Walk into Park Avenue Armory this month and you'll be greeted by a cacophony of Cates. In one corner of the Drill Hall, Cate Blanchett embodies a scientist contemplating Suprematism and Constructivism as she walks the halls of a factory ripped from a Roald Dahl novel. In another, she plays a rotund factory worker musing about architecture. She is a punk, screaming about Stridentism and Creationism, and a choreographer wrangling a troupe of alien Rockettes while espousing the ideas of Fluxus, Merz, and performance.
This assemblage of personas—an acting tour de force 13 characters deep—is Manifesto, Julian Rosefeldt’s film installation that opens today at the Armory in New York. This is the piece’s North American debut; as we previously reported, the piece was at the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney this summer. 13 massive screens fill the soaring Wade Thompson Drill Hall, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in the imagined lives of 13 different humans and the ideas of more than 50 artistic manifestos and movements.
Try to breeze through Manifesto, and you’ll miss a lot. The mastery of Blanchett’s acting is apparent almost immediately; the genius of Rosefeldt’s filmmaking is more subtle. He’s not afraid to make us wait. In all of the films, Rosefeldt sets the scene by examining the environments his characters inhabit. In Scientist, the seconds tick by as futuristic elevators perform a zippy pas de trois. Tattooed punk is bookended by extended studies of the grimy studio where the scene takes place, including crushed chips in the carpet, a couple making out, and a few dudes in the corner doing coke. Really experiencing the installation means stationing yourself in front of a screen and simply absorbing until you feel stirred to move on.
An unexpected element of Manifesto is the way it sounds. Every so often, Blanchett’s cries for aesthetic revolution ring out through the cavernous space, but in front of the 13 screens, the sound is highly targeted. Stepping directly in front of one of the films unleashes an ocean of noise from overhead; it’s like stepping into a sonic bubble that dissolves when you move on to the next scene.
The piece provokes timeless questions about the weight of words and artists’ role in society. The writing of manifestos first sprang from political movements, and 20th century artists—largely men—widely appropriated the form, starting with Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s “Futurist Manifesto” in 1909. Manifesto surveys movements ranging from Surrealism and Minimalism to Dadaism and Pop art, quoting masters like Tristan Tzara, Kazimir Malevich, André Breton, and Sol LeWitt. Blanchett’s embodiment of their words—moulding and adapting them to each scenario—demonstrates the mutability of language and invites viewers to consider the gendered, social, and political contexts that shape disruption.
Its fluctuant nature is a nice fit for the ever-experimental Armory. “Manifesto is a singular work of creative vision, which furthers the Armory’s tradition of mounting multidisciplinary projects that defy categorization,” Pierre Audi, Artistic Director of Park Avenue Armory, says. “We are pleased to bring this soaring tribute to the artist manifesto, the result of an ambitious collaboration between two world-class artists, to our majestic drill hall in a site-specific installation.”
Manifesto is on view at Park Avenue Armory December 7, 2016 through January 8, 2017. For more information and tickets, click here.