October 4–January 5, 2012
Opening: Thursday, October 4, 7–9pm
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 12–6pm
Book launch: Hito Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen
co-published by Sternberg Press and e-flux journal
Sunday, September 30, 2pm
NY Art Book Fair, MoMA PS1
Hito Steyerl and Franco “Bifo” Berardi in conversation
Thursday, November 15, 7pm at e-flux
311 East Broadway
New York, NY 10002
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 is proud to present Steyerl’s first solo exhibition in the US. The exhibition will premiere two new video works, Abstract and Adorno’s Grey, and include 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 burrows 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 presents a scenario in which the violence of warfare and the violence of aesthetics twist around each other. The two-channel video 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 studied film at the Academy of Visual Arts in Tokyo, the University of Television and Film in Munich, and holds a Ph.D 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 reflected upon 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.
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The Wretched of the Screen Hito Steyerl
The Wretched of the Screen collects a number of Steyerl’s landmark essays from recent years in which she has steadily developed her very own politics of the image.
September 2012, English
10.8 x 17.8 cm, 200 pages, 24 b/w ill., softcover
Design by Jeff Ramsey, cover design by Liam GillickSource: e-flux
Memorials, Along With Some Mischief
Hito Steyerl Has New York Solo Debut at e-flux
The New York solo debut of the Berlin-based artist and writer Hito Steyerl at e-flux is one of the best gallery shows of the season. Ms. Steyerl works primarily in video, but defines the medium broadly to include documentary, staged history, what look like found film images and the near-equivalent of home movies.
The earliest of the three videos here, “November,” from 2004, begins with clips from a film that Ms. Steyerl made when she was 17. In it she and a childhood friend, Andrea Wolf, play ninja revolutionaries, assaulting bad guys with scowls, sexy punk outfits and karate chops. A voice-over by Ms. Steyerl tells us that Wolf eventually became a real armed revolutionary in the Kurdish liberation movement and died near the Iraqi border in 1998, probably executed by the Turkish Army.
But we don’t get all the information in this order. Chunks are missing, or plugged in odd places, interspersed with what look like outtakes from commercial spy films. Is an assassination by gunshot to the head lifted from a teenage lark, a B-movie or a news report? Shuffling reality and fiction is Ms. Steyerl’s mode, and we encounter it again in a short new two-channel video called “Abstract.”
This is a more straightforward memorial tribute to Wolf, measured, even stately, without the elaborate, quick-cut indirections of the earlier piece. On one screen we see Ms. Steyerl visiting the bleak site where her friend died. Accompanied by a Kurdish guide, she sifts through clothing from a mass grave and examines ammunition casings. On the other screen she’s in Berlin taking cellphone pictures of an office of Lockheed Martin, manufacturer of assault weapons sold by the German government to the Turkish Army.
The paired images read clearly as reflective gestures of mourning and indictment. Yet there’s no sense that Wolf’s story has been resolved, that her spirit has been laid to rest. We still have no idea how she arrived at that desolate place, or what role she conceived herself as playing there, or whether, in Ms. Steyerl’s view, she died a hero or in vain.
The third video is equally questioning and unanswering, although with a lighter, or at least less personal, subject. Titled “Adorno’s Grey” and made this year, it comes close to presenting radical politics as farce. Entirely staged, it’s set at the Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt in the lecture hall where the philosopher and social critic Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969) once taught and where, according to legend, he had the walls painted gray to induce student concentration.
In the unsettled 1960s Adorno was first embraced as a leftist thinker and then accused of using his teaching to discourage anti-establishment activism. At a lecture in 1969 three of his female students, in what was intended as a liberating intervention, bared their breasts in class and showered him with flower petals. He left the hall abruptly, never returned, and died soon afterward.
In Ms. Steyrel’s film, projected across a stack of upright panels that create a broken surface, we watch two contemporary art conservators in lab coats chipping away at the lecture hall walls in search of a layer of that mythical gray. As they work, a woman’s voice delivers a joking account of the disrupted class and Adorno’s reaction. Then, after a pause, a man describes how he carried a book by Adorno as a symbolic shield in a recent political demonstration and, through this seemingly absurdist gesture, succeeded in confounding the riot police.
Here as elsewhere, Ms. Steyerl refuses to nail down a single idea, or insist on a point of view. Instead, we get art — her video — as an act of moral thinking-in-progress. In a very of-the-moment, digital-age way, the logic of that thinking is fractured, the nature of morality suspect. But a belief in the necessity of thinking, restlessly, politically, never is in doubt.
A larger show of the artist’s work is on view at the Art Institute of Chicago through Jan. 27. A book of her essays, “Hito Steyerl: The Wretched of the Screen,” was published this fall by Sternberg Press in Berlin and e-flux in New York. Both are important.
Hito Steyerl continues through Jan. 5 at e-flux, 311 East Broadway, at Grand Street, Lower East Side; (212) 619-3356, e-flux.com.
Visitors to Hito Steyerl’s latest exhibition are greeted by the heady smell of a brand new carpet, which has been laid across e-Flux as part of her installation Adorno’s Grey, 2012, one of three works on view. The other two works on view—the video November, 2004, and two-channel video Abstract, 2012—posit a dynamic, intertwining relationship between political violence and mediated representation. In Adorno’s Grey, a similar set of paired concepts is at stake: direct action and theory.
Along with the carpet, which is indeed gray, this installation comprises several photo panels, a single-channel video projected onto angled screens (also gray), and a (gray) wall text featuring a time line of milestones in student unrest as well as key moments inTheodor Adorno’s life. The photographs and video depict a lecture hall in which two conservators chip away at white paint and plaster. Adorno taught in this room, and he is said (though the tale may be apocryphal) to have had the hall painted in order to aid students’ concentration; one conservator explains that they are searching for his long-hidden layer of gre\ay paint. By transforming e-Flux from a white cube into an aromatically gray room, Steyerl reenacts Adorno’s gesture.
One of Adorno’s last lectures in this gray hall was disrupted when three female student activists approached the German philosopher with breasts bared. Here, Steyerl’s video seems to suggest a confrontation between irreconcilable positions: on one side, the professor with his belief in an autonomous space for theory; on the other, the student body with its embrace of messy direct action, even in the classroom. After setting out this opposition, Steyerl goes on to complicate it, suggesting that theory can itself be an instrument of direct action. The video concludes with an interview in which an activist, off-camera, explains his participation in Book Bloc, a tactical protest group whose members fend off riot police during demonstrations by wielding books as shields. The volume he carries? Adorno’s Negative Dialectics.
Hito Steyerl at e-flux
Abstract, one of three pieces in Hito Steyerl’s solo exhibition at e-flux, shows the artist’s visit to the deathplace of a friend. As an eyewitness plainly recounts the evening slaughter, he points out the remains of Andrea Wolf and some 40 other insurgents shot dead by the Turkish Army in Kurdistan. On the adjacent screen, Steyerl shoots the facades of German monuments with her phone. Doing so exposes the material origin for the killing (Turkey is a second market for German arms) and connects the languages of cinema with combat (the shot > countershot; an image becomes a target between crosshairs). As Steyerl acts as both editor and the woman with the movie camera (for her short discussion of Vertov, go here), the exhibit explores an area of overlapping influence between subject and object; aptly, one of her pieces is entitled Adorno’s Grey.
Journalist and PKK revolutionary Andrea Wolf is an ever-present proof of synthesis in the show. In November, we see a young Wolf as a leader of a motorcycle gang (that includes Steyerl) in a Russ Meyer homage. In Steyerl’s films, builds happen, not sequences: someone discusses the usage of Costa-Gavras’ State of Siege as a training film for young terrorists. See them kidnap, plant bombs, and evade authorities; learn that the film was based on first-hand, real-life accounts of resistance behavior. These films of bad-assery first appear as templates to turn an internal sense of (in)justice into action. They grow into an entangled relationship of images and events that map the formation and remembrance of Wolf’s conscience. We may not know her details, but we have a sense of her motivation.
Rather than a fixed object affecting a relative subject or vice versa, Adorno strongly believed in the intertwined nature of subject and object, and that any action or change took place in their relationship. In Adorno’s Grey, holes in the wall are leftover from attempts to discover the mythologized color of Adorno’s lecture hall in Frankfurt. This is the only work in the show that includes physical installation: the civilized surfaces, along with a timeline of world events and Adorno milestones, preface the voiceover and film. It’s also the only work in which the artist doesn’t appear, and it seems strangely at odds with Adorno’s proposed fluidity and the layered coherence of Abstract and November. Those works privileged relationships over separation and celebrated an eidos of a life or work that, while formed through a series of discrete events, can finally be viewed only in summary.