Critics’ Picks

Christoph Keller, Ceppo sradicato (Uprooted Stump), 2018, pine stump, 5' 3'' x 5' 11'' x 8' 2 1/2''.


Christoph Keller, Tao Hui, Hito Steyerl

Esther Schipper
Potsdamer Strasse 81E
June 27–August 17, 2019

The poor image, Hito Steyerl famously opined, is a monad that bears the traces of its circulation, evidence of “anonymous global networks” that represent “a shared history.” In this exhibition, these pieces of digital debris populate Steyerl’s collages as well as her video The Tower, 2015, which considers Saddam Hussein’s efforts to recreate the Tower of Babel alongside the story of a Ukrainian design firm responsible for producing 3-D renderings of emergency simulations. Here, floating images function as autonomous forms within a fragmented and hypermediated reality.

Contextual collapse also provides a useful framework for the works of Tao Hui and Christoph Keller. In Tao’s The Tangible Ones, 2018, holographs of two women—one French, one Chinese—are projected via an LED fan flanked by loudspeakers that play their somber monologues. Addressed to absent lovers, the speeches recount romantic alienation, formally reinforcing the theme of detachment by playing out of sync with the holograms’ mouths. Tao pries apart image from voice, rupturing the chain of communication.

To make Ceppo sradicato (Uprooted Stump), 2018, Keller removed a sawn-off tree trunk from the ground and plopped it in the middle of the gallery. Nearby, a series of seven photographs from 2019, titled identically to the sculpture, documents the process of its displacement and transit. Ceppo sradicato might be seen as an organic analogue to Steyerl’s poor image, bearing the physical traces—ruptured roots, exposed tree rings—of its translocation: its removal from Rome, where it was planted during the Mussolini era, and its subsequent journey to Berlin. The tree stump, a natural monad, cannot be understood by a fixed syntagmatic structure. Instead, like the poor image, it arrives as an artifact of the various histories and associations accrued through its repeated circulations.