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The day Hito Steyerl’s video installation, Factory of the Sun, opened at MOCA, the Berlin-based artist gave a talk with curator Lanka Tattersall. The Q&A lasted nearly as long as the conversation. “Can you talk about the significance of dance in your work?” one woman asked.
Her answer struck the balance between intuitive sensuality and politically-charged insinuation that makes Factory so hypnotizing. In Factory, characters dance almost constantly, rebelliously, and movements of one are captured and grafted onto others. “What does this mean?” mused Steyerl. “Is some kind of motion-capture data extracted from a political movement?” Then, does it travel on “waves of fantasy and desire onto another group […]?”
Installed at MOCA’s Grand Avenue space, in a black room with wide, blue-light grids on floors, walls and ceilings, the film is a video game (it plays you) set in a dystopian near-future. The game’s creator, named Yulia and modeled after one of Steyerl’s collaborators, narrates. She didn’t have time to program all the environments, she tells us. Some of what we see is reality.
While the plot’s trajectory is difficult to follow, individual details accumulate and crescendo as the game progresses. Deutsche Bank has been attempting to improve the speed of light—faster light means better trading. Through a high-tech mix of staged news footage, animated dance numbers and behind-scenes glimpses, we learn of an escaped motion capture slave killed by a bank-owned drone. A spokesman denies, then cagily admits to the killing, citing terrorism fears.
At the end of the game, Yulia’s virtuosic dancing brother, in a gold bodysuit, gyrates addictively in a basement rec room to Donna Summers’s “This Time I Know It’s For Real.” Factory of the Sun thrills with superb, inexplicable precision. The film sympathizes with workers, clones and rebel dancers over corporate figureheads, but it’s more about the way things feel than polemics. Somehow, Steyerl has gotten it so right: that ominous, vague sense of being at once in danger and always on the precipice of sleek, fantastic newness.
Hito Steyerl: Factory of the Sun runs February 21-September 12, 2016 at MOCA (250 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012)