17 JUNE – 7 AUGUST 2022

KÖNIG GALERIE presents PENUMBRA, an 85-minute film by Julian Rosefeldt in the NAVE of ST. AGNES.

What does the past of a distant future look like? A distant future to which humankind will be driven by the unleashed forces of neoliberal capitalism, climate change, and populism? Julian Rosefeldt’s 85-minute film PENUMBRA (2019–2022) is not a work of science fiction. Instead, it points to our current situation, albeit within a fictious framework that paves the way for a paradoxical enigma: who will we be when we are gone? The new work follows up on the 43-minute film IN THE LAND OF DROUGHT (2015–2017) – the condensed version of Rosefeldt’s filmic interpretation of Joseph Hayden’s oratorio The Creation. In a similar vein, PENUMBRA originates from a film work, planned as a visual backdrop for Robert Schumann’s oratorio, Scenes from Goethe’s Faust, at the opera houses in Antwerp, Ghent, and Montpellier.

For his two key works of German literature, Faust: A Tragedy, Part I and II (1808–1832), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe created a visionary protagonist in the scientist and entrepreneur Dr. Faust. As a character, Dr. Faust anticipated the great issues of our time: capitalism, post-colonialism, the exploitation of nature, and environmental disasters. For the oratorio, Schumann selected a few fragments of Goethe’s masterpiece to compose music for, and for Rosefeldt’s filmic adaptation, the artist fragmented Schumann’s romantic composition to use as a soundtrack.

Akin to IN THE LAND OF DROUGHT the new work PENUMBRA focuses on the notion of what happens »after us«. Looking back from a distant, imagined future upon the post-Anthropocene – the aftermath of significant human influence on our planet – the film addresses this problematic relationship between humans and their impact on Earth. Humankind appears to have left for good. A computer-generated visualization introduces us to their new territory, where they’re found trying their luck on a faraway planet, the desert plains congested with urbanization. But once again, failure prospers and only some frantically built space settlements seem to grant shelter. On the planet’s surface, abandoned megacities linger within the dystopian landscape whilst artificial circular plantations lurk at their peripheries, nourishing their last inhabitants.

The camera hovers meditatively over the desolate landscape and the ruined megapolises. Connoting surveillance, the satellite/drone/bird’s-eye view removes human perspective, keeping us onlookers at a distance. When writing Faust I, and especially Faust II, Goethe possessed a clairvoyant vision of our time. He foresaw the destructive power of greed, capitalism, and globalization, and simultaneously celebrated a utopian vision of a better world. Zooming in on this foresight, the searching camera abandons its reliance on computer-generated images to gradually reveal the remaining tenants of the barren landscape. Angles shift, perspectives enlarge, and extreme slow motion accentuates the movements of the raving youth, lost within their state of trance. A hint of optimism unfolds; their escape tentatively weighs against the threshold of their own extinction.

© Text Ellen Lapper
© Images Produced by Opera Ballet Vlaanderen,Co-produced by Fondazione In Between Art Film and Sammlung Wemhöner, Parts of the computer-generated segment were produced at the Animationsinstitut of Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg 



The Berlin-based artist Julian Rosefeldt (b. 1965 in Munich, Germany) studied Architecture in Munich and Barcelona (MA, 1994). He is internationally renowned for his visually opulent and meticulously choreographed moving image artworks, mostly presented as complex multi-screen installations. Inspired equally by the histories of film, art, and popular culture, Rosefeldt uses familiar cinematic tropes to carry viewers into surreal, theatrical realms, where the inhabitants are absorbed by the rituals of everyday life, employing humour and satire to seduce audiences into familiar worlds made strange. Rosefeldt holds a professorship of Media Ar...
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