Dan Munn – 24 March, 2014
In 'Liquidity Inc.' the artist's voraciously decadent melding of forms runs at full steam in an assemblage of application windows, weather reporting, Tumbler versions of Hokusai's 'Great Wave' (1823) and clips from Miyazaki's 'Ponyo' (2002), promotional material, interviews, and archival footage. In the tradition of the boxing film it transposes the energy, adaptation, and competition of the sport outside the ring; here to the struggle of financial survival.
5 March - 27 April, 2014
I have to admit that the prospect of writing on this survey of recent work by Hito Steyerl, comprised of three video works and two recorded lectures, is daunting. The night before I visited the exhibition I had dreams of sending some kind of reconnaissance-style drone instead. How else to record and reflect on these dense works and to trace their myriad references to a formidable breadth of genres, media, and socio-geographic contexts?(1) Lastly, what register or tone should accompany the works of a teacher, theorist, and filmmaker who utterly complicates the distinction between pedagogic and creative literature, oration, and image?
Installed with cinema-style seating, Liquidity Inc. (2014) tells the story of boxing commentator Jacob Wood, an ‘Operation Babylift’ (2) orphan and recently-dismissed from his position as financial advisor. In documentary style it draws together somewhat tenuous connections around the concept of liquidity, a word with connotations ranging from ‘clearing away’ to the more sinister ‘wiping out’ (3), taking the process of precipitation as a visualisation for the precarity arising out of financial mobility. At one point (in a rendering of the corporeal not unlike Marx’s description of abstract labour) wireframed ‘suits’ rain into an ocean.
The artist’s voraciously decadent melding of forms in Liquidity Inc. runs at full steam in an assemblage of application windows, weather reporting, Tumbler versions of Hokusai’s Great Wave (1823) and clips from Miyazaki’s Ponyo (2008), promotional material, interviews, and archival footage. In the tradition of the boxing film it transposes the energy, adaptation, and competition of the sport outside the ring; here to the struggle of financial survival. This issue affects the film itself, as we discover in a display of emails between Steyerl and e-flux founder Brian Kuan Wood about trying to get the CGI water modelled on the cheap by a ‘kid in Moscow’ or Dubai.
Airing these production woes offers an equivalence and reality television-like permeability between scripted and unscripted narratives (think reality T.V.) and allows the artist to leave her personal mark next to the many other authors she appropriates from or collaborates with: an autotuned version of the Bruce Lee line, “Water can flow, or it can crash. Be water my friend.” repeats over a so-catchy-it’s-been-in-my-head-all-week drum and bass track; promotional girls in bikinis mime boxing moves; a weather report inspired by 1970’s militant and anti-Vietnam War group Weather Underground forecasts a storm.
In Liquidity Inc. everything is in constant movement, its barrage of visuals sitting somewhere between educational animations and advertising. Even the onscreen texts and emails are performed, animated with a powerpoint style liquid effect, or as if they are being typed before our eyes. This kinesthetics is echoed further on in the exhibition in the gesticulation accompanying the happily amateur pedagogy of Is the Museum a Battlefield? (2013), and the rhythmic step-by-step security briefing in Guards (2012): “I run my walls, cover every area of the gallery, I run my walls…There’s no threat, there’s no threat, there’s no threat.”
Similarly instructional but narrated in a half-baked computer voice, How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File (2013) - included in the 55th Venice Biennial exhibition The Encyclopedic Palace - is based on a story Steyerl heard about ways in which people living under drones have found to make themselves invisible to sensors. A hybrid of “go to ground” books (4) and more banal (ie. How to tie a tie) Youtube clips, it hinges on the problematic brought up in the artist’s YouTubing Theory lecture at Bard College (5) on the form of the online conference video, which she describes as “the total contradiction of art, because it is as artless as possible.”
How Not to Be Seen ends with actors in green-screen body suits dancing on a satellite imaging resolution target in the middle of the desert, in a montage to the Three Degrees song When will I see you again (1978), while the U.S. army drops glitter from helicopters, balancing out the video’s dubious educational value in a decadently luminous party of the invisible. Indicative of the other works in the exhibition, Liquidity Inc. and How Not to Be Seen express sprawlingly referential and self-reflexively generative forms of production. They antagonize the registers of both education and entertainment, eschewing, like the martial arts, purism for incorporation.
Part 2 of this article will be on character development through the self-reflexivity of the film on the politics of its own production, and how this plays into Steyerl’s dealing with issues of military power and conflict in relation to the image.
(1) This is not to mention simply watching the videos in their entirety, the total running time of the works within the exhibition is two hours and twelve minutes, the rule being that the average viewer will merely “take a look at it and then another look,” never seeing the videos in their entirety. In his e-flux essay Comrades of Time Boris Groys describes the acceptance of the inexhaustable nature of time-based art as, “an awareness of the lack of time necessary to make an informed judgment through comprehensive contemplation.” He goes on to say that “the documentation of time-based art erases the difference between vita activa and vita contemplativa.” Here then, is a review of my several looks. (http://www.e-flux.com/journal/comrades-of-time/)
(2) In 1975 President Gerald R. Ford authorized the evacuation of thousands of Vietnamese orphans to the United States
The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Digital Library: Operation Babylift, http://www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov/library/exhibits/babylift/babylift.asp
(3) Online Etymology Dictionary, liquidate (v.), http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=liquidate
(4) Such as How to Disappear in America (2002) by Barry Reid, reconfigured by artist Seth Price in 2008
(5) YouTubing Theory, presented at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, New York is not on display at the ICA, however a transcript is available in the Red Hook Journal, http://www.bard.edu/ccs/redhook/youtubing-theory/
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