January 2008, Julian Rosefeldt, The Ship of Fools @ Phillips de Pury & Company, New York
Julian Rosefeldt, Trilogy The Soundmaker, installation view courtesy Phillips de Pury & Company, New York,
Ardnt and Partner, Berlin/Zurich
Julian Rosefeldt @ Phillips de Pury & Company
The intersection of an exhibition by an art dealer in an auction house raises a lot of eyebrows and starts tongues wagging in the art world. But the works on view at Phillips de Pury & Company’s galleries are not the only thing up for sale. The artist too, is selling himself, in this his first solo show in New York City. In collaboration with his main dealer, Arndt & Partner, Phillips de Pury & Company are “selling” the artist to a New York City gallerist, and preferably one that is on the higher end of the food chain. Putting aside any perceived conflicts of interest on the business side of the art world, this show definitely cries out for attention by the sheer force of its artistic merit, and the auction house ought to be applauded for bringing this artist’s work to a New York City audience.
The relatively high prices for the videos on display derive from the fact that the artist uses film that is later transferred to DVD. The use of film adds cinematic lushness and richness to the work that’s often lacking in video art shot through digital cameras. The most recent piece from Rosefeldt is entitled Ship of Fools, 2007, a four channel film installation shot on 16mm film and transferred to DVD. The 7 minute 23 second loop envelops the viewer in 4 scenes of slowly unfolding imagery that references symbols of German nationalism e.g. barking dogs in a wooded area, a skinhead stripping off his shirt to reveal a large tattoo of an eagle on his shoulders, a man standing on a wharf while a ship of German flag-wavers pass by, a woman belting out an opera by Wagner for an audience in a castle. Schloss Sacrow in Potsdam, just outside of Berlin, commissioned this piece from Rosefeldt. The sun rises and sets on the scenes continually, as if trapping the viewer in an eternal dawn-dusk. The half-light, sounds and intriguing natural and nationalistic imagery keep the viewer riveted to this quasi-narrative piece.
A narrative thread runs through most of the work in this show. An earlier piece entitled Asylum, 2001/2002, not only features a narrative connection between all 9 films, but also employs the artist’s technical architectural background. Rosefeldt built his own sets for this series and the characters that he uses in these scenes shot in Munich are almost all ethnicities. There are Middle Eastern women vacuuming the rocks of a cacti-strewn desert in one scene; Asian cooks in a zoo in another, African men walking among white male statues and manipulating white battery-driven female hoola dolls, as well as Indians and other ethnicities. Ritual, repetition, futile action, are all alluded to in this piece that captivates the viewer with the rhythmic repetitions of the characters’ movements as well as sound, as each group belts out a score created by the artist and collaborators.
Julian Rosefeldt, The Ship of Fools, film installation courtesy Phillips de Pury & Company, New York,
Ardnt and Partner, Berlin/Zurich
The sense of the futility of man’s actions - the breaking down to build up again, only to break down once more - runs through this body of work. Within the Trilogy of Failure, 2005, Stunned Man Part II, a two channel film installation that runs about 25 minutes, is a perfect rendering of the creative/destructive force of man’s nature, and nature in general. The viewer has the sense of having seen it all, and yet seeing it all again. Déjà vu this is not, but rather some sort of otherworld or parallel dimension created by the artist for the viewer to inhabit. A seasoned actor is employed in this piece to recreate a contemporary scene in a young man’s apartment.
Julian Rosefeldt, Asylum, film courtesy Phillips de Pury & Company, New York, Ardnt and Partner, Berlin/Zurich
In Lonely Planet, 2006, Rosefeldt himself becomes the actor and takes the viewer on a journey through India. With all the clichés of the backpacking Westerner, Rosefeldt penetrates Indian society nonetheless, enacting a contemporary Pilgrims Progress. He takes the viewer inside a central call office which seems to be a support center for a U.S. tech company. He also takes the viewer inside the making of a Bollywood film, dancers and singing included. The lavish scenery of this film, moving from mosque to river, to dry land, and the over the top sound, bring the western viewer a sense of what it is like to be The Other. In one scene a dilapidated movie theater is showing a film that looks familiar because it is the film the viewer is watching. We it seems, become them.
Social conscience has recently come to engender cynicism in some as corporations pick up the social responsibility banner as a means of selling stuff to the consumer. But the social conscience Rosefeldt exhibits in these works seems genuine. Take for example Requiem, 2007, a four screen film installation filmed in HDV and transferred onto DVD. The sound of the chainsaw is absent, but the crash of falling trees in the Amazon are deafeningly loud. Rosefeldt reportedly got dengue fever while filming in the Amazon, but he still managed to capture some images of the men that make their living off of cutting down trees, as in Requiem III, 2007, a lambda print.
There are prints of scenes from the sets of Rosefeldt’s other works, as well as stills of the films, but these are by no way as engaging as the actual films.
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief