Currently on view at both the Artist’s Space galleries and its bookstore at 55 Walker Street, Hito Steyerl is presenting a retrospective of recent work documenting the artist’s plotted political and economic topographies, video and sculptural works that make much of their gradual unveiling of socio-economic situations and environments.
Formerly trained as a documentary filmmaker, Steyerl’s work in recent years has evolved into a hybridized method of research, writing, video work and performance. Pulling from the tradition of late 20th Century Marxist strategies, the German artist works through diverse fields of research and practice to arrive at her final product, often centered around the tenuous connections of massive industrial bodies, economic institutions and other aspects of the secretive, ever-evolving machine of globalized capitalism.
At the center of her work at 38 Greene is Liquidity Inc., a documentary video focusing on Jacob Wood, a mixed martial arts professional and former financial analyst who lost his job following the economic collapse in 2008. Steyerl makes a number of broad, free-associative connections, from Internet and broadcasting aesthetics to the co-optation of Eastern mysticism and martial arts in pop culture, and particularly the hyper-masculine form of Mixed Martial arts combat. Examining Wood’s story, Steyerl seems to have found her perfect subject, one whose position at the juncture of multiple cultures allows a continuously reflexive exploration of fluidity across a range of political and cultural moorings.
Throughout each work, Steyerl’s investigations move much like her subject matter, free-associative, flowing lines of thought and financial circulation that have made the current state of global economics, art and politics so peculiar in their complexities. Its a fitting method, reflected by her broad series of subjects and locations from LA to Berlin, as well as her signifiers, incorporating references to YouTube auto-tuned memes and Walter Benjamin in the same breath. In each, the chosen subject matter works as a ground, allowing culturally relevant positions and broader metaphors of movement, to shift based on their use and execution as both personal and cultural access points.
At 55 Walker, Artists Space is presenting a series of older works by the artist, exploring subjects including weapons manufacturing, global freeports, mapping techniques, banking, and more, arranged around a series of viewing structures that parallel each work’s subject matter. Is the Museum a Battlefield, culls both the artist’s own video, documentation of research and the final lecture on her findings at the Istanbul Biennial, Steyerl traces connections (or mimicking her ballistic subject matter, “trajectories”) between the weapons design divisions at Siemens, Koc, and other major international holdings corporations and the capital given to events like the Istanbul Biennial itself, playfully dotting this intersection with her own observations and artistic embellishments, In one aside, for instance, she notes a Barbara Hepworth sculpture brought to her attention by an emailed press release, in which the diameter of the hole in the image exactly matched the diameter of the bullet she was about to photograph, or “shoot,” as she notes.
The works are almost exhausting in their thoroughness, and manage to underscore the continuously intertwining parallels of language, space, politics and money that serve as an unseen but very definitely detected aspect of the field in which Steyerl lives and works. There’s something almost clinical in this approach, even, something of an intuitive rooting out of connections that makes the underpinnings of global capital, and its intersections with the arts and culture, exceedingly visible. Any point in her work folds in on three others, and only through a dedicated working through of each element can a cohesive map emerge.
Given this perspective of swiftly moving political positions, cultural containers and bodily form, Steyerl seems intent on reducing all movement to its vectorial underpinnings, leaving a sense of space and self that is both constantly in flux and rigidly molecular, a fitting metaphor for our era, and one which may be a key to understanding and viewing our society in the 21st century.
— D. Creahan