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 located in multiple venues, both in and outdoors, spanning from the police station via the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningnen along the Witte de Withstraat. In doing so, Manifesta tried to amplify and solidify the cultural heart of Rotterdam.

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.

A remarking contribution to Manifesta 1 Rotterdam was the work by Oleg Kulik and Mila Bredikhina named Pavlov's Dog, 1996. In this work the Russian artist duo Oleg Kulik and Mila Bredikhina tried to renounce ‘humanness’ by restaging the century-old scientific experiment known as ‘Pavlov’s Dog’. In a performance that lasted for an entire month, Kulik acted as Pavlov’s dog.

The start of Manifesta: in this video the 5 curators of Manifesta 1 Rotterdam; Katalyn Neray, Rosa Martinez, Viktor Misiano, Andrew Renton and Hans-Ulrich Obrist introduce and explain the curatorial views behind the first edition.

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.

Installation at Kunstinstituut Melly - FKA Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art

The Swiss artist Susann Walder filled a space with an overwhelming assortment of brightly-coloured found objects. The room was a reconstruction of the artist’s memories of the underground scene of the City of Zurich as it was in the 1990s, in the run-down area around the city’s train station, before gentrification and redevelopment washed away that community's history and culture.