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In Conversation: Julian Rosefeldt, Cate Blanchett, and Kristy Edmunds

Julian Rosefeldt, Cate Blanchett, and Kristy Edmunds
Cate Blanchett, Julian Rosefeldt, and Kristy Edmunds | © Photo: Steven Chee, Veronika Bures, and Thomas Wasper

On the occasion of the West Coast premiere of “Manifesto”, the 13-channel film installation by visual artist Julian Rosefeldt at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles – a review and a discussion of the work with the artist, Oscar Award-winning actress Cate Blanchett, and Executive and Artistic Director of UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, Kristy Edmunds.

By Mark Tompkins

Courtesy Hauser & Wirth

For Julian Rosefeldt’s video installation Manifesto, Cate Blanchett embarked on the actor’s equivalent of boot camp, playing 13 different roles over a 12-day shoot in Berlin. Rosefeldt enlisted Blanchett for a head-spinning purpose: the characters she plays in a dozen vignettes here all recite from artistic manifestos spanning the 20th century, with a few lines from Marx and Engels’ 1848 Communist Manifesto to kick things off. Each short film is set in the present day and runs about 10 minutes.

Viewers going into Manifesto might assume the exhibit will be a familiar tour through art history. But the surprise of the show is how little dust has accrued to the texts Rosefeldt has brought together. This dense, lively work feels like anything but a history lesson, and Blanchett’s performances are far more than a stunt. As staged in multiple venues across Europe, Australia, and the U.S., Manifesto has an industrial-scale wow factor. The viewer proceeds among 13 cinema-sized screens as the films play simultaneously. Add to that scale the production values of the films themselves, and the exhibit could make you rethink the parameters of what is typically meant by ‘video installation.’

Rosefeldt put his resources to good use. A viewer would never suspect that Rosefeldt and Blanchett had no time for rehearsal and that some of the films are the first and only take.The first few films offer Blanchett’s broadest, most entertaining performances. We first encounter her as a homeless man who delivers a rant composed of Situationist and Suprematist texts in a Scottish accent. Then come the shorts where she plays a Russian choreographer and a tattooed punk rocker: a born diva, the choreographer berates a troupe of young dancers with proclamations from Fluxus and Merz about “anti-art.” Blanchett, of course, has the accent down (“dar-link”) for this character, who is irresistibly amusing without going over the top. It’s especially impressive to pivot from that screen to meet Blanchett’s next incarnation, the English punk who rouses herself from a boozy stupor to growl a Stridentist manifesto at the camera. This particular short film can barely contain its lead character: it’s as if the cameraman has to hastily back up as she struts across the room and fills the frame.

These early films in Manifesto could make a viewer wonder if the cumulative effect of Rosefeldt’s 13-film sequence would be a lesson in star quality — a performer’s charisma outshining everything else. Blanchett demonstrates more range here than many actors get to show in their whole careers. But the subsequent roles tend to be quieter and subtler, as if Rosefeldt placed the more attention-getting moments of Blanchett’s feat early, to hook the audience.

And Manifesto becomes more rather than less intriguing as you proceed through it. After you watch a couple of the films, you realize Rosefeldt has synchronized them: midway through each short, Blanchett starts addressing the camera in a monotone, her voice(s) ringing from one screen to the next. For a moment, 12 films link together, and the characters too become linked, as if in a collective trance. The moment points to unconscious solidarity between all these women, voicing their discontents across decades and every social milieu.

The signs and products that turn up on screen in Manifesto are in English, presumably to give the settings a broad international context rather than a specifically German one. (Though plenty of the locales have an echt Berlin atmosphere.) While several of the scenarios are saturated with technology, the effect is not that of a world shiny with possibility, but rather a sense of quietly normalized dystopia. Which may be Rosefeldt’s way of underscoring how relevant these manifestos are today, whether they be 60, 80 or nearly 100 years old.

Thus it’s a pleasant surprise when the last film takes us to an elementary school classroom, where Blanchett as a kind, sensible teacher leads her charges in reciting quotations from filmmakers, including some salutary advice from Werner Herzog. The teacher’s lines are warmly encouraging, and the effect is unexpectedly benign — a happy ending of sorts that doesn’t feel like a cop-out after everything that has come before.

There are so many memorable lines in the massive collage of Manifesto that visitors may wish for a notepad: “Steal from whatever touches your soul.” “Richness of meaning over clarity of meaning.” “I am for an art of falling off barstools.” (The tattooed punk doesn’t utter this line, but she surely concurs with it.) “Only dull and impotent artists fill their works with sincerity.” “The dream has been reduced to a parenthesis.” Everyone who gets to experience Manifesto will no doubt have their own favorite lines. Anyone artistically minded, or newly radicalized, will find a goldmine of inspiration in the texts spoken by Blanchett here.

In Conversation: Julian Rosefeldt, Cate Blanchett, and Kristy Edmunds at Hauser & Wirth

is a part of the ‘Year of German-American Friendship’ initiative in 2018/19. The ‘Year of German-American Friendship’ is a comprehensive and collaborative initiative of the Federal Foreign Office, the Goethe-Institute, and with support of the Federation of German Industries (BDI), highlighting the decades-long relationship grounded in common values, interests, and goals.

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