In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Manifestos for Theatre and Nation
  • Dan Venning (bio)

From December 2016 to January 2017, the Park Avenue Armory presented Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto, a thirteen-screen film installation exploring avant-garde art manifestos. On loop, the screens played different ten-and-a-half-minute films of Cate Blanchett in thirteen different roles, demonstrating her chameleon-like acting ability. The films played simultaneously on large screens spaced throughout the vast Drill Hall, allowing viewers to move throughout the exhibit or to follow a guided path to see the installation in its entirety. The only illumination in the hall came from the screens, and although the sound was carefully engineered to ensure each manifesto was heard clearly only when standing directly in front of the appropriate screen, sound bled throughout the space, reminding the viewer that other manifestos were only steps away. Towards the end of each eleven-minute cycle, Blanchett’s characters speak in sync and in a single-pitched tone much louder than the rest of the video loop. This happens simultaneously across all the screens, and for a moment, the manifestos overlap sonically. While Blanchett’s virtuoso acting abilities were certainly at the foreground of the installation, it is the unique way in which the exhibit brought to reality the abstract ideas presented through these historical manifestos in related vignettes that allowed audiences to meditate on their meaning in the present moment

The designated path allowed viewers, over the course of a little more than two hours, to traverse through artistic manifestos of the twentieth century (with a few from the twenty-first as well). Blanchett was not visible on the first screen, which displayed only a burning fuse, as if to hint at ideological explosions to come, as the actress read bits from Marx’s Manifesto of the Communist Party, Tristan Tzara’s Dada Manifesto 1918, and Philippe Soupault’s Literature and the Rest. As the fuse finally disappeared, audience members would move on to the next video. The theatrical program given to audience members presented a suggested path that viewers could follow from one loop to the next, but the open space of the Drill [End Page 88] Hall also made more free exploration—or a partial viewing—possible. Each of the remaining film loops began with a panning camera, as if to set the scene, eventually revealing Blanchett’s character. She would then perform sections from various manifestos of an artistic movement—as if these words were a monologue delivered by the character she was portraying—eventually entering into the loud chant that could be heard across the entire hall, then completing the monologue. After her monologue concluded, the camera would pan away from Blanchett’s character as music played, giving the audience time to move to the next screen.

I attended Manifesto on the frigid night of January 6—exactly two weeks before the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the forty-fifth President of the United States. Although Rosefeldt created and first presented Manifesto in 2015, in 2017 it was impossible to read the manifestos outside of the immediate political moment. More crucially, this anachronistic and individualistic reading of the work was certainly an invited and central feature of Rosefeldt’s project, which demonstrated that—especially in the form of Blanchett’s diverse characters—these manifestos, written across the span of the twentieth century, remain startlingly present and alive. As Martin Puchner has argued in Poetry of the Revolution, even as written texts manifestos are inherently theatrical and performative; from the Communist Manifesto forward they have been speech-acts that attempt to call a new world of art and society into being. This is the sort of work Daniel Sack presented in his 2017 collection Imagined Theatres: Writing for a Theoretical Stage, in which performers, theorists, and scholars offer poems, dialogues, titles, descriptions, fictions, and imaginings, accompanied by “glosses” contextualizing these micro-theories of performance.

Blanchett’s virtuosity and specificity as an actor was on clear display with the thirteen radically different characters she portrayed throughout Manifesto. The second screen in the installation displayed the actress portraying a bearded homeless man, picking his way through a decrepit industrial landscape while uttering the mid...