Review: Julian Rosefeldt: In the Land of Drought, NGV (VIC)

Mem Capp

A surreal, visually arresting meditation on the future of our planet.
Review: Julian Rosefeldt: In the Land of Drought, NGV (VIC)

Installation view of Julian Rosefeldt: In the Land of Drought at NGV International. Photo: Tom Ross.

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Imagine sometime in the distant future when the predictions of climate change have come to pass, our present civilisation laying in ruins, like those from a distant past. Rusted machines and a gouged earth, relics of man’s war with the natural world, remind us of our own myopia – the ‘scars’ and ‘traces’ we have left behind.

In this 43-minute film, The Land of Drought (2015-17), the German film artist Julian Rosefeldt explores current concerns about environmental damage and climate change, creating a surreal meditation on the future of our planet.

The film, a condensed version of his original 2015 filmic interpretation of Joseph Haydn’s famous oratorio The Creation (1797–98), inverts the initial conceit of a genesis to create an ending to our present anthropocene epoch. A new musical score in which the slow repetitive hum and pulsating rhythm contrast with moments of crescendo supports the visual.

Structured around a loose narrative, figures clad in protective white clothing from head to foot swarm like ants over the abandoned ruins and strange desolate landscapes, exploring a world destroyed maybe millennia earlier. Perhaps they are distant relatives who have come back to gather information about a place no longer habitable: Rosefeldt leaves room for us to wonder. Drawing inspiration from the open-cut coal mines of industrial sites in the ravaged Ruhr region of Germany and abandoned film sets created for large biblical or historical films shot in the dry mountain ranges of Morocco, the artist has created a visually arresting and engaging experience.

Professor for Digital and Time-based Media at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, Rosefeldt is known for his large-scale video installations. Shot using a slow-moving drone that pans from distant birds-eye view to a lens that hovers just above the surface of the landscape, the changing vantage points give a strange sense of omniscience and otherworldliness. Through its eye, Rosefeldt draws our attention to the immense beauty of contrasting landscapes and structures: the textures, patterns and colours, despite their ruin. The slow pace of the lens allows us to contemplate a planetary devastation so massive that the natural cycle of renewal and decay is severed.

Acquired by the NGV International and showing until mid-September, this is an art experience worth taking the time to see. Although hidden at the back of gallery spaces on the third floor, the room is accessible by escalators and lift and rest rooms are convenient. The space itself is simply presented with a screen occupying the entire wall at one end with large comfortable cushions placed on the floor if you don’t wish to stand. The lack of standard seating may however inhibit some people from remaining for the entire length of the film.

4 stars out of 5 ★★★★

Julian Rosefeldt: In the Land of Drought
19 April-29 September 2019
NGV International, Melbourne VIC
Free admission

About the author

Mem Capp is a Melbourne artist and writer.