This is the crux of German artist Hito Steyerl’s electric new exhibition at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery. Steyerl is known for exploring the digital world in relation to capitalism and society through multi-media works, and now, she turns her hand to augmented reality. By collaborating with a team of machine learning programmers, musicians, video producers, and app designers, she’s created a multisensory show that makes use of every part of the gallery, both inside and out.
Steyerl has created three projects which interrogate the concept of power and its relationship with the digital. We first enter the main space of the gallery to encounter Power Plants, videos depicting a botanical science-fiction wonderland populated by digital images of plants generated by AI technology. Flowers pulsate rhythmically to the sound of the artist's voice repeating the mantra ‘this is the future’ in a neural network of video sculpture which aims to imagine the ecology of a post-apocalyptic world.
Hito Steyerl Power Plants Installation view, 11 April – 6 May 2019, Serpentine Galleries Design by Ayham Ghraowi, Developed by Ivaylo Getov. Courtesy of the Artist, Andrew Kreps Gallery (New York) and Esther Schipper Gallery (Berlin) Photograph: © 2019
But underneath this phantasmagoria of sound and image is another dimension, one invisible to the human eye. In comes another facet of the exhibition called Actual Reality, an augmented reality app which visitors must download to see information superimposed over the apparatus of humming horticulture with snippets of information written by fictional scientists.
But what does all this bogus botany have to do with our current society, you ask? The Serpentine Galleries’ artistic director Hans Ulrich Obrist reminds us that ‘the function of art throughout history has long been to make the invisible visible’. This room is meant to introduce us to that concept. It invites us to dig deeper, and see beyond our perceived reality to discover the hidden members of our society through virtual means.
As the technocracy which governs our society grows stronger, it forms a complex network of authorities which oppress its most vulnerable members. Actual Reality forces us to discover real-life inequality often hidden in plain sight. Steyerl sheds light on the social imbalances in the surrounding area of the manicured parklands of Kensington Gardens – one of the most economically unequal areas in Europe. In Power Walks, she has collaborated with local community organisations to create a virtual tour which guides viewers through the path of destruction that austerity, astronomical housing prices, low-wage jobs, and a struggling welfare system has wreaked upon many Britons’ lives.
‘Data’, or rather, quotes from these testimonials, are mapped onto the exterior of the building via the Actual Reality app, ensuring that anyone passing by the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in the coming months will see hordes of visitors outside with phones raised to read caustic phrases such as ‘semi-skilled my arse’.
It can often be a weakness of digital art that the artwork in question is dwarfed by the intellectual acrobatics that ‘art-splain’ its existence, however, Steyerl’s exhibition has the visual dynamism to support its heavy conceptual themes. By splicing timelines and juxtaposing whimsical fantasy with hard-boiled reality, she asks us consider the power of AI as a way to peer into the future but also as a tool to address current systemic problems. You leave the gallery confronted by the same view of the world, but now somehow changed.
|What||Hito Steyerl exhibition, Serpentine Sackler Gallery|
|Where||Serpentine Sackler Gallery, West Carriage Drive , Kensington Gardens, London , W2 2AR | MAP|
|Nearest tube||South Kensington (underground)|
11 Apr 19 – 06 May 19, Tuesday – Sunday. 10am – 6pm
|Website||Click here for more information|