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Julian Rosefeldt: Stunned Man / Trilogy of Failure (Part II), 2004

Humour and slapstick in Trilogy of Failure (Soundmaker and Stunned Man) are a logical consequence both of Rosefeldt's earlier work, and of the tradition and laws of humour itself: the careful observation and investigation of the mechanisms of life and everyday life reveals the sphere situated between society as a machine and dynamic life, and this sphere can only be represented in stories of failure. The mechanical element as the origin and agent of humour – this also holds true for Julian Rosefeldt's newer work. To the extent that Rosefeldt has de facto become a director of slapstick with his recent work Asylum (2001/02) and in particular Trilogy of Failure, the object of his work has also shifted. The paradox of irrational and mechanical forces in everyday life is no longer a means of reflexive criticism expected to illuminate the blueprint of society. Instead, every single element of the blueprint becomes a tool that produces certain actions and scenarios, which Rosefeldt now takes in the literal sense. In doing so, he creates consistent universes of images, highly metaphorical and symbolically overburdened, but also of a mechanical sobriety which insists on their precise, academic experimental arrays. The scenarios thus created no longer draw their aesthetic and dramaturgic force from “worldly”, discursive elements, but are complete autopoetic systems which produce and reproduce their own elements. The formal “framework” of the system is the stage. If a stage appears as the scene not of theater, but of a video installation, it becomes an even more impressive metaphor, a likeness and laboratory for symbolic life-worlds: living rooms that stand for “accommodating yourself”, workplaces that stand for social role images. What distinguishes them from the theater is the camera, which permits the introduction of a further level of reflection between the events on stage and the viewer, a level which the theater does not permit in this way: the instance of observation. In Trilogy of Failure, the stage scenarios turned tableaux vivants are ultimately connected to the camera's line of vision, creating a closed, controlled universe of onion-like structure, places next to the protagonist his alter ego, and next to both the first-order observer in the shape of a horizontal camera, and above these the secondorder observer in the shape of a vertical camera perspective, and so on. This is reminiscent not least of the structure of films such as The Truman Show or the first movie of the Matrix series: each universe of perception is enclosed in itself and appears as a complete reality. However, what is purposely absent in Rosefeldt's construct of camera realities is suspicion and desire for knowlerdge, escape from Plato's allegorical cave and the TV containers – his work embraces the principle: the system is the system is the system. By using the stage as the scene of selfreproducing systems, Rosefeldt takes the opposite road from many theater directors and performance artists of the past decades, who repeatedly rebelled against the “fourth wall” and in doing so made suspicion, in the place of illusion, the fetish of a projective realism. Rosefeldt, in contrast, closes off the stage, seals it, turns it into an autonomous space. (In formal terms, the closed loop has been the preferred tool in the video art of the past decade to produce this effect of a metaphorical “autonomous space”). Only an inkling of this can be discerned in Asylum; although the work has an autonomous framework, its content remains built on everday and political stereotypes which, as the external precondition of the events on stage, are not yet incorporated into these events – the snake has not yet bit its tail. The characters of Trilogy of Failure, on the other hand, the Soundmaker and the Stuntman (stunned man), create this state; they are the truly auto-nomous “inhabitants” of their selfcreated world, a system defined by the body and the feedback of its senses (which are therefore agents of the system). Niklas Luhmann describes the process as follows: “The selfobserver carries out what he observes, and that is his reality. There are no more external criteria.” Absurdity is often expressed not least in amazement, amazement at the fact that something works at all, although all probability contradicts reality: the battle of the protagonists of Trilogy of Failure for and against the machine vs. life is not only a clownish Sisyphus story. Beyond and above clownish humour, the work also expresses the kafkaesque and absurd dimension of the Sisyphus myth. The familiarity of the clown and the uncanniness of the godly and the bureaucratic are in balance, so that in the end, there really is no story anymore. The stage turned autonomous as an autopoietic system tells the mythical story of Sisyphus devoid of content, as a completely empty structure – a story of the balance of powers, the balance of the co-dependent, contradictory energies of destruction and creation. One might almost discern a hint of imported Asian philosophy. However, the story which the tableaux vivants of Trilogy of Failure are really telling as systems is no more and no less than the story of the stability of each and every system, the story of the mutually dependent antagonism of life, which wants to break out of its bounds, and the mechanical forces, which want to become a machine. Text: Anselm Franke

Co-produced by Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Hauptstadtkulturfonds Berlin and Rumi Verjee