Esther Schipper is pleased to bring together works by Christoph Keller, Hito Steyerl and Tao Hui. Christoph Keller has been with the gallery since 1997; Hito Steyerl and Tao Hui joined our program recently.
If the works presented here are characterized by a variety of forms, they all address issues of identity, belongings and migration. While Christoph Keller’s body of work reflects upon the traces left by history and politics on our urban landscape, Hito Steyerl makes visible our society’s political contradictions and hypocrisies through a system of cultural references. Tao Hui’s immersive multimedia installations bend the boundaries of fiction and reality to address cultural and identity related issues.
In his installations frequently resembling experimental configurations, Keller uses the discursive possibilities of art to investigate the themes of science and its utopias. In Ceppo sradicato (uprooted tree), 2018, the artist reflects on the concepts of origin, identity and migration, as described among others, by Gilles Clément in his writings on landscape theory. For this work, Keller translocated the stump of a maritime pine tree, which had fallen down on the Via Tiburtina in Rome, right in front of the Campo Verano cemetery, to the exhibition space. The root of the sawn pine, resting on the sterile floor of the exhibition space, recalls the evanescent connection of life with the earth, as well as with history: the pine tree, an iconic symbol of antiquity in Rome’s urban landscape, was planted during the Mussolini era. The process of its translocation is presented alongside the installation in a series of black and white photographs.
In the video Storni Morti, 2018, Keller filmed the dramatic flight pattern of thousands of starlings at dusk, while accidentally locked at night in the Campo Verano cemetery. Here, the artist delves into animal-human perspectives, as their natural habitats are increasingly constricted by human settlement and climate change. A series of experimental photogravures on paper, printed in collaboration with master craftsmen at the Istituto centrale per la graphica in Rome are presented in the same room.
In her practice, Hito Steyerl focuses on the role of media, technology and the circulation of images in the era of digital nativism. The Tower, 2015, which premiered at the 9th Berlin Biennial, consists of a three-channel video in an environment. The video combines CGI and filmed footage of an abandoned observatory. The title of the installation refers to a computer game of the same name developed by Program-Ace, a software design company based in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, in close proximity to Russia. While the tower’s graphic is based on the architecture of Great Mosque of Samarra, the narration references the Ziggurat of Ur—both in present-day Iraq—, an Antique temple partially reconstructed in the 1980s under Saddam Hussein with the idea of recreating the legendary Tower of Babel. In a narration by Ukrainian software designer and Program-Ace CEO Oleg Fonarov, the development of computer games, architectural and luxury office space simulations, and contemporary political events are interwoven. During the whole narrative, the video blends simulations of luxury condos and first-person shooters with improvised tents and barricades, set by paramilitary groups in Kharkiv during the 2014 pro-Russian unrest. A suite of related collages is also presented.
Tao Hui’s practice echoes Steyerl’s in the way that he “probes the relationship between the media landscape and the social body and reflects on the fraught ethics of belonging in a hyper-mediatized reality” (Alvin Li, “Tao Hui’s Politics of Sentimentality”, in Frieze, Issue 197, August 2018). In The Tangible Ones, 2018, Tao has created a holographic projection where two young women address their respective lovers— through the means of an internal monologue or a lament—in French and Chinese. Each woman recalls memories while recounting day-to-day lives, their postmodern soliloquy alternating with fragments of a song. The sound and image are out of sync, leaving the spectators unsure of who is speaking. Tao’s works are visceral and provocative, yet enlightening and always imbued with a strong emotional power and a sense of displacement, inviting the viewers to confront themselves with their own cultural history, ways of living and identities. The Tangible Ones is paired with the 2019 installation Screen as Display Body, where four freestanding LED screens on a trolley each broadcasts a single color: red, blue, green, and white. The work refers to the RGB color model, used for image display in TVs, in which red, green and blue are combined in various ways to reproduce a wide array of colors.