Manifesta purposely strives to keep its distance from what are often seen as the dominant centres of artistic production, instead seeking fresh and fertile terrain for the mapping of a new cultural topography.
Manifesta 1 was founded by the Dutch art historian Hedwig Fijen as a platform for bringing together artists and curators from both Eastern and Western Europe in the decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The first edition of Manifesta took place in Rotterdam, a city that has historically connected Europe because of its international port.
A collective of five independent curators from Russia, Hungary, the United Kingdom, Austria and Spain worked together to conceive the event as a European, site-specific and nomadic endeavour. The biennial programme ultimately included more than 70 artists from over 25 countries, underlining the the collaborative work between artists, curators, representatives of different disciplines and the general public. Additionally, a parallel programme of collaborations with cultural institutions in Rotterdam’s Museum Quarter was initiated.
The process of preparing the exhibition was considered as valuable as the exhibition itself and to make this process more transparent Open House meetings were held in different European cities. These were intimate gatherings which served as laboratories for ideas. Each of these Open House meetings was hosted by a minimum of two members of the curatorial team, who engaged in an exchange of ideas with interested audiences about the expectations for and the principles of Manifesta.
The meetings were held in the Contemporary Art Centre in Moscow, the Ludwig Museum in Budapest, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, De Unie in Rotterdam, De Beurs in Amsterdam, and Soros Center for Contemporary Art in Ljubljana.