EXHIBITION GUIDE


Nobody imagined that this exhibition and so many others would have to be closed off to the public. That the works so carefully chosen and placed in each room would be abandoned to the solitude of a closed gallery. That the screens and beamers would be switched off in the exhibition spaces for weeks and weeks.


Harun Farocki and Hito Steyerl’s works were always conceived to live, to circulate and to infuse energy into any viewer, no matter how casual the observer. Their images are now facing a reality in which preventative distances from the material world and between us are more exaggerated than ever. This emergency regime – in which images are nonetheless available but lack the human component that appears whenever a visitor approaches the monitor, whenever a gallery-goer stands in front of the wall onto which images are projected – offers a new life, a new modality for art consumption. It is the time to consider our own reactions, thoughts and comments as part of the work. In both cases, Harun and Hito devised in advance a kind of work with images in which the human presence was already vanishing, and yet the discursive impact would be progressively assumed as part of the work. This is one of those moments when we catch up with what artworks had already envisioned: the art of the end of the world.


– Antje Ehmann and Carles Guerra, co-curators

To enquire about the artists or works featured in this exhibition, please contact us:

 

However, in this moment we come across a different version of what being human means. This is what we can learn from Harun Farocki and Hito Steyerl. How to be better humans after operational images have taken over the world, which before was dominated by humans. How to survive a reality in which we no longer trust the world we see and experience at a remote distance. And how to experience a decent enjoyment of art in a dramatic situation that would normally exclude such a priority. It is still possible that the kind of art Harun Farocki and Hito Steyerl have come to represent will help us to get away. We want to insist. As we already wrote weeks ago for a wall text introducing this exhibition, ‘When there is no hope for a better world their images open up a crack. Call it the pragmatism of the hopeless.’

 

– Antje Ehmann and Carles Guerra, co-curators

 

Revered as pioneers in the fields of documentary film and new media art across two generations, the artists’ expansive video installations interrogate organisational power structures, divisions of labour and the kaleidoscopic images that permeate contemporary society. 

We invite the audience to immerse themselves in the works of Harun Farocki and Hito Steyerl, to spend time with and to explore the artists’ questions and doubts, their curiosities and anxieties; their investigations into the worlds between the analogue and the digital, between human labour and the labour of machines, between the worlds of capitalist exploitation and financial accumulation.


– Antje Ehmann

Hito Steyerl, Strike (2010)
Single channel HD digital video, sound, flat screen mounted on two free-standing poles; 28 seconds

HITO STEYERL, Strike (2010)

Single channel HD digital video, sound, flat screen mounted on two free-standing poles; 

28 seconds

Steyerl’s short film Strike (2010) is the visual enactment of a pun, playing on the varied meanings of ‘strike’ as ‘to hit’ or as an organised refusal to work by a group of employees to protest working conditions. The work references Sergei Eisenstein’s well-known silent film of the same name from 1925, which details a factory workers’ strike in pre-revolutionary Russia and its violent suppression. In Steyerl’s film, the action is confined to the single strike of a chisel against a flat-screen, producing colourful ‘fractures’ that draw attention to the materiality of the viewing apparatus. In this way, the starkly imperative word that appears on the screen and its deceptively simple re-enaction encompasses a multitude of references.

 

The highest duty of theory and art is to grasp and articulate their own time. In our time, Hito Steyerl fulfils this duty like nobody else. Her investigations of the fate of images and words in the age of their global circulation are always focused and precise – but also adventurous, unexpected, and fascinating.

– Boris Groys, 2017

 

To enquire about the artists or works featured in this exhibition, please contact us:

Harun Farocki, Comparison via a Third (2007)
Double channel installation, sound, colour; 24 minutes

HARUN FAROCKI, Comparison via a Third (2007)

Double channel installation, sound, colour; 24 minutes

In Comparison via a Third (2007), Farocki explores the concept of labour by comparing the different conditions and stages of brick production in traditional, newly developed, and highly industrialised societies in India, Africa and Europe. Forming the literal foundations of our society, bricks become emblematic of broader social issues. Initially mapping out a linear progression towards increasingly automated, ‘perfected’ manufacturing, the sequence is later interrupted by images that undermine this reading, calling into question the traditional notion of progress. Farocki uses the devices of split screen, montage and repetition to suggest relationships between images, but leaves these open to interpretation by viewers, who are positioned as an active, ‘third’ point of comparison and invited to draw their own conclusions.

 

Over more than four decades, Farocki produced an extraordinary body of work that, for someone who continuously compared things, situations, and images to one another, is paradoxically incomparable. In all he did, he kept it simple, clear, and grounded. In cinematic terms: at eye level. His legacy spans generations, genres, and geographies. And the abundance of ideas and perspectives in his work does not cease to inspire.

It trickles, disseminates, perseveres.

– Hito Steyerl, 2014

 

Labour in a single shot (2011– )

A project by Antje Ehmann and Harun Farocki in cooperation with the Goethe Institut

A selection of 10 films from 10 cities 

Labour in a single shot (2011– )

ANTJE EHMANN and HARUN FAROCKI

in cooperation with the Goethe Institut

A selection of 10 films from 10 cities

 

Labour in a Single Shot is an ongoing collaborative project initiated in 2011 by the late Harun Farocki and his partner, curator Antje Ehmann, organising video production workshops in 15 cities worldwide. Local collaborators were tasked with investigating the subject of labour – paid and unpaid, material and immaterial, traditional and new – in short videos of one to two minutes, taken in a single, continuous shot without any cuts. These formal limitations have resulted in short films of great ingenuity, using other creative devices to create narrative, and raise essential questions not only about the role of labour in society but also the filmmaking process itself. All of the films produced to date are archived in a web catalogue and a selection of 10 films from 10 cities – Bangalore, Boston, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Hangzhou, Hanoi, Johannesburg, Lodz, Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro – are included here, forming a microcosm of the globalised world.

Hito Steyerl, November (2004)
Single channel digital video, sound; 25 minutes, 19 seconds

Steyerl’s November (2004) and Lovely Andrea (2007) form part of a trilogy with Abstract (2012), each relating to her teenage friendship with Andrea Wolf, who was killed by the Turkish police in 1998 following her arrest as a member of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), a militant separatist group. Wolf has since become an icon of martyrdom, displayed on Kurdish protest posters, which Steyerl draws upon in these films to consider the ongoing circulation and transformation of Wolf’s image in the popular imagination.

 

HITO STEYERLNovember (2004)

Single channel digital video, sound; 25 minutes,19 seconds

November was prompted by Steyerl’s discovery of Wolf’s image on a Kurdish protest poster among pornographic ones at a cinema and opens with fight-scene footage from Steyerl’s first film, made during her teens and starring Wolf as a feminist vigilante. As Steyerl’s voiceover explains, the title refers to ‘the time after October, a time when revolution seems to be over’, and she uses fragments of found footage to trace the path of Wolf’s lifetime radicalisation, as well as the politicised afterlife of her image.

 

Hito Steyerl, Lovely Andrea (2007)

Single channel digital video, colour, sound; 29 minutes, 43 seconds

HITO STEYERL, Lovely Andrea (2007)

Single channel digital video, colour, sound; 29 minutes, 43 seconds

Commissioned by documenta, Lovely Andrea records Steyerl’s search for a lost photograph of herself as a shibari bondage model, taken under the pseudonym ‘Andrea’ while studying at the Japan Academy of Moving Images in Tokyo, a quest that leads her back to Japan and the bondage industry. The resulting film combines documentary footage, images of Wolf and superhero clips to explore the wider implications of the term ‘bondage’ and the intersections of role-playing, staging, pornography, exploitation, freedom and self-expression.

 

Hito Steyerl, The Tower (2015)

Three channel video installation, environment, HD video, colour, sound; 8 minutes

HITO STEYERL, The Tower (2015)

Three channel video installation, environment, HD video, colour, sound; 8 minutes

Steyerl’s immersive installation The Tower (2015) focuses on the making of the video game Skyscraper: Stairway to Chaos by the Ukrainian company Ace3D, based on Saddam Hussein’s unrealised plans to reconstruct the Tower of Babel in Babylon, the ancient capital that he began rebuilding in the 1980s. Part of an origin myth explaining the development of different languages, the Tower of Babel has come to symbolise the hubris of humans aspiring to godliness and the chaos resulting from an inability to communicate. As the game developer describes in voiceover, the Skyscraper is a contemporary analogue to the Tower that connects to other dimensions, much as Steyerl’s film merges the virtual with reality. Precariously situated in a conflict zone, which he describes as a ‘1 km ride by tank’ from the Russian border, the developer explains how he has become part of a global network of technology firms, remotely contracted by European companies who outsource labour to cheaper economies, drawing attention to the physical labour underpinning digital culture.

 

As Zachary Small observes in his review of her Park Avenue Armory show, ‘An oracle of our end times, Steyerl is a crucial voice in a chorus of critics seeking to untangle the problems of contemporary culture. Meandering through the artist’s milieu of dystopias … one gets the sense that she is weaving together a 21st-century global tapestry.’ The installation for The Tower is adapted for each environment, but includes a red felt platform with futuristic red chairs, immersing the viewer in an alternate space that feels removed from reality. 

 

Harun Farocki, Two Paths (1966)
Video, 16 mm, b/w; 3 minutes

Farocki’s early short film Two Paths (1966) was made for Sender Freies Berlin television in 1966, and has never before been shown in an exhibition. It can be considered a predecessor of The Silver and the Cross (2010), also on view, as both films use the formal device of dissecting visual details to reveal the essential elements of an image and its broader significance.

HARUN FAROCKI, Two Paths (1966)

Video, 16 mm, b/w; 3 minutes

The first film Farocki ever produced, Two Paths was originally made for Sender Freies Berlin television in 1966 and, long thought lost, was recently re-discovered and restored. This work prefigures his later two-channel video work, The Silver and the Cross (2010), as the first instance in which Farocki uses the movement of the camera to perform a minute iconographical analysis of an artwork. His meandering close-ups of a tableau found in the offices of a religious sect in Kreuzberg, Berlin are accompanied by a rhyming voiceover that playfully underscores the themes of the drawing. A pictorial representation of Christian morality, the drawing depicts the divergent paths to heaven or hell, along with detailed vignettes describing the virtuous or immoral activities that might send one along either path. Farocki’s dissection of the image reveals the complicity of visual representation in systems of morality and social constructs; at its core, Two Paths is about how to read images, the hidden assumptions or meanings they may reveal, and their role within a larger cultural and political sphere.

 

Harun Farocki, The Silver and the Cross (2010)

Video, double projection, colour, sound; 17 minutes (loop)

HARUN FAROCKI, The Silver and the Cross (2010)

Video, double projection, colour, sound; 17 minutes (loop)

In The Silver and the Cross (2010), Farocki uses the movement of the camera to perform a minute iconographical analysis of Gaspar Miguel des Berrío’s painting Depiction of the Cerro Rico and the Imperial City of Potosí (1758). As Thomas Elsaesser describes, the camera ‘follows the winding paths and tracks, making us part of the different crowds depicted, wandering peripatetically up and down the silver mountain, as if the painting was an installation and we film viewers were also gallery visitors’ (Elsaesser, e-flux, 2014). These meandering close-ups of the painting are intercut with contemporary footage of Potosí, Bolivia, to develop a discourse on European colonisation and the labour structures that still persist. Farocki describes how ‘the Spaniards brought the cross and they took the silver’, exploiting the rich mineral deposits of the Cerro Rico (rich mountain) and the local workforce, who continue to work the silver mines to this day. ‘As the deadpan voice-over explains, the canvas depicts Potosí as a bustling and vibrant city full of commerce, public squares, residential and religious buildings, and ceremonial processions. It highlights the complex system of waterworks that was developed to produce sufficient energy to pulverize the big rocks from the mines, as well as the piles of crushed ore mixed with mercury (the amalgamation compound for the production of silver) neatly arranged alongside the processing mills. But nowhere in the painting can the probing camera find any sign of the enormous exploitation of the indigenous population by the Spanish. Not even the entrances to the mines are represented. Once again, Farocki finds that key historical details, the ones that generated the city’s wealth and very existence, are absent’ (Nora M. Alter, October, 2015). Farocki’s analysis reveals the complicity of visual representation with certain forms of exploitation, which he implies continue to this day, albeit in different forms.

 

Harun Farocki, Workers Leaving the Factory in 11 Decades (2006)
Video installation for 12 monitors, video in b/w & colour, sound; 36 minutes (loop)

HARUN FAROCKI, Workers Leaving the Factory in 11 Decades (2006)

Video installation for 12 monitors, video in b/w & colour, sound; 36 minutes (loop)

Displayed simultaneously across twelve monitors, Farocki’s Workers Leaving the Factory in Eleven Decades (2006) opens with footage from one of the first films ever made: La Sortie de l’usine Lumière à Lyon (1895), in which the Lumière brothers recorded workers leaving their family factory in Lyon. As Farocki explains, ‘In cinematography, perception and concept diverge. Indeed history’s first film … shows a building that doesn’t look like a factory at all. It looks more like a farm. When it comes to social conflict, the show place “in front of a factory”, is very significant; when it comes to a private life of a film’s character, which really only begins after work, the factory is relegated to the background. In Fritz Lang’s Clash by Night (1952), one sees Marilyn Monroe on the assembly line, coming out of the factory, and one hears her talking about it. But the existence of factories and movie stars are not compatible. A movie star working in a factory evokes associations of a fairy tale in which a princess must work before she attains her true calling. Factories – and the whole subject of labour – are at the fringes of film history.’ Usually the backdrop to a character’s narrative arc, factories and the whole subject of labour are brought to the fore in Farocki’s work.

 

In this work, Farocki has compiled a filmic record that spans eleven decades, from the birth of cinema to the new millennium. August and Louis Lumière’s 1895 film is followed by excerpts from Gabriel Veyre’s Sortie de la Briquetterie Meffre et Bourgoin à Hanoi (1899); unattributed footage from the Moscow National Film Archive; D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916); Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926); Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936); Slátan Dudow’s Frauenschicksale (1952); Michelangelo Antonioni’s Il Deserto Rosso (1964); Jacques Willemont’s La Reprise du travail aux usines Wonder (1968); Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s Trop tot, trop tard (1981); elkosta’s Durchfahrtssperre DSP (1987); and Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark (2000). As Farocki explained, ‘The work structure synchronises the workers, the factory gates group them, and this process of compression produces the image of a work force. As may be realised or brought to mind by the portrayal, the people passing through the gates evidently have something fundamental in common. Images are closely related to concepts, thus this film has become a rhetorical figure.’


Workers Leaving the Factory in Eleven Decades is related to an earlier, single-channel video work from 1995, entitled Workers Leaving the Factory, which evolved a decade later into the 12-screen video installation.

Harun Farocki, Repouring (2010)

Single channel installation, colour; 20 minutes (loop)

HARUN FAROCKI, Repouring (2010)

Single channel installation, colour; 20 minutes (loop)

In Re-Pouring (2010), Farocki references Tomas Schmit’s performance Cycle for Water Buckets (or Bottles), which he witnessed in Amsterdam on 18 December 1963. For the performance, the Fluxus artist knelt on the floor encircled by milk bottles and, moving clockwise, poured water from one into the next until it had all spilled or evaporated.

 

As Farocki described, ‘The action evaded symbolism… it had no vital quality. It was akin to a Beckett play in the simplicity of its conclusiveness. Despite the uniformity of the event, there was a development; the anti-action found an end on its own initiative.’ In Farocki’s reinterpretation, each of the seven bottles is individually displayed in vertical format, emphasising the repetitiveness of Schmit’s ritual action. In place of the artist, the action is performed by a robot, signifying the automation of work processes previously executed by humans. Farocki’s version of the action is completed in approximately 20 minutes, as the imperfect dexterity of the robot arm means much of the water is spilled while pouring; there is a hidden irony in the fact that, despite advances in technology, the mechanised replacement is less precise than human hands.