Polygraphs @ Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow
Polygraphs showcases renowned contemporary artist Hito Steyerl's video work Abstract as the basis for a group show of the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art's collection
In seven minutes and over two screens in Abstract, Hito Steyerl combines her own documentary footage of a site in Kurdistan of armed conflict with the Turkish Army, and still shots of the exterior of a German office building housing some of the corporate actors who manufacture and supply weapons to Turkish forces. These are then overlaid as the video of the battlefield is shown on an iPhone on one screen held by Steyerl, then she is seen face on, though her face is covered partially by the mobile phone she holds.
This angle of intention or refusing the patina of innocence or the global-political irrelevance of certain countries is a line of enquiry that’s picked up by some of the permanent collection works that are on display in the next room. For example, one suite of artist prints (by Graham Fagen) reproduce the plans that show tiny figures sleeping arm-to-arm and head-to-toe in punishing conditions, as well as the details of some of the many slave ships that sailed from Greenock, one of the main ports and exploiters of slavery at that time.
Amongst many moments like these, there is also an etching and collage by David Hockney – My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean – a lyrically scratched drawing with the ocean appearing as overlapping scragged and sharp marks, and Hockney leaning precariously at the top of what looks like the Empire State Building. Just around the corner from the video, it poignantly reminds those who have just watched the video of the friendship that forms its basis as Steyerl finds out about the gruesome murder of her journalist friend. At the same time, as the video complicatedly resists sentimentalism, the exhibition contextualises the etching’s fond quotation with the information in the previous room as to Burns’ decision at one point to move to Jamaica as a slave-profiteer. [Adam Benmakhlouf]