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Title: Reality Expanded: The Work of Hito Steyerl, 1998–2015
Authors: Pek, Ying Sze
Advisors: Doherty, Brigid
Contributors: Art and Archaeology Department
Keywords: Documentary
Subjects: Art history
European studies
Film studies
Issue Date: 2022
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation discusses the films, videos, and installations from 1998 to 2015 of the German-born artist, filmmaker, and writer Hito Steyerl (b. 1966) in relation to changing conceptualizations of documentary and realism in art history. Despite the period’s broader representational challenges, namely globalization’s shifting social realities and the emerging digital world, I argue that Steyerl’s wide-ranging works— addressing topics including anti-Semitic and racist violence in post-1989 Germany, terrorism, BDSM rope bondage, and digital surveillance—remain committed to exploring the representation and production of reality. Through analyses of Steyerl’s writings from the 2000s on the potential of documentary and close readings of her work between 1998 and 2015, this dissertation identifies the distinct visual, material, and spatial techniques that support her continued commitment to realism. Consolidating recent approaches to documentary in art history and film and media studies, particularly the development in exhibition practice and contemporary aesthetics named as the documentary turn—a key discourse interpreting Steyerl’s work—I establish the global art exhibition as central to her practice. This dissertation argues that Steyerl’s shifting focus, from engaging with the realities of representation to producing realisms of media, context, and spectatorial experience, is more fully accounted for by the term critical realism. Critical realism brings into focus Steyerl’s documentary films and videos from the 1990s alongside her prominent video works commissioned for global art exhibitions in the 2000s and 2010s. Identifying the period’s formative social and institutional contexts, this dissertation argues that Steyerl’s oeuvre involves a strategic self-staging that responds both to a multiculturalist position in the cultural realm in Germany and to the global art exhibition’s focus on artists’ cultural identities. As “Reality Expanded: The Work of Hito Steyerl, 1998–2015” demonstrates, Steyerl’s critical realism proposes interventions in and beyond the image to maintain a commitment to a realist practice in the twenty-first century. Whether through novel digital visual forms or monumental site-specific video installations, Steyerl’s work establishes realism’s new perceptual and experiential means. Targeting spectatorship as a significant collective site, her work addresses contemporary crises of knowledge, information, and truth.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Art and Archaeology

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