminal Museum adjacent to the Swiss unit for cyber-crime, the film takes Luis Buñuel’s “El Angel Exterminador” as its starting point. Amateur actors drawn from Zurich’s finest are trapped at a claustrophobic dinner party, led by a mysterious MC.


Photography by Camilo Brau, 2016
Photography by Camilo Brau, 2016

5. Smelliest

American sculptor Mike Bouchet collaborated with the Werdhölzli Sewage Works to extract the city’s all human waste on 24 March 2016. 80,000kg of sewage were compressed into large-scale blocks and installed in a room in the Löwenbräu-Areal. Art as immersive experience, indeed!


Manifesta 11 takes place in Zurich until 18 September 2016

All images courtesy of Manifesta 11

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