Friday, April 24, 2015

Hito Steyerl at Artists Space (Revision)

Dedicated to provoking discussion and experimentation, Artists Space has been a site for emerging artists since the 1970s, and is an apt location to showcase German artist and writer Hito Steyerl’s work that examines images and image politics today.

The viewer is first confronted by three vertical monitors emitting a red hue. Red Alert (2007) references Constructivist Alexander Rodchenko’s 1920s monochrome paintings and Homeland Security’s terror alert system. Steyerl exemplifies how the monochrome has been hijacked to provide an aesthetic means of policing the masses.

Red Alert, 2007  Photo Courtesy of Hito Steyerl

In the next room, a blue glow engulfs the space and a large screen stands in the middle of the area. A blue mat arches concavely upward from the screen, providing a space for viewers to sit inside the wave-like form. Liquidity Inc (2014) features Jacob Wood, a former investment banker, as he becomes a Mixed Martial Arts fighter. The collage-like layers of images in the film intertwine various concepts of liquidity such as economic and political climates, the adaptable quality of water, and the relationship between capital and the individual.

Liquidity Inc, 2014  Photo courtesy of ArtForum

Leaving the consuming blue light, a dark and narrow padded hallway feels confining and disorienting before opening to reveal the film Guards (2012). Former law enforcement officers, now security guards the Art Institute of Chicago, recount and reenact tactical maneuvers within the galleries. These guards, who often remain unnoticed, once risked their lives to keep the public safe and Steyerl’s film causes the one to pause and consider the frivolity of such high level security in a museum.

Guards, 2012  Photo Courtesy of Sleek Magazine

Steyerl’s work is art object, essay, film, and installation combined; immersing viewers and mimicking the reality of living within an abstract image-laden world. As postmodernism has infiltrated culture over the decades, the collapse of linear history has muddied the waters of perception and reality. Laced with undertones of conspiracy, Liquidity Inc. challenges the integrity of image replication and duplication and the ability to manipulate the public. Steyerl juxtaposes cultural symbols of wealth and greed with images of the common man, raising questions such as who is in charge and how power is used in contemporary society. 


  1. I love how you analysed the "Red Alert" work, getting right to the point. I think you should include more personal opinion regarding Steyerl's works. Your statements come across objectively when I think you may be wanting to express your own views. I want to know why you chose to review this exhibition. It is important that you stated that the works can be considered in relation to each other. Did you feel her works are successful or confusing? I found that I had to really pay attention and immerse myself mentally to get at what she was trying to convey. I understand what you're trying to get at by bringing up postmodernism, but I feel that you need to introduce the style of the work beforehand and specifically how it mirrors this collapse: her techniques, seemingly unrelated images, scenes, references all coalescing to create a narrative critique.

  2. Hi Jessica,
    Great review as usual. I missed the opportunity to see Hito Steyerl at Artists Space Exhibition but your review was elaborate and detail-oriented enough for me to visualize it successfully. I think the greatest strength to your review is that you allow the reader to be in a viewer’s perspective by guiding the exhibition step by step through different rooms. Not only this helps me to visualize the experience I may have when I see the work in real life, it naturally organizes the artworks in the way it was intended to be seen. While I cannot find something to evident to criticize, I do think you can expand on the elaboration of the pieces not only as what they were described on the paper, but as emotional impact the viewer might experience with the five senses. They are big installations, after all. Good work!