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Hito Steyerl on museums in an age of planetary civil war


The February 2016 issue of e-flux journal has just been published. It features a piece by Hito Steyerl about the role of museums in an age of increasing civil, sectarian, and informal conflict. She writes that “museums have less to do with the past than with the future: conservation is less about preserving the past than it is about creating the future of public space, the future of art, and the future as such.” Here’s an excerpt:

How can one think of art institutions in an age that is defined by planetary civil war, growing inequality, and proprietary digital technology? The boundaries of the institution have become fuzzy. They extend from pumping the audience for tweets, to a future of “neurocurating” in which paintings will surveil their audience via facial recognition and eye tracking to check whether the paintings are popular enough or whether anyone is behaving suspiciously.

Is it possible, in this situation, to update the twentieth-century terminology of institutional critique? Or does one need to look for different models and prototypes? What is a model anyway, under such conditions? How does it link on- and off-screen realities, mathematics and aesthetics, future and past, reason and treason? And what is its role in a global chain of projection as production?

In the example of the kidnapped tank, history invades the hypercontemporary. It is not an account of events post factum. It acts, it feigns, it keeps on changing. History is a shape-shifting player, if not an irregular combatant. It keeps attacking from behind. It blocks off any future. Frankly, this kind of history sucks.

Image: A stormtrooper crashes the annual Battle Of Hastings reenactment in Northamptonshire, England, on July 20, 2013. Via Getty Images.