Hito Steyerl is among the keenest observers of our thoroughly globalized, digitized condition. Her practice describes with uncommon precision the fluidity and mutability of images—how they are produced, interpreted, translated, packaged, transported, and consumed by a multitude of users. Most often, Steyerl’s art takes the form of video essays that comprise exhaustive research, montage, composite imagery, first-person voiceovers, and interviews. While her subjects vary widely, her work is consistently based on the premise that we are always implicated, consciously and unconsciously, in the stories that we tell. Hers is a documentary form that is emphatically transparent about its subjectivity and its uncertainty.
Presenting six new and recent video installations, this exhibition—the 28th installment of the Art Institute of Chicago’s focus series—is organized in conjunction with Hito Steyerl on view at e-flux, NY. The earliest work on view, November (2004), is a self-reflexive video that examines the role of images in the post-revolutionary moment, primarily through the figure of Andrea Wolf, a friend of the artist’s from her teenage years who eventually fought alongside Kurdish rebels. Steyerl tracks the increasingly unstable transformations of Wolf’s image following her death at the hands of the Turkish government. Lovely Andrea (2007) follows the artist’s quest to find a bondage photograph she posed for while in Tokyo as a film student. The film explores ideas of bondage and domination as they extend to self-identification, popular culture, and politics. In Free Fall (2010) similarly takes on questions of continuous circulation as Steyerl uses the story of a particular Boeing 707 to analyze the social relations enmeshed in processes of production, consumption, destruction, and reuse. Abstract (2012) is a return to the contested narrative of Wolf’s death with the artist traveling to Kurdistan in search of information about her friend's murder. The work links cinematic shooting and military warfare together, implicating Germany’s role in the operation. Adorno’s Grey (2012) expands outward from an infamous protest that took place during one of philosopher Theodor Adorno’s last lectures in 1969, wherein three female students bared their breasts amid widespread student demonstrations. In her most recent piece, Steyerl turns her focus to the overlapping structures of security and culture. Guards (2012) was shot on location at the Art Institute and features interviews with museum security personnel who have military backgrounds. Intermingled with new and found footage, the interviews explore the officers' experiences of protecting art and protecting the nation.