Hito Steyerl: This is the Future at the AGO

I am not from here.

My home is outer space.

I run through your veins.

I am liquidity incorporated.

Be water!

  • An extraterrestrial narrator in Liquidity Inc.

Red Alert, 2007. Installation view at the AGO 2019/2020

In 2007, Hito Steyerl declared the ‘end of video’: “It [has] reached its boundaries. What we see is not an image but the medium itself. The medium is an information filter and it influences our perception.” No longer able to portray ‘the real’, video is bereft of meaning. Through moving image works such as Red Alert and Duty Free Art, Steyerl injects the absent virtual space with speculation and experiment. Generated amidst the collective state of confusion – in place of determinate reality – is individual and collective agency.

Duty Free Art, 2015. Installation view at the AGO, 2019-20

Steyerl’s exhibition at AGO sprawls across the entirety of the building’s fifth floor and is a dynamic entanglement of videos, sculpture, multi-media works, planters, installation, and many more. One area of the space is flooded with deep pink lights; near this is an expansive room with black vinyl words racing across the walls; on the opposite end is an industrial installation with “benches,” which are actually huge block letters spelling “HELL; YEAH; FUCK; DIE.” Couched in between these areas are black-box screening rooms for some of Steyerl’s single-channel works as well.

Hell Yeah We Fuck Die, 2016, Video installation, environment, three-channel HD video file: 4 minutes, 35 seconds. Robots Today: Single-channel HD video file: 8 minutes, 2 seconds. Installation view at the AGO, 2019-20

Steyerl’s works are complex and some may even say undecipherable. However, what makes her a favorite among scholars and the general public alike is her ability to produce works that do not necessarily have to be theoretically dissected in order for them to be enjoyed. Of course, cultural theorists can and do perform research about Steyerl’s works, but a key thread in her works is the approachable intersection between pop culture, politics, and philosophy.

Free Plots, 2019, installation at the AGO.

Nevertheless, visitors may become frustrated while attempting to absorb dense works such as Duty Free Art, in which a recorded lecture and a montage of news articles and footages are coupled with a projection of a secondary montage against a large box of sand; or The City of Broken Windows, where a portion of the words on the walls states, “Should any window break, a painter will be called in for a secret ritual to paint a series of windows to replace the broken ones. These paintings are able to deflect taxation, destruction, and in some cases, have been said to avert actual death by way of mimetic magic.”

The City of Broken Windows, 2018. Installation view at the AGO, 2019-20

At the same time, however, what they will also encounter are clips of goofy 3D-rendered robots being abused in the Hell Yeah We Fuck Die installation; or the unusual seating arrangement to watch Liquidity Inc. Over the years, humour has been increasingly incorporated into Steryerl’s works, perhaps to increase approachability towards the works as well as the future.

Visitors watching Liquidity Inc., 2019, Video (color, sound; 30 min.) and architectural environment. Installation view at the AGO 2019-20

With this exhibition, Steyerl seems to have already deciphered the future for us. As the E.T. narrator suggests, we must become water! Fluid, iterative, and reflective. And it’s what This is the Future causes us to do, both physically and mentally; we can’t help but adapt not only our movements and postures to the installations, but also our minds to the dizzying and eclectic montages of images. Thanks to Steyerl, we are now ready for the future.

Text and photo: Sunny Kim

*Exhibition information: October 24, 2019 – February 23, 2020, Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas Street West, Toronto. Gallery hours: Tue & Thur, 10:30 am – 5 pm, Wed &  Fri, 10:30 am – 9 pm, Sat & Sun, 10:30 am – 5:30 pm.

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