As more North American museums close due to the latest surge of COVID-19 infections, responsive curatorial pivoting becomes the new contingency plan. Until there’s a vaccine, this bricks-and-mortar closing and re-opening cycle will be the norm.
This is why it’s worth looking more closely at online projects like Hito Steyerl: 4 Nights at the Museum. Presented by Düsseldorf’s K21 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen and e-flux Video & Film, the project was organized in response to K21’s own closure, impacting Steyerl’s exhibition, I Will Survive. Utilizing a “weird-ass visual podcast” framing, 4 Nights at the Museum brings late-night public access weirdness to an online museum public program. As both featured artist and on-air host, Steyerl switches from conversations to presenting alternative versions of works from the show.
How is this different from any other Zoom talk? It’s all in the execution. In a recent episode, Steyerl interviews Hamburg-based actress and filmmaker Heja Netîrk; the pair discuss the Kurdish refugee’s nine-month-long wrongful political imprisonment in Turkey. As Netîrk recalls the plants prisoners grew, AR-generated plant foliage overlays Netîrk’s Zoom screen. Suddenly, this intimate interview podcast cross-mixes into ambient VJ set: this was Steyerl’s own take on the prison garden, imbued with properties like “poison[ing] autocrats” and “healing social media addictions.”
In a later screen-share of her machine learning software, Steyerl groused about how an hour of neural network rendering produces only 40 seconds of footage. “To generate [the] future, it’s ultra slow,” she quipped drily. Let’s hope other museums are quicker about adapting shuttered exhibitions.
The last episode of Hito Steyerl: 4 Nights at the Museum | A weird-ass visual podcast streams online on November 26 at 2PM ET / 8PM CET via e-flux.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.