Most often her work takes the form of video essays that are based on exhaustive research and use montage, composite imagery, first-person voiceovers, and interviews. In Is the Museum a Battlefield? Hito Steyerl ponders the parallels between conflict zones and spaces where art is displayed. The weaving narrative traces the path of an empty bullet casing Steyerl found near a mass grave in Van, Turkey, where her friend Andrea Wolf may have been killed. She then reveals the economic links between arms manufacturers that profit from such weapons and arts organizations that accept funding from those same corporations. Throughout the work the artist makes conceptual connections between a gunshot and the film’s own production and between the faceted and strangely beautiful design of contemporary weaponry and the “starchitecture” found in major metropolitan areas.
The two-channel video documents a lecture-performance that she first presented at the 13th Istanbul Biennial in 2013, installed at the Art Institute across two flat-screen monitors alongside seating made up of piled sandbags. Steyerl implicated herself in the narrative that she constructed, acknowledging her own relationship to the military-cultural complex and the institutions that support her work. These art institutions include this museum, which presented a survey of the artist’s career in 2012 and holds two of her videos in our collection. As with most of the artist’s work, this installation is based on the premise that we play an active role, consciously and unconsciously, in the stories that we tell. Her documentary is emphatically transparent about its subjectivity and uncertainty.
Is the Museum a Battlefield? was selected by Barbara Kruger to be presented alongside her exhibition THINKING OF
YOU. I MEAN ME. I MEAN YOU. (on view in Regenstein Hall and throughout the museum through January 24, 2022).