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Hito Steyerl: Adorno’s Grey

Hito Steyerl: Adorno’s Grey

Adorno’s Grey features a single-channel video set in the Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt, where German philosopher Theodor W. Adorno famously taught. It shows two conservators scraping the walls of a lecture hall, looking for the legendary grey that Adorno had his classroom painted in order to promote concentration. The excavation is staged as a film set: the technical apparatus of the production is exposed and Steyerl’s directions for the excavators can be heard off camera. The video returns to an image of a camera being set up to take a photo of the lectern.

Adorno’s 1969 lecture series, “An Introduction to Dialectical Thinking”, intended to consider the relation between social theory and practice. Amidst a climate of student unrest within the university, Adorno wanted to create an open forum for dialogue and invited questions from students at any time. During his first lecture on April 22, he was bombarded by a series of critical provocations from Students for a Democratic Society, including three female students who emerged from the audience to scatter flower petals and then bare their breasts to him. That “Busenattentat” (Breast Attack) incident is described and interpreted over the forensic performance.

Parallel to the excavation, Steyerl uncovers a constellation of artifacts from the histories of student protests, nude protests and monochrome painting to expand and complicate the aesthetic and social significance of Adorno’s writing and biography. These threads are woven into a timeline on the wall opposite the viewing room’s entrance.

In her practice, Steyerl employs riddles, puns and word play as tools for ideological critique. In Adorno’s Grey, she examines the dialectical properties of grey within philosophy, aesthetics, pedagogy and politics. Formally, the video projection is disrupted across four staggered, oblique panels painted a gradient of greys. The image’s continuity is further disjointed by Steyerl’s editing, which shuffles multiple images across shifting vertical planes.

An imposing form in the gallery, the exterior of the viewing room is painted the supposed grey of Adorno’s classroom. Opaque and monochromatic, it is the central object for interrogation, confining Steyerl’s restaging of the Goethe-Universität lecture hall and the history that took place within its walls.

When the on-set camera finally captures its image, the video cuts to a low-resolution digital video of a recent Book Bloc protest. In it, one student protestor holds the frontline behind a makeshift shield painted as Adorno’s book Negative Dialectics. With this final image, Steyerl exposes the continued negotiation of social relations and theory within contemporary life.

The exhibition of Adorno’s Grey at SFU’s Audain Gallery situates Adorno’s classroom within a gallery within a university. With an interest in how the conditions surrounding Adorno’s “Introduction to Dialectical Thinking” lecture series still resonate in contemporary academic and artistic dialogue, the gallery will expand upon the phenomenon in Steyerl’s constellation through a series of public programs.

Steyerl is a Berlin-based filmmaker and author in the area of essayist documentary film/video, media art and video installation. She teaches New Media Art at University of the Arts, Berlin and her work has been included in the Venice Biennale (2013), Taipei Biennial (2010), dOCUMENTA (12) (2007), and Manifesta 5 (2004), among others.

Curated by Melanie O’Brian with Amy Kazymerchyk in collaboration with the School for the Contemporary Arts’ Audain Visual Artist in Residence Program


Saturday, October 19, Saturday November 9, and Saturday, November 30, 1pm
Exhibition tours guided by SCA MFA Visual Arts candidates

Wednesday, October 16
Grey on Grey lectures
Samir Gandesha: “The Colour of Adorno’s Thought”
Jaleh Mansoor: “On Monochromy and Repressive Tolerance, Notes on the Post WWII Recrudescence of the Revolutionary Form”

Wednesday, November 6, 6pm
Grey on Grey lectures
Sara Mourad: “From Feminism to Titslamism: The Politics of Bare Breasts”
Michael Rattray: “The Global Artist Amongst Unrest”

Wednesday, November 20, 6pm
No Looking After the Internet
Robin Simpson: “Modern Colour, Concentration, Referred Itch”

Wednesday, November 27, 6pm
Perspectives on a Vertical Plane: Hito Steyerl’s videos and .mov files
Lovely Andrea. 2007. 30 minutes
In Free Fall. 2010. 32 minutes
HOW NOT TO BE SEEN A Fucking Didactic Educational .Mov File. 2013. 15 minutes

Hito Steyerl: Adorno’s Grey

October 3–December 14, 2013

Opening: October 2, 7pm
Hito Steyerl artist talk: October 2, 6pm

Audain Gallery
Simon Fraser University
Goldcorp Centre for the Arts
149 West Hastings Street, Vancouver BC
Hours: Tuesday–Saturday, noon–6pm