READERS PLEASE NOTE: This article was published
Adelina Vlas combines 15 years of Steyerl’s work in the largest Canadian exhibit of its kind
Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night and realized that your ATM card is missing or that you’ve misplaced your cellphone?
Well, you might experience the feeling after visiting the Contemporary Tower at the Art Gallery of Ontario and experiencing the digital realm created by German artist, Hito Steyerl.
Steyerl’s art questions prominent trends in social functionality. When something essential to everyday life has been compromised, people are more prone to investigate the truth about their current reality. This is the premise of Steyerl’s art.
The exhibit, which will be on display until Feb. 23, occupies 10,000 square feet and features a survey of Steyerl’s work from the last 15 years. The evolution of her art shows how she has remained focused on exposing digital identities.
The Ryersonian sat down with Adelina Vlas, the associate curator of contemporary art at the AGO, to learn more about her role in creating the gallery and the meaning behind Steyerl’s art.
Ryersonian: What were some important factors to consider when curating This is the Future?
Adelina Vlas: In the case of this exhibition, the space is quite particular. The architecture is very much predetermined. So, you (must) take that into account. It’s something that you can’t get away from. It’s always at the beginning of the conversation when you invite an artist to do an exhibition here. The second part is the budget. How we all work with budgets and (determining) how far we can stretch the budget. So those factors always influence the scope and ambition of the project. For me, it was very important to make sure that a good overview of the artist’s practice was provided by this exhibition. So, I needed to have a good understanding of (Steyerl’s) practice and what her work offers audiences.
Ryersonian: Which is your favorite piece from This is the Future?
A.V.: I’m particularly fond of Hell Yeah We Fuck Die. It has two sides to it. On one, there is a narrative from northern Turkey, from a place that the Turkish military has partially destroyed. On the other side, you have humanoid robots being tested –and this is occurring around the world. I think it’s a powerful piece that blends together multiple video narratives, animations, and music in an interactive fashion. It reveals very uncomfortable truths and realities about our day and age.
Ryersonian: What is the story and significance behind Hell Yeah We Fuck Die?
A.V.: There’s been a study done by Billboard magazine on song titles in the English language. On the charts (from) 2010 to 2014, those were the top five words that English speaking cultures put in our song titles. They’re not her words. They just happen to form a sentence, which I think is kind of lucky. And it helps with the title to be offensive. I feel like she’s putting up a mirror and showing us what our popular culture considers acceptable. In that way, her art could be frightening in terms of its implications.
Ryersonian: How else does Steyerl use fear to challenge popular culture?
A.V.: In the towers, (Steyerl) reveals that companies based in Ukraine put together digital environments for real estate companies, but also use (the technology) for quite violent video games. So, she connects militarization to our everyday lives.
Ryersonian: Steyerl has also been said to incorporate humour into her work. Can you give us an example of that from This is the Future?
A.V.: In Hell Yeah We Fuck Die, robots are being kicked around and tested, but the scene is framed like, ‘Well, no, don’t worry. No robot has been hurt during this testing.’ In that way, (Steyerl) uses humour to imply that robots are intended to be abused. There’s also this sense throughout her work that the music lightens things up a little bit. (Steyerl) uses very catchy songs and disco tunes. The way that everything is put together allows for us to relax a little bit on ourselves, while at the same time realizing that, you know, yes, life is not a laughing matter. But if we stop laughing, we might as well give up.
For more information, Vlas will be hosting a curator’s talk at the AGO on Friday Nov. 29, 2019. Also, remember that the AGO is now free during all hours for visitors under 25.