Almost fifteen years have passed between Julian Rosefeldt’s two installations, Asylum and Manifesto. In his most recent project, apart from the opulently staged images, the focus is also placed on the eloquence of artistic manifestoes: both are highly topical.

In any event, in an interview a few years ago, Julian Rosefeldt revealed that he had not started studying architecture in order to build houses later on. He did complete his architecture studies in Munich and Barcelona but has never built anything. Even as early as his thesis project, a film arose in collaboration with Piero Steinle; Rosefeldt has stayed behind the camera even after a range of diverse installations with his former classmate. In the initial years, he used exclusively found footage. By contrast, Asylum (2001/02) was Rosefeldt’s first film project that he staged and directed himself.


The Turkish cleaner, the Pakistani rose seller, Asian cooks or sex workers, African street vendors: commonplace clichés about origins and occupations that in Germany are readily ascribed to migrants and asylum-seekers. And it is precisely these stereotypes that Rosenfeldt strips bare for his nine-part installation Asylum: transposes them into clownish absurdity and in doing so inexorably directs our attention to the cliché images in our own minds.

Julian Rosefeldt, Asylum, 2001/2002 Julian Rosefeldt, Asylum, 2001/2002 | © Julian Rosefeldt and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2002

Women veiled in headscarves vacuum the floor of a cactus warehouse, flower vendors water roses in an historic public bathhouse, in a monkey house, Asian cooks meticulously chop up fast food styrofoam packaging before they do a shadow-boxing performance … Slow tracking shots intensify the dreariness of these tasks and have them seem like rituals. In the film’s loop, the 120 protagonists are condemned to Sisyphus labours that have no foreseeable end. Only now and again do these persons interrupt their absurd activities and thereby acoustically connect with the other screens into a space-filling whole. The visitor, moving in the midst of the nine large-format projections, becomes a part of this installation.


It is the grand themes that Julian Rosefeldt takes up with his powerfully pictorial films. If in the case of Asylum and Lonely Planet (2006) it is the foreign other that is perceived as exotic, with The ship of fools (2007) and My home is a dark and cloud-hung land (2011) the concept of homeland is the focus of consideration. The settings are done meticulously and down to the last detail, the images planned layer by layer. Not for nothing are Rosenfeldt’s works often compared with paintings. They are tableaux vivants, living pictures in the literal sense of the term. Citations from art and film history are intentional and to be understood as tributes. Thus, in American Night (2009) the western genre is rendered homage, in Deep Gold (2013/14) Luis Bũnuel.

Each individual part of the installation functions autonomously in the intensity of the pictorial language, the clearly delineated, archetypal figures and a narration in the loop that is immediately comprehensible. Nonetheless, the parts harmonise in a perfection that connects the greatest diversity of scenes with each other simultaneously.


The first of the 13 screens of Rosenfeldt’s most recent work Manifesto displays as prologue merely the slow-motion playback of a burning fuse. To be heard are passages from the Manifesto of the Communist Party by Marx and Engels (1848) – the mother of all manifestos – followed by Tristan Tsara’s Dada Manifesto and Philippe Soupault’s Literature and the Rest. Sparks fly, the tension rises – and nothing happens. Every manifesto makes a claim to be a fireworks show, and this holds for the following 12 projections as well.

The young, primaily male artists who authored these manifestos of modernity intended to change not just art, but nothing less than the world itself. Rosefeldt has in fact collaged historic, original texts from 60 works and brought them together into contemporary scenes. 13 poetic monologues arise through the abbreviation and collation of the texts.

At lunch, a conservative American mother intones Claes Oldenburg Pop Art manifesto; a real-estate broker delivers futuristic statements in a setting that, with its sprawling computer workstations, resembles an oversized surveillance centre; a worker at a waste incineration plant stands for architecture manifestos; a funeral speaker at an open grave in a forest cemetery recites central Dada texts; a homeless person declaims reflections on Situationism by megaphone into the grey Berlin skies… All thirteen protagonists (in one scene it is two roles) are played by Cate Blanchett – a masterly performance in language variation, metamorphosis and stage make-up.

Julian Rosefeldt. Manifesto. Film on the exhibition at Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin

Rosefeld presents the historic manifestos in unexpected, current social contexts. The roles could not be more different and yet flow together in the present and in a single person. The transfer of thoughts and ideas crystallised out from this extremely wide range of proclamations works: after all, words and contents have never been more topical or relevant. Now and then the various figures, who are at the same time one and the same, interrupt their cacophonic declamations and unite into a multi-tonal hosanna of all manifestos.

Julian Rosefeldt was born in Munich in 1965 and has been living in Berlin since 1999. He has been a member of the Department of Film and Media Art of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts (Bayrische Akademie der schönen Künste) in Munich, and professor of digital media at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts (Akademie der Bildenden Künste) since 2011.

The 13-part film installation Manifesto was seen last spring at Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, at the Villa Stuck in Munich, and  in the Ecole des Beaux Arts de Paris.

This article was originally published on Goethe-Institut. Reposted with permission. To read the original article, click here.

This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.

This post was written by Daniela Gregori.

The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.