Movies at the MAC: A Review of Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto

By Olivia Anzalone

Now through January, Montreal’s Musée d’art contemporain is host to German artist Julian Rosefeldt’s immersive, 13-channel video installation, Manifesto. Known for his highly choreographed and visually rich moving-image works, Rosefeldt uses cinematic tropes accompanied by humor and satire to transport viewers into surreal, theatrical realms. The artist produced Manifesto, starring Academy-Award winning actress Cate Blanchett, in 2015 as a tribute to the tradition and literary beauty of artistic manifestos. Manifesto stands at the crossroads between film, performance, and installation, combining the three in an all-encompassing cinematic experience. This multi-screen exhibition presents Blanchett in 13 diverse roles including a schoolteacher, a homeless man, a factory worker, and a puppeteer. The monologues performed in each film are entirely derived from various artistic manifestos of the last 150 years including futurists, dadists, fluxus artists, situationists and more. Making its second North American stop in Montreal after touring in various cities worldwide, Manifesto merges the performative elements and political components of these diversified artistic movements.

Upon entrance into Manifesto’s dark, theatre-like exhibition space, the viewer is presented with an overwhelming 13 versions of Cate Blanchett concurrently delivering 13 different monologues dispersed on blackboard-size screens throughout the room. Initially, the vast amount of information to be absorbed is difficult to process; Blanchett’s image and voice blares from all directions.  While engaging with one screen, you inevitably hear and see the other films throughout the space, especially when sections of other films are more visually and aurally interesting than the one you’re viewing at present. The lack of a clear order in which to view the films leaves the viewer to navigate the filmic maze independently. Confusion gives way to utter disorientation when the monologues on all 13 screens simultaneously shift into a sudden, somewhat frightening, 10-second robotic-singsong, further estranging the encounter.

Spanning the combined length of a feature film, as the viewer spends more time within the exhibition, bewilderment gives way to an exploratory and engaging art and art historical experience. The freedom of movement allows the viewer to travel to whichever screen seems interesting, each participant experiencing the installation in a unique way. The initially disturbing break in the monologues becomes a helpful marker of the passage of time as well as emphasizes key information to each artistic movement. From a Southern housewife giving a Claes Oldenburg monologue in lieu of grace at dinner to a stern Russian director choreographing alien-suited extras with a Fluxus Manifesto, each film is completely distinct from the next. The equally unique and elaborate wardrobe and production design transports the viewer into the distinct world of each manifesto. Rosefeldt successfully presents a multitude of artistic manifestos, paying tribute to the singularity of each with unique and individualized film scenarios. The act of the viewer having to sort through the sea of images and sounds coming from each manifesto within the exhibition can be made analogous to the idea of having to “sort through” these various art movements in history. Each occurring simultaneously, it’s up to the viewer to decide which movements to focus on, although background noise from the others is inevitable. An exploration of the history of contemporary art movements, Rosefeldt’s Manifesto creates an intriguing and immersive art adventure.

Julian Rosefeldt: Manifesto is on display at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal until January 20, 2019. Tickets are $10 for students, $17 for general admission.

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