Magazine article Artforum International

Julian Rosefeldt: Max Wigram

Magazine article Artforum International

Julian Rosefeldt: Max Wigram

Article excerpt

Julian Rosefeldt's four-screen installation (Super 16-mm film transferred to DVD) The Ship of Fools, 2007, at first seems a kind of study in art history or visual culture. It features a stock of unmistakable European Romantic motifs, references to landscape painting that double as stereotypical cinematic mise-en-scenes (a moonlit forest at night, early morning mist rising off a lake, and so on), and symbols signposting German political history. However, what initially looks vaguely sociological ends up reading as more broadly structural and philosophical--an excavation of existential preoccupations.

Projected side by side, the four looped sequences start and end simultaneously. On the left, a forest (shown by production stills in another room to be a single old oak ringed by wooden fencing, while the moon is shown to be a colossal lighting rig) is overrun by a pack of German shepherds, whose baying and yelping provide a continuous accompaniment to the installation. The adjacent scene is set in a woodland pond at twilight. A man walks into the shot, removes his upper garments, and wades out into the middle distance: shades of Ludwig of Bavaria's suicide in Visconti's 1972 biopic--except that here, the (possible) suicide victim is a burly, bald-headed individual whose shoulders and back display a fascist-looking spread eagle and Iron Cross tattoo.

Beside this is a more intricately edited sequence. It opens with a close-up on a generic-looking Symbolist landscape painting hanging in a superficially palatial but actually rather shabby interior, where a young opera singer in white satin and pearls is performing a Wagnerian aria to a small audience. A wipe transition introduces another scene, a lakeside shrouded in mist (or smoke-machine fog), where a Caspar David Friedrich--esque figure, solitary and clad in vaguely nineteenth-century garb (boots, a wide-brimmed hat, and a flowing coat) walks beside a lake and poses with an eagle on his raised arm. …

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