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  • Haunting Entanglements of Art and Violence
  • Sarah Lucie (bio)
Drill, by Hito Steyerl, exhibition, Park Avenue Armory, New York, NY, June 20–July 21, 2019.

Artist, philosopher, and essayist Hito Steyerl’s most recent work takes the Park Avenue Armory’s prominent Drill Hall as its central object, premiering within its very walls. Primarily a video installation, Drill continues Steyerl’s enduring interest in examining the complex entanglements of contemporary art and power in all its different forms. In this case, she turns her attention to the history of increasing gun violence and militarization within United States culture, in part by drawing connections between elements that the video suggests have been “hiding in plain sight.” As a site-specific installation, it invites audiences to consider their own implicated position within the murky networks of war and technology as it intersects directly with art. At the Armory, this new video installation takes center stage among a larger survey of Steyerl’s work, which deepens Drill’s intertwining themes of financial exchange, violence, and art.

The Drill Hall is a cavernous space measuring approximately two hundred by three hundred feet, and it remains one of the largest unobstructed interiors in all of New York City. This context is important since the three-channel video installation is projected onto three large screens positioned at the center of the space. Viewers walk deep into the depths of this space before reaching the concrete slabs arranged for audience seating. Lighting illuminates the floor in the pattern of an architectural footprint surrounding the screens, pulsing to rhythmically echo the film’s score. Aside from the slabs and screens, the surrounding environment is a dark and gaping empty space. The arresting setting provides more than a simple backdrop for Steyerl’s film; it supports the themes of her work by putting the audience into a position of vulnerability as we feel slightly at ease in the cavernous space. [End Page 53]


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Installation view of Drill (2019), 3-channel video installation, 21 min., HD video.

Photo © James Ewing.


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Installation view of HellYeahWeFuckDie (2016), 3-channel video installation and environment. 4 min., HD video, and Robots Today (2016), 8 min., HD video.

Photo © James Ewing.

[End Page 54]


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Installation view of Broken Windows (2018–2019), video installation and environment, single-channel HD video, 6 min. 40 sec., and Unbroken Windows (2018), single-channel HD video, 10 min.

Environment: Painted plywood panels, wood easels.

Photo © James Ewing.


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Installation view of Duty Free Art (2015), 3-channel video installation and environment. 38 min. 21 sec., HD video, and Is the Museum a Battlefield? (2013), Lecture and HD video.

Photo © James Ewing.

[End Page 55]

The film takes on a familiar documentary style, featuring glossy footage with talking heads of activists and historians, but resists the genre’s tendency toward clarity and soothing tones. For example, public historian Anna Duensing gives a walking tour of the Armory with flashlight in hand, and activists Nurah Abdulhaqq, Abbey Clements, Kareem Nelson, and Judith Pearson all remark upon their own experience with gun violence in their schools and neighborhoods during formal interviews. However, the film moves away from the traditional documentary as images and ideas are juxtaposed without a framing narrative as names and titles appear only much later in the film’s final credits. This lack of contextualizing information reinforces the prominence of the Armory itself, the only site that grounds the jumble of images on the screens. All interviews occur within the Drill Hall, with interviewees seated in the same position as audiences.

In the course of the film, audiences learn that the Armory was built by Manhattan elite to house the Seventh Regiment—the first to join the Union in fighting the Civil War. As we sit watching, a historian reveals that we are seated atop an old shooting gallery housed in the basement. The film’s multiple reveals about the space heighten a vague sense of unease. A tour stops to feel the holes in the walls, finding bullets still lodged in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1537-9477
Print ISSN
1520-281X
Pages
pp. 53-58
Launched on MUSE
2020-01-14
Open Access
No
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