Because In Free Fall, Hito Steyerl's first major solo exhibition in London, is long overdue. The German artist has been one of the most prolific video artists, filmmakers, theorists, authors, journalists and professors working in international contemporary visual art today - in this respect, 'polymath' might be a better term than, simply, 'artist'. She is a student of cinematography in institutes from Tokyo to Munich and holds a PhD in Philosophy. Her works tend to deal with migration, cultural globalisation, feminism and contemporary political thought but she has that rare quality in an artist - she makes the viewer feel smart. She will give you a string from which you can fly your own kite.
The exhibition at Chisenhale Gallery, East London, includes a series of new film works commissioned by the gallery; Picture This, Bristol and Collective, Ediburgh. Before the Crash, Crash and After the Crash use the metaphor of an aeroplane junkyard in the Californian desert as a device to tell Steyerl's story of the current economic climate.
Steyerl knows what people want, and like an increasing number of young video artists following in her wake, she presents us with pop provocations. Using montage and reportage, appropriated imagery and reconstruction, she analyses the present using signs and brands that are part of our day-to-day (Western) culture but she is no post-modern standard-bearer. She is an artist-essayist, more in common with a history of post-structural philosophers, those men and women who made it their life to analyse and deconstruct the building blocks of aesthetics and social culture. The aeroplane, in fact, that is at the heart of Steyerl's new works is a perfect symbol: A Boeing 4X-JYI. Bought in the 1940s by film director Howard Hughes, the 'plane was subsequently flown as a part of the Israeli Air Force, before being decommissioned and blown up for the Keanu Reeves/Sandra Bullock vehicle (pun very much intended) Speed.
Steyerl recognises the sometimes futile efforts made by certain movements of people, for political purposes or otherwise, but it is the explosive, and sometimes wildly inappropriate, combinations that she presents that get us excited.
Hito Steyerl is at Chisenhale Gallery, 64 Chisenhale Road, London E3 5QZ between 4 November - 19 December.
image: still from In Free Fall (2010), Hito Steyerl, courtesy of Chisenhale Gallery.