Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto is no ordinary gallery experience, by any stretch. I saw it on a friend’s recommendation, on a short trip to Berlin. Berlin being, well, Berlin, the trip was a frantic whirlwind of awesome, so the gallery visit was squeezed into the final day. From the moment of entry, it became apparent that trying to rush this one was a HUGE MISTAKE.
Entering through black curtains into a completely dark room, a large screen shows a burning fuse, a female voice intones cut-ups of Marx & Engels Communist Party Manifesto and Tristan Tzara’s Dada Manifesto. It’s exciting, confusing, and atmospheric as heck. And rounding the corner into a much bigger room, the senses are set alight – noise (lots of it!), light (not much of it!) and everywhere, everywhere, Australian actress, Cate Blanchett.
Berlin based artist Julian Rosefeldt is renowned not only for his photography, but also for his elaborately staged films. In this installation, thirteen large screens simultaneously loop short films based on the historical manifestos of artists, architects, choreographers, and filmmakers. The films are vastly different, and visually fantastic. The sound is incredible. You can stand in the middle and absorb it all at once, spinning around (if you so wish). Words and images overlap in an urgent dance, clashing and complimentary, fighting for attention. Where to look first? Which one to gravitate to?
We have Cate as a homeless man, waving a megaphone, railing and flailing against grey skies up on Berlin’s creepy Teufelsberg Hill with its iconic crumbling domes. The wild man rants a crazed-seeming muddle of Situationism manifestos. It’s serious. It’s nonsense. Here’s Cate all fancied up and solemn, a mourner at a Dada-themed funeral. Now she’s a stockbroker spouting Futurism, a newsreader exploring Minimalism, an autobiographical puppeteer expounding on Surrealism. Of course she is.
Favourite scenes for me included the Pop Art-themed conservative family at home, with Cate’s own family playing the roles. The words of Claes Oldenberg’s 1961 non-manifesto “I Am For An Art” surely never rang as clear and true as at this urbane dinner table. Visually outstanding is the fabulous (darling) choreographer, lecturing her cone-head ballerinas on the intricacies of the Fluxus movement.
My favourite piece – the one that made me laugh out loud – was Cate as teacher, coaching her eager young pupils in the manifestos of film-makers Jim Jarmusch, Lars von Trier and Werner Herzog. Ye Olde Dogme 95 Manifesto never sounded sillier, and that’s saying something.
There are so many levels at work here. The angry, youthful idealism of many of the old manifestos, collaged in this way, becomes current and fresh. We hear things as pure and true, or ludicrous and absurd, depending on which Cate Blanchett is performing them.
Plans for Manifesto include screening as a linear 90 minute piece at various film festivals. The films do work on their own, but really make music as a living whole, a cacophony of ideas and noise. The sound levels rise and fall together, with the occasional blissful peace within the madness. I found Manifesto to be moving, surprising and inspiring – and I was only able to spend an hour, so didn’t get the chance to fully see everything. I’d heartily recommend giving it a good couple of hours of your time, and then some.
Manifesto is a joint production of the Nationalgalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin with the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne, Sydney’s Art Gallery of New South Wales, Hannover’s Sprengel Museum and Ruhrtriennale.
Images © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016