Hito Steyerl

Film as essayistic collage is central to Steyerl’s works. She combines own recordings with scenes from Hollywood movies and documentary material in various works, operating within different rhythms and time intervals. Her films criticize an understanding of the documentary image as a bearer of history and authenticity and as an object of empathy and identification. In a time where imagery travels, is being reinterpreted, used and distributed more quickly than ever before, the image as document has lost its apparent authority as a witness. Simultaneously the documentation and communication of moments and situations has become common activity due to advances in technology. The image has itself become a restless and transitory object, ready for downloading, ripping, copying and recycling. Steyerl’s works are based on experimenting with the documentary as form within specific geographical, political and thematic limitations. She turns the instability of the images into an advantage and makes reinterpretable objects of them, thus discussing the political dimension of the image in our surroundings. Steyerl does not hide the director’s presence, she frequently stages herself in her films as an object among objects.

The catalogue experiment with the catalogue essay as form. The texts are more or less linked to each other, the authors were asked to relate to the previous text; forming a chain reaction. Pablo Lafuente was invited to write the first text, entitled “Two Ways to Read Film (and its Politics): Hito Steyerl, Sigmund Freud and Aristotle”. Lafuente enters into the relationship between the heroes of theatre and film and the viewer, and examines the relationship between identification and theatre, between fiction and truth in Steyerl’s movies; where authenticity and biographical details interchange in a role play of sorts, between the one watching the movie and the spectator within the movie itself. His point is that while there is nothing real in Steyerl’s movies, the real is always present in any given practice and that this practice may influence reality. Steyerl has answered with the manifesto “A Thing Like You and Me”. Here all heroes are done away with and the emancipatory desire to become a subject is pushed aside to favour the embracing of the object. Why not contemplate becoming an object? To be free of subjectivity’s demand for heroics and the illusion of the possibility of freedom, and become a thing?

The third author, Maria Muhle, was given the task to hitch onto the two previous texts, enter into a critical dialogue and expand the perspective. Muhle answered with the text “Notes on Documentary Realism”. Here Muhle looks at the historical realism seen from a literary and art historical perspective, whilst positioning the present day’s critical treatment of realistic devices in art, as well as in popular culture, in relation to this.

The result of this dialogue between the texts can be seen as a subtle and not always direct exchange where the works and their meaning are discussed on various levels. The texts’ underlying dialogue creates the possibility of a discussion of Steyerl’s project within a wider context, thus expanding the format of the exhibition.

Hito Steyerl (Onstad Art Centre)
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