The Deep of the Modern intends to create a complex dialogue between different layers of art and history. Its point of departure is the significance of the former coalmining region of Belgian Campine as a locus for different imaginary and ecological issues associated with industrial capitalism as a global phenomenon.
The remains of the Waterschei mine in Genk, Limburg, which comprise the main venue of Manifesta 9, are not the only protagonists in this story. The Deep of the Modern was perhaps inspired most by the overall geographical-ecological “mining machine” that transformed the region over the course of the 20th century, giving rise to a complex landscape of garden cities, landscape planning, canals, roads and railroads.
The Deep of the Modern will develop as a dialogue between three different sections:
Poetics of Restructuring. This section consists of contributions from 39 contemporary artists, focusing on aesthetic responses to the worldwide “economic restructuring” of the productive system in the early 21st century. The selected works may interact as directly as possible with the current state of ruin of the building and its immediate surroundings. The curatorial team has worked to create a balance between time-based works, installations, and other artistic media, and to provide a geographically and gender diverse representation of contemporary artistic practice today.
The Age of Coal. An art historical exhibition comprising artworks from 1800 to the early 21st century about the history of art production aesthetically related to the industrial era. This essay on a new kind of Material Art History is organized into several thematic sections with artworks in which coal played an important role. Coal as the main fuel of industry, as a major factor of environmental change, as a fossil with significant consequences in the field of natural science, as the main referent of certain forms of working class culture and as a material symbolic of the experience of modern life… In short, how coal affected and defined artistic production.
17 Tons. In addition to the two sections dedicated to art, Manifesta 9 will include a new element: an exploration of the cultural production that has been powered by the energy of memory that courses through the diverse heirs of coal mining in the Campine region of Limburg, as well as several other regions in Europe. This section is the product of a collaboration between individuals and institutions who, coming from disparate disciplines and practicing different social forms of agency, continue to activate the collective memory and the preservation of both the material and immaterial heritage of coalmining. The title of the show refers simultaneously to the most famous song of coal miners around the world (16 Tons, recorded in 1946 by Merle Travis) and to the title of one of Marcel Duchamp's most famous installations (Sixteen Miles of String, 1942). The discrepancy between 16 and 17 is meant to suggest the need to take a step beyond the current stage of the coal industry's memory claims.
Although the exhibition is divided into different sections – all brought together in this single building in Waterschei – there are thematic, poetic, and methodological affinities that interlace the works of all three of its sections. The selection and organization of the exhibition aim to create resonances between the different levels and elements of the show across different times, genres and positions within the building. We hope that the contemporary artworks will provide novel insights into the art historical objects and heritage practices represented, and vice versa. In that sense The Deep of the Modern places its trust in the power of exhibition and in an audience's ability to make sense of the three exhibits by comparing and working through different elements of cultural production.
Manifesta 9 proposes to redirect the course of Manifesta toward an advocacy of art production and historical knowledge as loci of aesthetic and social reflexivity and intergenerational responsibility. In that sense, the exhibition reflects the complex mediation of artworks, images, historical information and cultural institutions in the production of modern and post-industrial ways of thinking. The three sections attempt to explore the ways that art and culture are immanent to the social processes that both record and transform the outlook of specific social formations.