A long, dark room. Twelve screens, 12 monologues, all happening concurrently, disrupting each other, bleeding into one another. A newsreader shares the floor with a punk and a schoolteacher. A suburban mother tries to say grace while a more forceful Wall Street executive holds forth about the future, speed and technology.
This is German artist Julian Rosefeldt’s major new work, Manifesto – currently playing at ACMI. Two things tie its 12 monologues together: they’re all collaged together from a century of artist manifestos, and they’re all, in various guises, performed by Cate Blanchett.
We spoke to Rosefeldt to find out what led to this cacophony of artistic intent, filtered through a dozen different, but strangely similar, voices.
Broadsheet: What attracted you to artistic manifestos?
Julian Rosefeldt: I just recently re-discovered them. As an art student you learn about artist manifestos, but they’re just communicated to you as remnants of art history. It’s almost sacrilegious to touch them. I came across a few while researching for another project [Deep Gold, also on show at ACMI] and it got into me that these texts are actually written by extremely young people, in their early twenties. I saw this common element in all of them: it’s the outcry of a young generation working out their lives, and also experiencing this beautiful arrogance of wanting to change the whole art scene and the world with it. I got thirsty for more and read as many as I could.
I think it’s a very important stage to go through, for any young person. It’s a phase of your life, finding yourself and distancing yourself from your parents’ generation. If you read them with a fresh mind and then have a fresh look at their art, it can be a big discovery.
BS: How did you decide which manifestos to use?
JR: The scripts for each scene are collages. Having read hundreds of artist manifestos, I worked out which ones to focus on, from the Futurist Manifesto of 1908, to Jim Jarmusch’s Five Golden Rules of Filmmaking from 2004. I wrote a lot, re-editing the text and creating a kind of dialogue between different art movements. There were over a hundred to start with, and 12 survived.
BS: How did Cate Blanchett get involved?
JR: We got introduced by coincidence, through mutual friends in Berlin. She came to an opening of mine and we got along and started talking about working together. I already admired her acting a lot. I knew I wanted to do something where she played many characters. Two or three years later, I found this idea and knew it was for her. I started collecting artist manifestos at the same time as I was collecting ideas for scenes of a woman delivering monologues. But her main contribution was when we were shooting. She’s really brought these characters to life. Hopefully it shuts down the people who were saying: “Why does it have to be Cate?”, because you couldn’t do this with any other actor.
BS: How did you match up the different characters with the different manifestos? JR: Sometimes how they matched was intuitive. “To the electric chair with Chopin!” had to be said by a punk. The futurists were fascinated by the idea of speed. That translates to a Wall Street, high-speed communication scene. That’s probably quite literal. Sometimes it was just a metaphorical connection. The pop-art scene is not poppy at all. It’s a mother with her family at the dinner table saying grace.
BS: The writers of these manifestos are artists, which is a specific, social role. What’s the thinking behind giving these words to a variety of ordinary people with ordinary jobs?
JR: It’s just like giving all these male voices to a woman, making them accessible and fresh. Freeing them from the weight of art history, and making them readable as fresh young voices. It’s as simple as that. These artists wanted to change the world, but the whole world is made up of teachers, conservative mothers and garbage workers. So this is a love declaration to life in general, and giving up this idea that the artist is separate from society.
Manifesto is on at ACMI until March 14.