The full grasp of the student protests and the influence they made on a generation of burgeoning artists is still contested. However, when it comes to specific artists' oeuvres, the fascination with those revolutionary impulses is more than apparent, and such is the case with the one made by a prolific German filmmaker/artist Harun Farocki.
Throughout the years, he used motion pictures as a tool for the political articulation of the (capitalist) reality, created under the strong influence by the films of Jean-Luc Godard, writings of Bertold Brecht and the Marxist ideology in general. Farocki’s films made quite an impact on the later generation of practitioners not only in cultural studies and political philosophy, but in the art production as well.
One of the leading names of contemporary art today, Hito Steyerl, a performer, video artist, lecturer and thinker on the issues of the impact of digital technology on human behavior, stated once that the figure who influenced her work the most was Farocki himself.
Now, the upcoming exhibition at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac centered on Farocki's work is not surprisingly devoted to the Steyerl’s own practice as well, making a strong parallel between two crucial and at their time pioneering authors that explore our reality from a critically charged perspective in an attempt to broaden a dialog on painful issues concerning labor, power structures, media, military, and surveillance technologies and global circulation of images.
It is important to underline that Harun Farocki's entire oeuvre although critically acclaimed is often marginalized. Therefore, this exhibition titled Life Captured Still will offer a well-navigated insight in his approach to motion pictures accompanied by a dialog with intriguing pieces by Hito Steyerl.
Behind the idea to present their works for the first time, the curators Antje Ehmann and Carles Guerra want to point out the thematic similarities and contextual differences found in both artists' oeuvres. Ehmann briefly explained their curatorial positions:
We invite the audience to immerse themselves in the works of Harun Farocki and Hito Steyerl ... To spend time with and to explore the artists' questions and doubts, their curiosities, and anxieties; their investigations into the worlds between the analog and the digital, between human labor and the labor of machines, between the worlds of capitalist exploitation and financial accumulation.
The exhibition will include Hito Steyerl's celebrated films such as November (2004) and Lovely Andrea (2007), which explore the mechanisms in the circulation of images; both are centered on the artist’s friend Andrea Wolf, who was part of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party), and as such was killed by the Turkish police during her arrest in northern Iraq in 1998. Her body was never found, but this brave woman became an icon of martyrdom featured on the posters at the Kurdish protest, so Steyerl examined "how her face became a fictitious image of a character that circulates and transforms amongst the masses."
Similarly, Farocki's early video work, Two Paths (1966) functions as a tool for the dissection of an image: the unbalanced close-up shots of a drawing practically disrupt the scene it presents – a religious allegory for 'right' and 'wrong'.
The Ropac presentation will also include the installation and ongoing workshop titled Labour in a Single Shot (2011– ), initiated by Farocki and his partner Antje Ehmann (one of the curators), who have been working together on various artistic and curatorial projects since the late 1990s.
The mentioned notion of labor will be especially emphasized through Farocki's 2006 installation Workers Leaving the Factory in Eleven Decades, that is an homage to the iconic film made by the Lumière brothers in 1895. This particular piece is perhaps the central piece at the exhibition, since it exemplifies the concerns shared by both artists in the context of exploitative frameworks formed by the modern political systems.
Workers Leaving the Factory in Eleven Decades will be presented as an immersive installation followed by Comparison via a Third (2007), The Silver and the Cross (2010) and the large installation Re-Pouring (2010). The presentation ends with an immersive three-channel installation The Tower (2015/2016) by Steyerl that further explores Farocki's considerations of labor-as-image in the context of digital technologies.
Alongside the fact this is the first major posthumous exhibition of Harun Farocki's work in over a decade in the UK, it will also underline the artist’s almost prophetic articulation and Steyerl’s current engagement in the light of the contemporary economic, social and political climate on a global scale.
Harun Farocki and Hito Steyerl: Life Captured Still will be on display at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in London from 6 February until 4 April 2020.
Featured image: Hito Steyerl - How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File, 2013. HD video, single screen in architectural environment, 15 minutes, 52 seconds. Image CC 4.0 Hito Steyerl. Image courtesy of the Artist, Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York, and Esther Schipper, Berlin. Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London • Paris • Salzburg.