…in which your host manifests grumpiness.
This week, Artipoeus visits Julian Rosefeldt’s MAINFESTO, at Hamburger Hauptbanhof in Berlin.
This is what happens when you’re an art professor, I guess: you read manifestos, you teach manifestos, you analyze, memorize manifestos until they’re swirling around your head at night when you try to sleep, you go deeper and deeper into manifestos until they become meaningless, like when you repeat a word over and over again: manifesto manifesto manifesto….
The German video artist and filmmaker Julian Rosefeldt is also an art professor, teaching at various art academies around Germany. And my guess is, he’s been teaching the Manifesto — that curious document beloved by artists, philosophers, poets and politicians — and dictators.
The manifesto, artistic or otherwise, sets forth clearly the views and philosophies — the rules, really, of an ideal society. They are utopian documents, even if they sound, on the surface, negative. They are the way we think things should be, could be, if only our vision were clear enough for everybody to understand.
At the State Museum in Berlin — the former Hamburger Hauptbanhof — Rosefeldt has installed his own manifesto to the Manifesto — extracts of various famous art manifestos — Dadaist, Realist, Futurism, Structuralism, to name a few — extracted, reduced and recombined by Rosefeldt to create something sort of new in a series of single channel video vignettes featuring the actress, Cate Blanchett.
The gallery where videos are installed is completely dark. Large High Def screens are positioned as a foyer, a main salon, and an anteroom, and the gallery is SO dark that they seem suspended in space, which is a very cool effect. Each screen plays a video clip of… well, of Cate Blanchett — as a homeless man, as a tattooed lovegirl, as a Wall Street trader, as a teacher, a puppetmaker, a mom, a dancer… Cate Blanchett manifesting different manifestos, her chameleon qualities lending themselves perfectly to each different scenario: a teacher preparing a class of schoolchildren for their next assignment, a widow giving a speech at a very English-style funeral with New Orleans style music, a construction worker going through the grubby drudgery of getting up and reporting for work every day.
Each vignette has it’s own audio, Cate Blanchett in different accents voicing the voice of different manifestos. Only in the introductory film that greets you when you enter the gallery space does the actress use her own voice, in her own native Australian accent. Interestingly this is the only video clip where the actress does not appear. Interestingly, this one also uses extracts from the Communist Manifesto.
You stand in front of the screen, watching Blanchett, listening and watching Cate Blanchett interpret bits and pieces of manifestos in that low, soothing voice of hers, regardless of the accent. The images and production are beautiful, hypnotic in their pacing and you get a bit lulled… when suddenly, Blanchett starts speaking in a high pitched tone.
The first time I saw this, I was in the foyer part of the gallery space, cut off from the rest of the videos. I thought Blanchett was just being arty. It wasn’t until I entered the main space that I understood what was happening.
Rosefeldt has timed each video to run the same length, with the same pacing of performance and delivery, starting quietly, building up in speed and intensity — as manifestos do — until Blanchett is shouting impassioned words from all 13 screens. It’s a bit cacophonous.
I feel like I’m in the film Being John Malkovich, to be honest, only this would be Being Cate Blanchett. Or maybe I’m in the head of Julian Rosefeldt, after teaching and reading and living and breathing manifestos for who knows how many months? It’s a very monkey brain feeling, but someone else’s monkey brain, which is… a little destabilizing.
According to the literature, it’s also meant to illustrate women’s internal dialog, which I find at odds with the fact that most of the manifestos Blanchett is interpreting are written by men. But whatever.
Just when you can’t quite take any more of this, Blanchett changes the pitch of her voice. She’s not singing, exactly, but rather chanting in a different note. Where this seemed strange and affected in the front room, it makes sense when you are surrounded by Cate: the actress’ voice hits a musical tone that is the pure single sound of the manifesto.
Taken all together, the piece is really impressive: each of the 13 vignettes is different, but often references another one of the 13 in subtle ways: Cate Blanchett the puppeteer works on a puppet that looks like her character, but that also references the homeless man she portrays in another vignette, for example, tying not only the videos together, but also finding a common thread in all of these manifestos. The vision of Rosefeldt to increase the intensity of the experience, to time the videos and tie them all together in one culminating sound is fantastic. I love this idea. But.
But I have notes.
I recently saw the writer and poet Kate Tempest on her book tour promoting her new novel. Commenting on the visual aspect of Tempest’s writing, the moderator asked her if there would be a film. No! Tempest said. When you read a novel, you create a picture in your mind, and it’s yours. You made that, that’s your participation as a reader. When we see a film, the picture is chosen for us, and the participation is active.
I agree with her a lot on this point, and it happens to apply quite neatly to Rosefeldt’s videos here:
- A conservative mother serves a traditional dinner to her family for the Claes Oldenburg’s manifesto on Pop Art— Claes Oldenburg, famous for his large scale replications of everyday, suburban objects: a bicycle in a front yard, a piece of cake saved from a birthday party, a giant number two pencil, like those used in American schools.
- A newscaster dialogues with a reporter in the field — both played by Cate Blanchett — for the manifesto on conceptual art, pinging back and forth with “Formal art is essentially rational, is that right,Cate?” “Well, Cate, the concept and idea are different.”
- A cliche’d Russian choreographer, demanding and diva-like and sure of her own greatness, barking orders at her dancers, all dressed in silver with giant alien heads, by the way, for Fluxus — the most glam rock of art movements
- A funeral scene for the manifesto on Dadaism — the death of art.
- A puppeteer who creates a puppet of herself for Surrealism? Come on…
The newsreader and reporter vignette to illustrate manifestos for conceptual art manifesto strikes me as especially smug, like Rosefeldt at this point — well, at any of these points, really — is chuckling over his own cleverness. But it’s so on the money — they all are — that I think the individual clips are exactly what conceptual art is not, which is: literal.
Technically, the videos are beautiful. So are the ideas they portray. But by going visual, Rosefeldt is dictating HOW to understand these ideas, rather than encouraging participation, which is really the function of a manifest in the first place.
I feel like I’m duty-bound to like this; after all, the whole premise of Artipoeus is about making art accessible to everyone. And in a classroom, these film clips would be awesome – clever presentations of the nut of various movements in art in easily digestible audio visual bytes. These film clips are, in essence, very expensive teaching aides.
And did it have to be Cate Blanchett? Her presence in the vidoes sells the show, absolutely — she’s a box office draw. And her talent and presence on screen is undeniable — she is a true thespian, able to suppress the real Cate Blanchett — whoever that is — and truly inhabit another character, her distinctive face morphing into whatever world her character lives in. I mean, there’s hair and make-up and costuming involved here too, but it’s her who brings these characters to life and makes them whole. BUT, did it have to be Cate Blanchett?
This all makes me sound pretty grumpy. I guess I am grumpy. I’m grumpy about the flash and sparkle, the cliches masquerading as deep thoughts masquerading as art, when it’s all just pretentious gimmickry. I’m grumpy because, as a friend pointed out, when celebrities are treated as artists, it shifts focus away from the craft, the grunt work and sweat that goes into making art, that artists have studied and apprenticed and paid for, in school, in their practice, in their lives. It directs funding to the shiny and glamorous as though art is nothing more than a romantic hobby instead of an actual vocation. It keeps art as an elevated sideshow, but a sideshow nonetheless, when art has a place on the main stage… if only someone would just.. move over.
Julian Rosefeldt’s MANIFESTO is on view until July 10th at Hamburger Hauptbanhof, Invalidenstrasse 50 in Berlin.
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That’s all for Artipoeus this week. I’m Susie Kahlich. See you around town!
From Susie Kahlich originally posted on Artipoeus