Hito Steyerl at Artists' Space

The exhibition of German artist, filmmaker, and theorist Hito Steyerl’s work at the Artists Space in Soho was unlike any I had ever seen before. One of the dominating reasons for the undeniable efficacy of the exhibition was the clear subjectivity with which the artist was allowed creative freedom to enhance the spaces the was offered by the organization: its gallery location on Greene Street as well as its bookstore and artist talk and lecture location of Walker Street. In both locations, the curatorial nature of the shows effectively and brazenly embodied what I imagine to be the artist’s ideal vision for the presentation of her works—perhaps an infrastructural remnant from the organization’s history of being a purely artist-run space upon its founding in 1972.

Given the conceptual nature of the works of Steyerl’s repertoire that were shown in this exhibition, Artists Space was the perfect venue for creating a space that somehow subverted viewers’ comfort in the expectations of the traditional gallery or art-viewing experience yet simultaneously created an extremely welcoming and unintimidating atmosphere—both attractively intimate yet also unambiguously public. In both the gallery location as well as the bookstore and talk location, the deliberately curated spaces invited viewers to engage with the pieces in ways that tempted the viewer’s private thoughts into a greater discursive consciousness (which I can only imagine echoed brilliantly in the discourse of the public programming surrounding her exhibition held by the organization earlier this month).

The most arresting of the pieces I viewed in the exhibition from either location was the screening of Liquidity Inc., a 2014 film created on the basis of “research conducted through interviews and the accumulation of found visual material, and move between forensic documentary and dream-like montage,” as the press release articulates. Given such a methodology of research that is fundamentally relatable—not only among the millennial generation that lives within the invisible infrastructure of the networked internet but within the context of integrating rich biographical histories within the same vein—the viewers cannot help but be completely entranced by the hypnotic visual and acoustic rhythms that embody Steyerl’s obsession (articulated in the film as a “nervous breakdown”) with this concept of liquidity, in all its physical, immaterial, and capitalistic forms.

Of course, credit for such an other-wordly experience is due at least in part to the unabashed installation of this piece: taking full advantage of the generous spaciousness of the main exhibition space of the Greene Street gallery location, the installation involved the construction of an eight-foot-tall pavilion structure covered in blue padding, shaped with an aesthetically graceful curvature that quite literally resembled the form of a liquid wave. Beneath this pavilion, large pillows—conveniently sized perfectly for two audience members (or one larger one) to settle beneath the wave and comfortably engross themselves in the hypnosis of the film. And to further embrace the audience in the magnetism of the piece, removing them from the spatial and psychosocial context of the outside world, a harsh blue light is cast throughout the entire room, effectively denying any comprehension of the time of day outside of the gallery and literally submerging viewers into the world of the artwork.