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 13 Marseille was one of the only international biennials to take place during the global pandemic COVID-19, the biennial ended earlier than planned due to the second national lockdown

For its 13th edition in 2020, Manifesta invited the Rotterdam-based architectural studio MVRDV and The Why Factory led by Winy Maas to develop an urban study of the city of Marseille. The new methodology, presented in the format of this publication, is a way to decipher the complex constructions of the city which hosts the biennial and aims to create more impact whilst leaving a long-term legacy. In this study, the multi-layered structures of Marseille's history, economy, sociology, geography, culture and politics are explored.

Manifesta 13's headquarters, entitled Espace Manifesta were situated on the main high street of Marseille, La Canebière.

The 13th edition of Manifesta was an unprecedented enterprise, marked by Covid-19 and its two different national French lockdowns which prevented almost any visits from our international audience. However, Manifesta estimated that more than 120.000 visits were made during the last two years in Marseille and the Region Sud.

Moving away from the traditional exhibition format of biennials, the main ambition of Manifesta 13 was to become more hybrid and locally rooted and to heighten its interdisciplinary and place a distinct focus on citizen participation throughout its activities.

In the years prior to the pandemic, global social-political movements such as Me Too and Black Lives Matter had already profoundly reshaped our artistic agenda. Also, the 13th edition of the biennial came about during a political transition period before local elections in Marseille, as well as during the protest of the Gilets jaunes and the wave of critique of institutional racism in France.

With this work, made in collaboration with undocumented migrants living in squat Saint-Just, the Vietnamese American artist Tuan Andrew Nguyen reflected about asylum seekers in France and ideas of solidarity. He worked closely with collaborators from the squat to make a film in which the voice track is completed by the actual and live performed voices of the collaborators, exploring stories of help and assistance and returning a focus to the urgency of physical space and presence within the context of asylum seekers in France.

Part of Manifesta 13's public programme was a day hosted at the Vieille Charité. A programme of encounters, readings, listenings, performances and interventions on, through and across the questions of restitution and repair through art. Participants: Matthieu Kleyebe Abonnenc, Nora Al-Badri, Memory Biwa, Barbara Cassin, Badr El Hammami, Bhavisha Panchia, Dorothée Munyaneza, Estelle N’Tsendé, Xavier Rey, Assia Zouane, et al.

Several pre-biennial research activities were set in motion, starting with an urban study named Le Grand Puzzle that aimed to decipher the possibilities and complexities of Marseille. The study was conducted by Winy Maas, MVRDV’s architect, and his team from The Why Factory. Le Grand Puzzle was a tool with which citizens could rethink the potential of their city and illustrated a path for a new, more accessible urban landscape.

Le Grand Puzzle became a departure point for Le Tour de Tous les Possibles a platform that aimed to increase citizen participation in democratic decision-making. Manifesta commissioned the project in order to include the richness of the diverse but often unheard voices of Marseille’s citizens in the biennial.

The work Embouteillagesis a series of paintings on both sides of the Metro Station Noailles, unfolding an archive of images collected onsite, processed through the artist’s imagination. During his artistic residency, Yassine Balbzioui set up a workshop in the market of Place des Capucins: a crossroad of stories, encounters and tensions. The artist opened himself up to interactions and confrontations in order to construct narratives based on a combination of people’s stories and his own imagery.

In a moment when, across Europe, the institutional pillars of social and political cohesion were being tested and contested, Manifesta 13 created shared spaces for bringing people and ideas together. Traits d’union aimed to create dialogue between two different worlds and to this end the programme worked with Marseille’s existing cultural institutions, symbolically as well as practically.

Proposed by the Education team of Manifesta 13, Le Tiers Programme included three projects: Invisible Archives, GROUP-THINK and Al Moutawassit, as well as a mediation programme in the main biennial venues.