Critics’ Picks

Hito Steyerl, Lovely Andrea, 2007, two-channel video, 30 minutes 15 seconds. Installation view.

Berlin

Hito Steyerl

Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (n.b.k.)
Chausseestrasse 128-129
September 29 - October 18

Hito Steyerl’s first solo exhibition at a German institution features After the Crash, 2009, a seven-minute film shown on a loop alongside eight well-matched recent works by the Berlin-based artist. Included is Lovely Andrea, 2007, Steyerl’s thirty-minute tale of her journey through Tokyo’s pornographic publishing industry in search of the single photo spread taken of the artist in 1987 as a nawa shibari bondage model. Produced for Documenta 12, this work benefits from being paired with In/Dependence, 2008, a six-minute film split between two screens that features only close-up shots of Steyerl’s guide in Lovely Andrea, dressed in athletic attire and moving against a black background while hanging from ropes. Her graceful acrobatics while twisting and twining complement the concepts of freedom and bondage, which Steyerl offers, sometimes too didactically, in Lovely Andrea.

By contrast, After the Crash blends documentary tropes with intense visual imagery and appropriated footage into a powerful piece that illustrates a disquieting vision of a possible life cycle for recycled airplane parts, as well as the current global economic downturn. The film begins with scenes from an unidentified Asian airline’s safety-service announcement and various depictions of airplane crashes. Original portions that Steyerl shot in an airplane junkyard in the California desert follow, in which she interviews a man who runs the business and describes how lucrative it is to sell parts to Chinese buyers. Next, images of the airplanes being disassembled are interwoven with portions of appropriated documentary footage of aluminum being made into CDs, all set to an intense mix of pop music.

In the opening and concluding scenes, a laptop is placed in front of the wreckage in the junkyard, and a clip of a cute 1960s girl group singing Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly with Me” is shown on the screen after clips from the safety-service announcement that starts the film. The implication, perhaps, is that the DVD that presents the singers’ performance was made from the surrounding debris. Yet the singers’ slick performance ultimately distracts from rough reality.