We have a saying in Irish – cuir ar an mhéar fada – which is what we do when we put something on the long finger, i.e., put it off till whenever. I do this a lot – too much. And as a result, I lose out on vouchers and gift certificates. Despite my best intentions, 9 times out of 10, by the time I get around to it, they’ve expired. I’ve been meaning to go see Cate Blanchett in Manifesto for a few weeks now, ever since it opened at the Magyar Nemzeti Galéria back at the end of May. It only runs till 12 August, so I was cutting it fine, but I finally got my act together this week. And went.
I had a vague notion of what it was about. From German artist Julian Rosefeldt come 13 short video clips of Blanchett playing different roles, reciting from various manifestos that had a huge impact on art and politics. Think Dadism, Surrealism, Communism and a host of other isms perhaps less well known (to me, at least) like Vorticism, Stridentism, and Situationism that have shaped our today. Shot in just 11 days in and around Berlin, each of Blachett’s characters speaks English but with different accents. She appears as a homeless man, a stockbroker, a mother, a punk, a eulogist, and more, each role convincingly played. Years ago, in another life, I remember being fascinated seeing a closeup of Kevin Costner in some movie or other and wondering why, with all his money, he didn’t get his teeth fixed. Seeing the 12 very different sets of teeth that Blanchett’s characters wear (we only hear her voice in the prologue) has me now thinking that those teeth belonged to his character and were not his own. Will I ever know?
I was pushed for time and had figured just over two hours to see all 13 vids, so I didn’t spend as much time as I might have reading the timeline of the various manifestos Rosefeldt read (said to be 50 in all) when he was researching this piece of work. I went straight for it, expecting to walk between 13 separate rooms or semi-closed spaces. Or perhaps we’d each get headphones. But no. The videos played side by side with no signalling as to when they’d started. That really upset my sense of orderliness and from the outset, I was out of sorts.
I can multitask with the best of them but when it comes to listening, I have a hard time drowning out background noise. I work in silence. No radio or music playing in the background. I read in silence. No music or TV. I walk in silence. No headphones or other distractions. I like my silence. One of my most jarring memories is stepping outside the airport terminal in Chennai, India, at 2 am and recoiling from the wall of noise that met me. Another was opening the door into FunGalaxy and hearing the screaming kids inside. I really have a hard time with noise. So I skipped the first two videos (I came back to them later) as both were going at what seemed like full blast and I couldn’t focus. I found one that I could actually hear.
Once I got into the swing of it, though, I enjoyed it. But I can see why some people might give up trying in the first 10 minutes (and admittedly, by the end, I was flagging). That said, it’s worth persevering. Especially if you can get in the groove and catch the videos as they start (all bar the first one are about 10.30 minutes long). This isn’t a must, of course, but if you veer towards pedantry like I do, I suggest you try it.
That Blanchett is a multi-award-winning actor, I had no doubt. But I hadn’t really appreciated how talented she is. Each of the 12 roles she plays is as convincing as the one before (in the first, we don’t see her, just hear her voice). I was particularly taken with her portrayals of a homeless guy, a punk, and a newsreader where she interviews herself. Blanchett’s personal make-up artist Morag Ross worked miracles. Even if you’ve no interest in the spoken word, just seeing the 12 different faces and hearing the 13 different voices is worth the entrance fee.
At one stage, each character starts chanting in a strangely monk-like fashion. This happens at the same point in all videos so the rooms are filled with intonation. At other points, the narration from a video showing beside the one you’re watching will seem to eerily fit the film unfolding before you. It really is all very clever. Confusing and confrontational, certainly, but really very, very clever.
I’m with Glenn Kenny of the New York Times: As an installation, it may seem like a sensory onslaught. Yes, Glenn, it does. But now I want to see the movie and I really don’t think I’d appreciate it without having seen the installation. If you’re in Budapest between now and 12 August, it’s worth the money. Curated by Zsolt Petrányi at the National Gallery up in Buda Castle district, it’s definitely one to see. Love it or hate it, you won’t be able to not talk about it.
[As an aside, I went to read an article in the LA Times = The 13 faces of Cate Blanchett: How Manifesto went from art to ….. – and got a note: Unfortunately, our website is currently unavailable in most European countries. We are engaged on the issue and committed to looking at options that support our full range of digital offerings to the EU market. We continue to identify technical compliance solutions that will provide all readers with our award-winning journalism. The long reach of GDPR, no doubt. If anyone’s reading in the USA and can send a PDF, I’ll admit to being curious.]