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Claus Mueller


Claus Mueller is filmfestivals.com  Senior New York Correspondent

New York City based Claus Mueller reviews film festivals and related issues and serves as a  senior editor for Society and Diplomatic Review.

As a professor emeritus he covered at Hunter College / CUNY social and media research and is an accredited member of the US State Department's Foreign Press Center.

 


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Manifesto, Julian Rosefeldt, 2016

Until January 8, 2017 New York’s Park Avenue Armory is showcasing Julian Rosefeldt’s MANIFESTO, an extraordinary film installation which first premiered in December 2015 at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image with funding from Australian and German media and art agencies.  Rosefeldt wrote, directed, and produced Manifesto is a massive under taking, as its credits indicate, mirroring a large body of research and extensive film making.  Rosefeldt covers 19 art movements as reflected in the excerpts from 50 manifestos which are recited by Cate Blanchett in 13 scenes set in contemporary society. These art movements encompass virtually all important trends of last century such as situationism, fluxus, Dadaism, and conceptual art as well as surrealism, abstract expressionism, pop art and Dogma 95. They range from the early 19th century dada to contemporary film making.

In the cavernous drill hall of the Armory, 13 large screens simultaneously projected superbly filmed critical interpretations of society and the arts.  On each screen a different individual provides the statement in a voice over monologue or direct address to the audience. Speakers range from Puppeteer, Conservative Mother, Teacher, Newsreader, and Funeral Speaker to the Homeless Man. All are played in an amazing acting performance by Cate Blanchett. Among the other characters embraced by her are a Tattooed Punk, a Choreographer, Broker, Scientist, Worker in a Garbage Plant, and a CEO at a party. Except for the Homeless Person all characters are female and Cate Blanchett succeeds in representing them in a most convincing way, drawing from her vast repertoire of professional experience. Though the texts were drawn from Manifestos written decades ago they retain their plausibility and persuasion as articulated by Blanchett. In these 13 scenes based on manifestos written by male artists she is the dominant figure.

In the Funeral Speaker scene a presentation skillfully deconstructs with Dadaist texts our notions of logic, reasoning, tradition and history. We follow a bleak funeral procession and service. The funeral allocution is a powerful recitation of manifestos based on Tristan Tzara Dada Manifesto 1918, Manifesto of Monsieur Aa the Antiphilosopher 1920; Frances Picabia, Dada Cannibalistic Manifesto, 1920; Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes, The Pleasure of Dada, 1920, To the Public, 1920; Paul Eluard, Five Ways to Dada Shortage or two Words of Explanation; Louis Aragon, Dada Manifesto, 1920; Richard Huelsenbeck, and First Dada Manifesto, 1918.  

The sources for the statements are manifestos from the last century written in concise, abstract, and challenging prose discussing changes in society and frequently the arts and the role of the artist.  Julian Rosefeldt, known for his films challenging conventional conceptions, acquired some years ago a book which featured manifestos written in the 20thcentury. After editing by Rosefeldt they provided the sole source material used for the texts of the 13 Manifesto scenes. It is stunning how valid and persuasive these manifestos and some of their predictions still are today though they were written decades ago. The prologue of the installation, Burning Fuse, opens with a line from the 1848 Communist Manifesto of the Communists Party, dated 1848, “All that is solid melts into air” and continues with statements from two Dadaists. The voice-over commentary is presented against the background of a slowly burning fuse which does not lead to a visible explosion as if it is still burning today. In most cases the artists wrote the manifestos early in their career; considering their art works as agents of change and critically debunked whatever had been created by prior generations of artists. Negation of the societies they lived in and of the world immuring them the artists believed in their power to challenge and transform.  Thus, in Conceptual Art the idea behind a work of art is more important than the final product, Constructivism moved the focus of art to the industrial worlds, Dadaism understood the world as being nonsensical, Futurism celebrated the dynamism of the industrial future, Situationism suspended traditional art and culture concepts, and Surrealism placed the root of creativity in our sub consciousness. As stated on the backs and covers of the informative exhibition brochure: All of Man is False, Nothing is Original, All  Current Art is Fake, Originality is Nonexistant, the Present is Art,  and Logic is Always Wrong.

The content of the manifestos reflect the reaction of artists to the rapid socio-politic transformations and ruptures western societies experienced during the last century; the rise of science, technologies and the declining plausibility of traditional accounts of meaning. Though there is no single dominant interpretation in the Manifesto installation, some trends are frequently articulated in the scenes. To mention a few “The   call to destroy our past history… we must disband the inherited literature and music…  we should support violence and praise the iron cage of information… need to welcoming gigantic industrial housing and living structures… there is a need to fight tradition… affirming the validity of the present… we must free ourselves from the past and future which ‘are prostitutes enslaving us’ capitalism is stripped naked… the end of the bourgeois culture as generated by capitalism…  artists need to become revolutionaries… we have to purge the world of dead art, that is intellectual professional and commercial culture”.  Put differently, the artist must reject traditional conceptions and create for other artists and the audience a state of cognitive dissonance, an imbalance that must be filled with new meaning to bridge it. The response will generate new ways of seeing. When Lars von Trier urged filmmakers in 1995 in his Dogma 95 manifesto to abandon rules of filmmaking and restrict productions to the bare essentials he had the same objective in mind.

The texts from the manifestos are presented over an imagery that reinforces the verbal statement. Given the size of the Armory Drill Hall and the distance between the screens, the audio remains accessible, though once or twice during the playback all voices by Blanchett are synchronized for about a minute. For the viewer, the show with its 13 manifesto scenes lasting about eleven minutes each is certainly a challenge. Sophisticated imagery is accessible yet the frequently abstract verbal text with its broad socio political content requires a reflexive mind. Some of the issues propagated are difficult to comprehend if one is just pursuing the customary gallery walk through. These viewers could certainly benefit from the Art as Change Manifesto Education Program which was organized at the Armory by Julian Rosefeldt. Following his dictum “Today I think of the manifesto as a rite of passage, not only for young artists but also for young people”, a large number New York public school students participated in the armory show, and related art education programs. They were encouraged to write their own manifestos, to reject norms and to learn through their writing that art is a lens that can be used as a tool for change.  In short, Rosefeldt offers a tool that meets our need to think outside the box.

The Manifesto installation ranks superbly on all accounts. It is characterized by high production value with outstanding cinematography, soundtracks and overall installation design. Cate Blanchett delivers a tour de force performance which merits a significant award. A special kudo goes to Julian Rosefeldt for the original concept of the installation and its great execution. Manifesto is an experience not to be missed.

 

Claus Mueller

filmexchange@gmail.com

 

 

 

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