Acclaimed contemporary German artist Hito Steyerl opens her first major solo exhibition, Hito Steyerl: This Is The Future, in Canada at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). The largest exhibition of its kind features eleven of the artist’s works from over the past 15 years including some of her most iconic large scale installations Hell Yeah We Fuck Die (2016) and Liquidity Inc. (2014). The exhibition at the AGO runs through to February 23, 2020.
As a leading artist, filmmaker, and writer, Hito continues to grab global attention with her work that’s both playful and frightening. Her pop culture style combined with documentary footage and computer-animated sequences results in a dark and ironic space. Her work, while is viewed as political, is also deeply personal as she brings attention to society’s distorted views on technology as well as such eye opening realities of free ports — tax havens for the rich.
In Hito’s signature piece Duty Free Art (2015), she addresses the art world as a shadowy system exploring the difficult connections that exist. Free Ports, like Geneva and Panama, are known as tax exempt areas for luxury goods. Her extensive research led her to investigate the concept and question the economic imbalance between the art world and community. After realizing an art collector had purchased one of her works and then subsequently transferred it to a freeport facility she decided to take the money she earned and purchased manure fertilizer to distribute back into the community gardens (the most democratic use of lands) at the free ports (the most exclusive use of land). In her work Freeplots (2019), she’s given shape to the free ports by creating planters in shapes of some of the free ports while involving community.
Adelina Vlas, the AGO’s Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, explained this work began in New York where Hito met with a local community garden in East Harlem and spoke with the people that tended it. The gardeners were from Puerto Rico. She listened to their stories and extracted some of their conversations to incorporate into Freeplots.
Hito continued to build on the work at the AGO exhibition collaborating with local Tibetan gardeners at the Milky Way Garden in Parkdale.”She’s interested in the stories of migration and in Toronto we have no shortage,” said Vlas. “Hito sat down with the gardeners and talked about the plants that were selected for this exhibition and how they connect to their personal histories.” The idea for this piece is to continue the conversation with diverse communities.
In Hito’s work she also asks us to reflect in this age of distraction and the constant flow of images we are bombarded with daily. She asks us to consider the consequences of our actions along with the use of technology.
This exhibition which spans the entire fifth floor at the David & Vivian Campbell Centre for Contemporary Art at the AGO is a sensorial experience. “You have to use your eyes, your ears, your orientation, and your scent on smell. You can actually focus on each sense throughout the exhibition without feeling overwhelmed,” says Vlas. And take in all of her work. “The manifesto pieces STRIKE and Red Alert are very short but very poignant and help cleanse to the palate before moving on.” It’s not just the use of technology but her perspective on the state of the world in the larger system that made me pause and think.
What I found interesting after learning about Hito’s thoughts on technology and the influence it places on us today, we still have the urge to share so much of what we do, good or otherwise, on social media even at this exhibition.
“With social media we are encouraged to share more, to take more, to circulate more and it’s become part of our identity. We’ve been conditioned to think that way. Hito wants us to question what we are doing and take responsibility in our actions,” says Vlas.
She also goes on to tell us Hito is not on social media herself but thinks that with technology, in general, she’s trying to make us see the ramifications – the connection between, for example, military, gaming and to surveillance and the global infrastructure that controls us. “We give so much information to our technology. The money is being put into technology and how we are so fascinated is the entertainment side of it all. We don’t ask enough questions. And just think about how our devices can know our locations. We cannot disappear. Everything is built to capture us and what we are doing. Yet, at the same time, we can disappear. What are our options?”
Visit the AGO website for more information.