Critics’ Picks

Hito Steyerl, Adornos’s Grey, 2012, single-channel HD video projection, four angled screens, wall plot, photographs, dimensions variable.

New York

Hito Steyerl

e-flux
311 East Broadway
October 4 - December 21

Visitors to Hito Steyerl’s latest exhibition are greeted by the heady smell of a brand new carpet, which has been laid across e-Flux as part of her installation Adorno’s Grey, 2012, one of three works on view. The other two works on view—the video November, 2004, and two-channel video Abstract, 2012—posit a dynamic, intertwining relationship between political violence and mediated representation. In Adorno’s Grey, a similar set of paired concepts is at stake: direct action and theory.

Along with the carpet, which is indeed gray, this installation comprises several photo panels, a single-channel video projected onto angled screens (also gray), and a (gray) wall text featuring a time line of milestones in student unrest as well as key moments in Theodor Adorno’s life. The photographs and video depict a lecture hall in which two conservators chip away at white paint and plaster. Adorno taught in this room, and he is said (though the tale may be apocryphal) to have had the hall painted in order to aid students’ concentration; one conservator explains that they are searching for his long-hidden layer of gre\ay paint. By transforming e-Flux from a white cube into an aromatically gray room, Steyerl reenacts Adorno’s gesture.

One of Adorno’s last lectures in this gray hall was disrupted when three female student activists approached the German philosopher with breasts bared. Here, Steyerl’s video seems to suggest a confrontation between irreconcilable positions: on one side, the professor with his belief in an autonomous space for theory; on the other, the student body with its embrace of messy direct action, even in the classroom. After setting out this opposition, Steyerl goes on to complicate it, suggesting that theory can itself be an instrument of direct action. The video concludes with an interview in which an activist, off-camera, explains his participation in Book Bloc, a tactical protest group whose members fend off riot police during demonstrations by wielding books as shields. The volume he carries? Adorno’s Negative Dialectics.