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Television in the Form of a Pill: Julian Rosefeldt's image atlas

Sometimes a face from a soap opera can look like a painting by Caravaggio: in his work, Julian Rosefeldt, born in 1965, archives and analyzes television series and news programs and combines them to form a universal language. In his photographs of the Oktoberfest, the artist depicted daily rituals as local folklore, while his new film "Asylum" is a commentary on the media clichés surrounding foreigners and migration. Harald Fricke visited the artist and talked to him about the power of television images and the culture of similarity.

Julian Rosefeldt: Global Soap from „Mnemories / Samples,
2001 © Julian Rosefeldt

The director of the Goethe Institute in New Zealand took it with humor. When Julian Rosefeldt asked her to participate in his new project, she sent him a bar of soap - it was, after all, a bit of " daily soap" Rosefeldt had asked her for. What followed were the video tapes that comprise the installation Global Soap, which was shown in 2001 at Künstlerhaus Bethanien , among other places. A series of continually changing close-up s, camera angles, and sequences depict scenes from a variety of TV series produced all over the world. Eyes wide open, faces tense with worry, a global ballet of body languages that seem identical in all societies, whether they're Islamic, Western, or Asian. With Global Soap, Rosefeldt evidently found the ideal matrix for portraying television as a surface that unifies everything, "even with a completely different moral idea prevailing in the various countries."

For almost ten years now, Rosefeldt has been collecting media imagery, filtering out its common categories, ordering it, and reassembling it into room-sized video and sound installations. In 1997, he created the work Detonation Deutschland together with Piero Steinle for the exhibition Deep Storage, which was shown at Munich's Haus der Kunst. The viewer was literally sucked into a long tunnel of projection screens showing churches, water towers, and houses being blown up - only to find himself right in the middle of the rubble of post-war Western Germany.

Piero Steinle / Julian Rosefeldt: Detonation Deutschland, 1996
©Steinle / Rosefeldt

"During this time," Rosefeldt recalls, "the principle of the typological series had become a method for me. You pick out a detail and reveal phenomena that span an entire chapter of history."

In Detonation Deutschland, this chapter was the way in which post-war Germany handled the ruins of its own past. Later, in 1998, News constituted the first inventory of television: "If you explore the archives of the broadcasting companies, you can find a tremendous number of images portraying identical sequences of catastrophes or politicians shaking hands. It's no different with the non-reports, such as the periodic 'traffic jams rolling south.' News coverage is a stalwart sequence of repetitions; each day, it follows the same preconceived dramaturgy in which the top stories of war and violence initially unsettle the viewer, followed by unemployment statistics and then, as a happy end, the first sunny days of spring or a cute new baby animal in the zoo."

Julian Rosefeldt & Piero Steinle: News, 1998
©Rosefeldt / Steinle

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