Beginning August 6, 2021, the San José Museum of Art (SJMA) presents Hito Steyerl’s landmark video installation Factory of the Sun. This immersive work debuted at the Venice Biennale in 2015 and is in SJMA’s permanent collection, co-acquired with the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago in 2017.
“We were delighted to partner with the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, to acquire Factory of the Sun and ensure its vitality far into the future,” said S. Sayre Batton, Oshman Executive Director, San José Museum of Art. “Hito Steyerl invites viewers to reflect on important issues of our time. We are excited to activate the Museum’s galleries this summer with her work and look forward to the discussions that will occur as a result of this presentation.”
Organized by Kathryn Wade, SJMA assistant curator, this will be the Museum’s inaugural presentation of Factory of the Sun. Upon entry into the immersive installation, audiences will feel as though they’ve been transported into a lurid cyberspace glowing in a grid of blue LED lights. On screen, the distinctions between reality and fiction dissolve in a montage of YouTube dance videos, drone surveillance footage, video games, fictitious news, and real documentation of international student uprisings. Notions of time and space expand and collapse within this virtual world, reflecting our contemporary reality and the ceaseless transmission of images and information (and misinformation) around the globe.
Factory of the Sun is a truly immersive experience,” shared Wade. “It creates an imaginative reality where modern warfare, corporate culture, and anti-capitalist resistance movements are played out by digitally-embodied characters. This exploration of the flow of data in our current digital landscape is a reflection on how today, we knowingly surrender our personal data to corporate interest so that we might participate, often delightfully, in the digital landscape.”
Factory of the Sun tells a surreal story of workers whose forced dance moves in a motion capture studio are turned into artificial sunshine. The story is based on an actual YouTube phenomenon (a studio assistant’s brother whose viral homemade dance videos were used as a model for Japanese anime characters) and a news story about an experiment at CERN—the European Organization for Nuclear Research facility that claimed to have measured a particle traveling faster than the speed of light.
Inspired by a quote from Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto (1985) describing machines as “made of pure sunlight,” Steyerl narrates in the video: “Our machines are made of pure sunlight. Electromagnetic frequencies. Light pumping through fiberglass cables. The sun is our factory.” The premise of machines made of pure sunlight is not a romantic one for the artist who has long attuned herself to the power of image and their electronic reproduction to manipulate our worldview.
Hito Steyerl (b. 1966, Munich, Germany) is a filmmaker, visual artist, writer, and innovator of the essay documentary. She is currently a professor of New Media Art at the University of the Arts, Berlin, where she co-founded the Research Center for Proxy Politics, together with Vera Tollmann and Boaz Levin. Steyerl has produced a variety of work as a filmmaker and author in the field of essayist documentary, filmography, and post-colonial critique, both as a producer and theorist. Steyerl attended the Japan Institute of the Moving Image and University of Television and Film Munich and holds a PhD in Philosophy from the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. She participated in Manifesta 5 (2004) and represented Germany in the 56th Venice Biennale (2015). Steyerl has exhibited widely in solo and group shows since this time, notably at Museo National Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid (2015); Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2016); and Centre Pompidou (2020). Steyerl is widely published in periodicals, newspapers, journals, and anthologies, as well as her own publications, including the 2017 critically acclaimed Duty Free Art: Art in the Age of Planetary Civil War.