Hito Steyerl e-flux / Wilfried Lentz
New York, US / Rotterdam, NL
Commissioned by Aneta Szylak, Frederique Bergholtz, Henk Slager, Anton Vidokle, Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, Lisa Dorin, and Marta Kuzma and Massimiliano Gioni, e-flux
Art work by Hito Steyerl
- Designed by Studio Miessen
- Project Leader: Markus Miessen, Diogo Passarinho, Yulia Starsev
- Production Team: Josh Altman
- Photography by Hito Steyerl
The moment an image appears on a screen, a web of political relationships is not only reflected, but actively produced. This places the forces responsible for images at the very center of an ethics of production and reception. Hito Steyerl is an artist whose essays and artworks insist that this ethics is much more than a critical tool for explaining and decoding images, but actually serves to release the image, suspending it momentarily from political or economic imperatives to become the structure, content, and departure point for artistic subjectivity. From October 4 to December 21, 2012, e-flux presented Steyerl’s first solo exhibition in the US.
The exhibition premiered three new video works, Abstract, Adorno’s Grey, and Guards, and included her video essay from 2004, November. Legend has it that Theodor W. Adorno had the auditorium where he taught at the Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt painted grey to aid concentration. In Adorno’s Grey, a team of conservators burrow into the wall of this auditorium hoping to reveal the layer of grey paint beneath it. A voiceover recounts an incident in 1969 when, after three female students approached and bore their breasts to him during a lecture, Adorno collected his papers and ran away in a panic. This would be his last lecture. Abstract and Guards present very different scenarios in which the violence of warfare and the violence of aesthetics twist around each other. In Guards, interviews with museum guards in the US show how military tactics directly influence the methods used to secure works of art.
The two-channel video Abstract visits the site where Steyerl’s friend Andrea Wolf was killed in 1998, but through a prism that refracts cinematic language against the weapons that killed her friend. As the site and circumstances of her death fold into the act of witnessing it from a distance, the ethical burden of identifying those responsible also appears to live and die with the debris that still remains at the site of the helicopter attack. Andrea Wolf was killed in Kurdistan as a foreign revolutionary in the PKK, and Steyerl’s acclaimed 2004 video essay November opens with Andrea’s role as a charismatic protagonist in an amateur film made by the two friends when they were in their teens. From a fictional badass feminist vigilante to a martyr for the Kurdish cause, the memory of a dear friend forms the axis of a meta-narrative on the persistent proximity, and even expansion, of political violence in spite of the distancing effects of images.
Hito Steyerl is a filmmaker and writer. She teaches New Media Art at University of the Arts in Berlin. Steyerl has studied film at the Academy of Visual Arts in Tokyo, the University of Television and Film in Munich, and holds a PHD in philosophy from the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna. The most formative parts of her education, however, include working as a stunt-girl and bouncer. Steyerl’s work focuses on the intersection of media technology, political violence, and desire by using humor, charm, and reduced gravity as political means of expression. Her sources range from appropriated low-fi clips and sounds to mostly misquoted philosophical fittings. These elements are condensed in rambling essayistic speculation in both text and imagery. Through her oversensitivity to analogies, Steyerl both collects and creates stories describing realities that are stranger than fiction and reflects upon these in galloping thought experiments.
Her work has been exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions including documenta 12, Taipei Biennial 2010, and 7th Shanghai Biennial. Her written essays have proliferated more on- than offline in journals such as e-flux and eipcp. Hito Steyerl would like to thank Esme Buden and assistant Alwin Franke, Studio Miessen for the spatial design, Wyspa, If I can’t dance, 1st Tbilisi triennial, e-flux, and the Art Institute of Chicago for the production of the pieces as well as to Aneta Szylak, Frederique Bergholtz, Henk Slager, Anton Vidokle, Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, Lisa Dorin, and Marta Kuzma and Massimiliano Gioni for commissioning them, Tracy Parker, Kevan Jenson, Ben Thorp Brown, Vincent Grunwald, Nikolaus Hirsch, Leon Kahane, Maike Banaski, Anna-Victoria Eschbach, Selim Yildiz, Neman Kara, Christoph Manz, Ali Can, Tina Leisch Ottokarl Muck, and many others for realizing them, as well as Wilfried Lentz, Laura Hamann, Laura Barlow, and Josh Altman for the production of the exhibition.