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The Works by Martha Rosler and Hito Steyerl, In Conversation in Basel

  • Hito Steyerl - Extra Space Craft, 2016
  • Hito Steyerl - Extra Space Craft, 2016
  • Hito Steyerl - The Tower, 2015
May 5, 2018
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

The critical articulation of mass media in artist practices appeared primarily as a reaction to the domination of the advertising industry and more importantly television. Especially the new generation of artists in the 1970s who started working with video was focused on the production of the moving images and their content; they have created television of their own in order to share a different kind of knowledge and encourage critical thinking.

Nevertheless, the times have changed with the appearance of the Internet, and so did the very perception of the images.

The upcoming exhibition under the title War Games at the Kunstmuseum Basel deals exactly with this subject matter. Through the works of the two influential artists of our times, Martha Rosler and Hito Steyerl, it tends to establish a parallel between their practices in order to emphasize the phenomenon of the digital media and the way images serve as tools for indoctrination and militarization.

Martha Rosler - House Beautiful, Bringing the War Home, Photo Op, 2004
Martha Rosler – House Beautiful, Bringing the War Home, Photo Op, 2004. Photomontage, 50,8 x 61 cm. Courtesy of the artist

The Focal Points of Different, Yet Similar Art Practices

Martha Rosler belongs to the generation of the early feminist artists from the 1970s. She started exploring the representation of the female body in media through photography, video, performance, collages, etc. From her iconic works like The Semiotics of The Kitchen or Vital Statistics of A Citizen to recent works in which she worked with the images produced by drones, the artist has devotedly dealt with various aspects of media manipulation and image construction.

On the other hand, Hito Steyerl has been producing peculiar films, installations and lecture performances where she examined the very meaning of media images. By focusing on rejected, pixelated and deranged visuals or by juxtaposing herself in surreal and animated environments, the artist has managed to construct quite authentic and concise artistic production which is deeply embedded in contemporaneity.

Martha Rosler - Off the Shelf, War and Empire, 2008–2018
Martha Rosler – Off the Shelf, War and Empire, 2008–2018. C-Print, 71 x 56 cm. Courtesy of the artist

The Highlights of the War Games

The installment consists of earlier and recent works of both artists that never before have exhibited in a joint show. Therefore, the concept is based on the grasping presence of high tech imagery; it embodies the hybridity of the contemporary moment through the videos, photomontages, photographs, objects, banners and immersive multimedia installations.

Furthermore, it is important to point out that the intensity of the dialog between the artists e.g. works should be perceived in the light of their academic achievements in the sense of their theoretical writings for a better understanding of this exhibition.

Martha Rosler - Mosquito Drone, detail, from Theater of Drones, 2013
Martha Rosler – Mosquito Drone, detail, from Theater of Drones, 2013. C-Print. Courtesy of the artist

Rosler and Steyerl at Kunstmuseum Basel

Both Rosler and Steyerl produce complex and multilayered works which question various aspects of economy, society and contemporary politics, with a special accent on the warfare technologies.

The themes of xenophobia, consumerism, military conflicts and gender seem to be dominating through their practices, so it can be said that Rosler and Steyerl tend to disseminate a different kind of visual and theoretical discourse in order to penetrate and dissect our social reality, and furthermore to challenge and disrupt existing political and ideological hegemony.

Besides being their first joint show, War Games is the first representation of both Rosler and Steyerl’s work in Switzerland. Curated by Søren Grammel, It will be on display from 5 May until 2 December 2018 at the Kunstmuseum Basel.

Featured images: Hito Steyerl – Extra space craft, 2016. Three channel HD video, environment, 12 minutes, 30 seconds. Courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York ©2018, ProLitteris, Zurich; Hito Steyerl – Extra Space Craft, 2016. Three channel HD video, environment, 12 minutes, 30 seconds. Courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York ©2018, ProLitteris, Zurich; Hito Steyerl – The Tower, 2015. Three channel high-definition video installation, environment and sound, 6 minutes, 55 seconds. Courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York ©2018, ProLitteris, Zurich. All images courtesy Kunstmuseum Basel.