Hito Steyerl, Adorno's Grey. Installation view, Audain Gallery, 2013. Photo: Blaine Campbell.

Hito Steyerl

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.


Hito Steyerl: Adorno’s Grey

Audain Gallery, Vancouver
October 3 - December 14, 2013

Opening Reception

Wednesday, October 2, 7–10pm

Artist Talk: Hito Steyerl

Wednesday, October 2, 6pm
Wong Experimental Theatre
SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts
149 West Hastings Street, Vancouver

Watch the talk HERE.

Exhibition Tours guided by SCA MFA Visual Arts Candidates

Saturday, October 19, 1pm with Juan Manuel Sepulveda                                  
Saturday, November 9, 1pm with Didier Morelli          
Saturday, November 30, 1pm with Gabriel Saloman

Grey on Grey Lecture Series

Grey on Grey Lectures excavate the four conceptual threads within Adorno’s Grey: Adorno’s biography, student protests, nude protests and monochrome painting.

Grey on Grey: Samir Gandesha and Jaleh Mansoor

Wednesday, October 16, 6pm
World Art Centre

Watch the talk HERE.

Samir Gandesha, The Colour of Adorno’s Thought
In Negative Dialectics Adorno posits that “Philosophy, which once seemed obsolete, lives on because the moment to realize it failed.” By considering references to the October Revolution and Karl Marx’s program of simultaneously abolishing and realizing philosophy, Gandesha will explore the extent to which Adorno’s thought manifests a stark opposition between red and grey – the vital, struggling labouring body, and the detached, abstract work of philosophical conceptualization.

Samir Gandesha is Associate Professor of Modern European thought and Culture in the Department of the Humanities and the Director of the Institute for the Humanities at SFU. He is the co-editor with Lars Rensmann of Arendt and Adorno: Political and Philosophical Investigations (Stanford, 2012) and is finishing a book with Johan Hartle entitled The Poetry of the Future: Marx and the Aesthetic (forthcoming 2014).

Jaleh Mansoor: On Monochromy and Repressive Tolerance: Notes on the Post WWII Recrudescence of the Revolutionary Form
Mansoor will speak about monochrome painting in France and Italy in the 1950s and 1960s, in consideration of her research on modernism, European and American art since 1945, and Marxist and Feminist theory and historiography.

Jaleh Mansoor is Assistant Professor in the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory at UBC. She received her PhD from Columbia University in 2007. She is currently working on two projects, one that addresses formal and procedural violence in the work of Alberto Burri, Lucio Fontana, and Piero Manzoni; and another on the problem of labor, value and “bare life” in the work of Santiago Sierra and Claire Fontaine, among other contemporary practices that examine the limits of the human.

Grey on Grey: Sara Mourad and Michael Rattray

Wednesday, November 6, 6pm
World Art Centre

Watch the talk HERE.

Sara Mourad, From Feminism to Titslamism: The Politics of Bare Breasts
Boobs are making a comeback. Mourad will consider young Egyptian blogger Alia el-Mahdy’s nude photograph, published online in the midst of the Egyptian uprising in 2011, as well as her naked protest action with FEMEN in Sweden in 2012, amongst a litany of global contemporary examples of bared breasts to ask the following question: How do we conceptualize the role and nature of transgression in these media events?

Sara Mourad is a doctoral candidate at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. Her dissertation is about reading silences around sexuality in contemporary Lebanese public culture. Her broader research interests include postcolonial and queer theory, gender studies, media and popular culture and Middle Eastern politics.

Michael Rattray, The Global Artist Amongst Unrest
Adorno’s Grey suggests a vertical presentation of narrative, which reflects a chaotic ordering of related elements that represents, to quote Steyerl, a “radicalization of the paradigm of linear perspective.” Rattray examines concepts drawn from Steyerl’s 2012 essay, “Free Fall in the Vertical Perspective,” and Adorno’s use of “vertiginous”, to consider the theory of the Global Artist and how they inform local manifestations of unrest.

Michael Rattray is a Vancouver based academic and artist. He is a PhD Candidate in Art History through the Department of Art History at Concordia University, Montreal. His PhD dissertation, Functional Anarchism(s) and the Global Contemporary, examines the intersection of anarchist philosophy and global contemporary art.

No Looking After the Internet

Wednesday, November 20, 6pm
Audain Gallery

Robin Simpson, Modern Colour, Concentration, Referred Itch
The popular application of colour therapy can be credited to Swiss psychotherapist Max Lüscher. Grey figures in Lüscher’s spectrum as representative of neutrality, reticence, retreat or indecision. Simpson will present a selection of images that respond the motif of hands and motions of investigative scratching in Adorno’s Grey, alongside a cycle of colours selected from the Lüscher tests.

Robin Simpson is an art historian, curator and student based in Vancouver where he is pursuing a PhD at the University of British Columbia. His current research investigates the history of video psychotherapy and its intersection with artists’ practices during the 1970s and early 1980s in North America and Europe.

Screening: Perspectives on a Vertical Plane: Hito Steyerl’s videos and .mov files

Wednesday, November 27, 6pm
Djavad Mowfaghian Cinema

Lovely Andrea. 2007, 30min.
In Free Fall. 2010, 32min.
HOW NOT TO BE SEEN A Fucking Didactic Educational .Mov File. 2013, 15min.

Presented with SFU Galleries.

Hito Steyerl, Adornos's Grey. Installation view, Audain Gallery, 2013. Photo: Blaine Campbell.