Auckland Arts Festival: Manifesto

Cate Blanchette as The Teacher.

Manifesto by Julian Rosefeldt
Auckland Arts Festival/Auckland Art Gallery

To June 10, 2018

The major art event in the Auckland Arts Festival is Manifesto, a film installation by Julian Rosefeldt which consist of a series of 13 short films, 12 of which feature Cate Blanchett. In each of them she recites extracts from major art manifestos of the 20th century. Rather than take on the persona of the artist who originally wrote the manifestos, she articulates them as a range of ordinary citizens – from a mother and schoolteacher to a ballet impresario and a puppet maker.

The installation is an acknowledgement of the long history of the artist's manifesto, in which the role of the artist, the intention of art practice and the need for artistic change is questioned. The works use the writings of futurists, dadaists, Fluxus artists, suprematists, situationists, Dogme 95 and other artist groups, as well as those of individual artists, architects, dancers and filmmakers, such as Claes Oldenburg, Yvonne Rainer, Kazimir Malevich, André Breton, Elaine Sturtevant and Sol LeWitt.

The first of the manifestos and the one which has more impact than the others is the Communist manifesto written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and, rather than have Ms Blanchett on screen, we see a fuse burning, ready to ignite the great revolution. This vignette opens with the words “All that is solid melts into air (a reference to art theories' dependence on Shakespeare’s The Tempest) and includes other pithy lines such as “I have nothing to say.” The series could have finished at that point, the revolution summed up and destroyed succinctly.

Then Ms Blanchett outlines Dadaist Tristan Tzara’s A B C of requirements for a manifesto including the desire “to organise prose into a form of absolute and irrefutable evidence,” even though he “has nothing to say.”

The Vorticist section is located in a building on the edge of a lake, a setting which is reminiscent of German sublime romanticism. She plays the role of a CEO of an arts foundation talking to a group of patrons as she launches Blast, the Wyndham Lewis publication that foretold “the epoch of great spirituality.” Her affable presentation is a model of an art gallery curator or director and the audience responds with the genial smiles and gestures of the art 'luvvies.'

One section is devoted to manifestos on architecture with Ms Blanchette reading texts by Bruno Taut and Robert Venturi while going about her job in a rubbish incinerator plant and we also get to have a tour of some Brutalist buildings in Berlin.

In the one about pop art where she uses the text of Claes Oldenburg’s “I am for an art,” Ms Blanchett is seated at lunch with her family and the artist’s words become the prayer she recites about being “in favour of art of the ordinary.” The children react with a few titters at the what they see as rude words and she glares at her husband for being late for dinner.

But the show is more than a reading of manifestos, the texts of which begin to blur after a while as all the angry, revolutionary young artists talk about the same issues of representation, invention, appropriation, ideas and truth. In some ways the installation does a disservice to the manifestos, lumping many of them together so that the overall impression is of confusing sound bites.

But the show is more than a reading of manifestos, the texts of which begin to blur after a while as all the angry, revolutionary young artists talk about the same issues of representation, invention, appropriation, ideas and truth.

Mr Rosefeldt cleverly uses both everyday and unusual locations and events to set each of the vignettes Into these locations and events, he places Ms Blanchett in her 14 roles (in one she plays two characters) and she invests each of them with a strong personality and the cadences and style of voice appropriate to the location or event but not necessarily for the text.

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