Screenshot documentation of Hamburg-based actress and filmmaker Heja Netîrk being interviewed by Hito Steyerl for 4 Nights at the Museum (courtesy author)

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. 

Screenshot documentation from “How to Plant Flowers in Prison?,” the second episode of 4 Nights at the Museum (courtesy author)

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.

Rea McNamara is a writer, curator, and public programmer based in Toronto. She has written extensively on art, culture and the internet for frieze, Art in America, The Globe and Mail, VICE, Art F City,...