Listening to Art

06.03: Hito Steyerl, Freeplots


Download (MP3).


Listening to Art, by William Denton.

Volume six, number three: Freeplots by Hito Steyerl.

Hello, and welcome to Listening to Art. I’m William Denton.

Hito Steyerl was born in Germany in 1966. She is an artist, filmmaker, writer and teacher. Her work has been shown in many places, including the Shanghai Biennale, the Venice Biennale, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art.

To introduce this recording I quote from her 2017 book Duty Free Art (pp. 79 and 83), from a chapter that originally appeared as an article in issue #63 of e-flux journal.

But contemporary art also creates new physical spaces that bypass national sovereignty. Let me give you a contemporary example: freeport art storage.

This is the mother of all freeport art storage spaces: Geneva freeport, a tax-free zone in Geneva that includes parts of an old freight station and an industrial storage building. The free-trade zone takes up the backyard and the fourth floor of the old storage building, so that different jurisdictions run through one and the same building, as the other floors are set outside the freeport zone. A new art storage space was opened in 2014. Up until just a few years before, the freeport wasn’t even considered part of Switzerland.

This building is rumored to house thousands of Picassos, but no one knows the exact number since documentation is rather opaque. There is little doubt though that its contents could compete with any very large museum….

Think of the artworks and their movement. They travel inside a network of tax-free zones and also inside the storage spaces themselves. Perhaps as they do, they never get uncrated. They move from one storage room to the next without being seen. They stay inside boxes and travel outside national territories with a minimum of tracking or registration, like insurgents, drugs, derivative financial products, and other so-called investment vehicles. For all we know, the crates could even be empty. It is a museum of the internet era, but a museum of the dark net, where movement is obscured and data-space is clouded.

This is an installation, made of wooden planters in freeport shapes, grow lights, compost, plants and sound; the dimensions were not given but I estimate it would fit in a volume roughly 300 cm wide, 700 cm deep and 250 cm high.

Now let’s listen to Freeplots by Hito Steyerl, recorded at the Art Gallery of Ontario, in Toronto, on 08 December 2019.

Waveform of the field recording.

That was Freeplots by Hito Steyerl. I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as I did.

For more information and links to things I’ve mentioned, please visit listeningtoart.org.

Listening to Art is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Bibliography

All web sites accessed as of date of publication.

Art Gallery of Ontario. “Artist Talk: Hito Steyerl.” 05 November 2019. YouTube video, 40:34. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ts-dNHeBtdQ.

Steyerl, Hito. Duty Free Art. London: Verso, 2017.

Universität der Künste Berlin. “Prof. Dr. phil. Hito Steyerl.” Universität der Künste Berlin. https://www.udk-berlin.de/en/people/detail/person/hito-steyerl/.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Geneva Freeport,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geneva_Freeport.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Hito Steyerl,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hito_Steyerl.