Cate Blanchett at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem

“I am certain that the exhibition, which has attracted great interest around the world, will draw a diverse audience here in Israel and stimulate an important public debate.”

Oscar Award-winning actress Cate Blanchett plays a diva-like character in the Fluxus-themed excerpt. (photo credit: JULIAN ROSEFELDT / ‘MANIFESTO’ 2015 © JULIAN ROSEFELDT AND VG BILD-KUNST - BONN 2018)
Oscar Award-winning actress Cate Blanchett plays a diva-like character in the Fluxus-themed excerpt.
Cate Blanchett is one of the most celebrated actors on the planet. Over the past quarter of a century, she has stockpiled a plethora of industry accolades, including Oscars, British Academy Awards and Golden Globes, to mention but a few. But if you are one of the few who remain unconvinced by her thespian output to date, I venture to suggest that a visit to Manifesto should do the trick.
Not that Blanchett is the point. The said cinematic installation – which is on show here at the Israel Museum in cooperation with the Nationalgalerie in the Hamburger Bahnhof-Museum für Gegenwart in Berlin – opened a couple of weeks ago and is due to run until November. It is the brainchild of 53-year-old German artist Julian Rosefeldt and comprises 13 visual vignettes displayed on outsized screens, measuring 1.8m. x 3.2m.
Each screen presents a 10-minute filmic slot with Blanchett portraying a vastly different role in each. The dizzying spread of characters includes a widow delivering a eulogy at a funeral, a TV anchorwoman, a teacher and a feral-looking homeless man. The latter is the only male role in the lineup, although interestingly, 10 of the 13 shorts were shot by men.
There seem to be contrasting, or oxymoronic, junctures right across the board of Manifesto. In addition to the gender imbalance, both on- and off-screen, the whole visual shebang is an exercise in multifarious calls on the visitor’s senses and concentration. It makes for an intriguing, and a mite challenging, but definitively alluring experience. 
As you enter the display area at the museum your eyes are drawn to any number of screens dotted around the 700 sq.m. space at different angles. You might first catch the bedraggled hirsute figure of the vagrant, or a single mother downing her crack-of-dawn pre-work breakfast, or a synthetic-looking TV anchorwoman. They are all clearly different, but you are equally aware of a common thread running through them.
All the images are proffered in super high-density quality; clearly a lot of state-of-the-art endeavor went into creating the installation. The boundary-blurring, or intent-mixing mindset also comes across on the aural level. The sounds and dialogue from each screen are relayed via ceiling-height speakers, but there are sonic overflows between the spectator stations.
Rosefeldt says the shifting interfaces are part and parcel of the creation process. “You have two choices. There is the cacophony of images and sounds. If you want you can move around and have all these voices and opinions around you. But you can also just sit down on the bench and listen to the speaker, which is above the bench, and focus on each text separately.”
THERE IS also a sum-and-parts equation here. “If you come for a short visit, that may not be so important,” Rosefeldt continues. “But we know that from people who have come to the installation and gone from screen to screen that that has an effect.”
Before we get into the onscreen action, a word of explanation is in order, inferred by the title of the work. Rosefeldt’s Manifesto is a collage of artistic declarations of the 20th century, reinterpreted as poetic monologues that provoke timeless questions about the search for truth and the artist’s role in society. The artist suggests that the last century was a bit of an ism-fest. As the installation blurb notes, the 20th century witnessed an unrelenting succession of revolution, war, crisis and propositions for a new world order. 
Inseparable from this turbulence were the artistic movements that made up the multifaceted expressions of Modernism – Futurism, Dada, Surrealism, Conceptual Art and many others. These movements produced manifestos: foundational texts, credos, calls to action. In most cases, their manifestos were written by wild young men burning with idealistic fervor who scornfully rejected traditions and conventions of the past and put forth a new vision.
Indeed, such is the definitive nature of any creative initiative. At some stage of our lives – generally nearer our youth – we seek out basic, seemingly incontrovertible “truths,” and cling onto them when times get a little rocky. But how do we present these so-called truisms? As any politician knows, you can do a lot with a soapbox stance, punctuating your points – if indeed you have any – with requisite gesticulating, facial expressions and the odd vocal crescendo. Then again, you can only get so far with pontification and vacuous entreaties. At the end of the day, you need to come up with some tangible quantifiable goods. “You can be loud and angry, but you really have to have something to say,” Rosefeldt chuckles.
The artist also did his homework. The 13 storylines in Manifesto draw on more than 50 arts manifestos from across a broad swath of disciplines, from architecture to dance, from the past century. Rosefeldt fused them together into dramatic soliloquies that highlight specific movements or schools of thought.
Watching the various parts of Manifesto could be a double-edged sword scenario. As aforementioned, the visuals are sumptuous. The locations and camera work are wonders to behold. And, naturally, having Ms. Blanchett around to front the whole thing can’t be bad for business either. You are drawn inexorably – almost seductively – into the cinematic developments. 
But, you may indeed ponder, what is it all about? Is there something of substance to the Blanchett-performed dialogue?
ASKED IF he had a favorite among the 13 excerpts, Rosefeldt plumped for the classroom scene. It is not hard to see why. The schoolteacher gives the kids a creative assignment but informs them they have carte blanche to beg, steal and borrow in the course of their work. That raises a smile – albeit possibly of a wry ilk – and there are layers of dark humor interwoven into the fabric of all the films.
“The characters portrayed by Cate Blanchett are at times consistent with the spirit of the original manifesto, updating it to our own reality, and at times creating a sharp and even comic contrast with it,” notes exhibition curator Mira Lapidot, going on to cite the classroom scene. “The monologue delivered by a teacher distributing tests to school students, guiding them with a quote from the filmmaker Jim Jarmusch: ‘Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.’”
By reconstituting historical manifestos by a mostly male authorship, as monologues delivered by a female performer in contemporary settings, Rosefeldt invites viewers to consider the gendered, social and political contexts that shape artistic disruption. The artist referenced fake news and populist politics, which have gathered an alarming head of steam in recent years. The dogma in the manifestos echoes with Rosefeldt setting out his stall in the "Prologue" slot. The segment opens with Blanchett’s voice reciting a poetic line from Marx’s and Engels’ Manifesto of the Communist Party: “All that is solid melts into air,” set against the metaphorically charged image of a burning fuse. There is no mistaking the intent there.
Dada founding father Tristan Tzara also gets a mention, with a passage from the movement’s 1918 manifesto: “I am for continuous contradiction: for affirmation, too. I am neither for nor against and I do not explain because I hate common sense.”
There is another delightfully titillating quote from the Romanian artist that helps to put all the declarative offerings in something approaching sensible perspective: “To put out a manifesto you must want: ABC to fulminate against 1, 2, 3; to fly into a rage and sharpen your wings to conquer and disseminate little ABCs and big ABCs; to sign, shout, swear; to prove your non plus ultra; to organize prose into a form of absolute and irrefutable evidence. I am against action.”
“In an era of deception and double deception, the age of ‘fake news’ and relative truths, the exhibition raises essential questions about the status of a single truth and the ability of an artistic vision to motivate action and engender change,” says Israel Museum director-general Prof. Ido Bruno. “I am certain that the exhibition, which has attracted great interest around the world, will draw a diverse audience here in Israel and stimulate an important public debate.”
How relevant the installation content is to today’s global scene, and whether it might just be nebulae, is a matter for individual conjecture. Regardless, Manifesto is a work to be savored.
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