Harun Farocki and Hito Steyerl: Life Captured Still review
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In the words of Blink 182, ‘Work sucks, I know.’ Harun Farocki and Hito Steyerl know too. These two German artists (Farocki died in 2014, but Steyerl’s still with us) are united by a drive to make art about labour, capitalist inequality and unjust financial and political systems. This isn’t collaborative work, it’s just an exhibition that shows the artists’ common bond.
Farocki’s ‘Labour in a Single Shot’ is a room filled with screens, each one showing a short film about work, made in collaboration with filmmakers around the world. The screens show a sex line worker, a dentist, a busker, a fisherman. The films veer between narrative documentary and more abstract approaches, but with each one you’re struck by work as a universal concept; by its ubiquity, its inescapability, its bleak conditions. All these varied stories are just different piles of the same shit.
Upstairs, in Steyerl’s ‘The Tower’ video installation, a Ukrainian software developer describes building a video game about Saddam Hussein. He’s the cheap physical labourer who builds your digital worlds. Farocki’s work next door finds workers leaving factories throughout cinema history, bricks being built around the world and liquid being spilt by robots.
It’s a little icky that this deeply political art about capitalism is being shown in a mega-gallery that exists to sell art for hundreds of thousands of pounds to the richest people on earth. Art about the 99 percent being sold to the 1 percent. It’s just hard to be lectured about capitalism in a temple to capitalism.
But take it at face value if you can, and you’ll find that Farocki and Steyerl are delivering calls to action. They’re asking you to question the labour processes that exist around you, and that you are part of. They’re asking you to confront your life and working conditions, to ask why you’re doing what you do, to wonder who benefits, to constantly think and question. It’s powerful, important art, and it will make you call in sick immediately.