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Hito Steyerl: This is the Future

Feb 11, 2023 - Jun 18, 2023
1219 SW Park Ave, Portland, OR
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The Portland Art Museum presents the U.S. premiere of This is the Future, by the filmmaker and writer Hito Steyerl. This exhibition explores a vibrant, imagined garden through an immersive environment of video projection, sculpture, and spatial intervention. Steyerl is one of the foremost artists offering critical reflections on the complexities of the digital world, global capitalism, and the implications of artificial intelligence (AI) for society, which is explored in this exhibition.

These are documentary images of the future.
Not about what it will bring,
but about what it is made of.

Throughout Steyerl’s career, the acclaimed German artist has interrogated the hidden connections between technology, political movements, and global capitalism, creating contemporary parables that shine a light on the invisible infrastructure established by digital forces such as data mining and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Her works captivate viewers through her nods toward media spectacle and forms of popular entertainment.

Hito Steyerl’s multimedia installation This is the Future, created in 2019, depicts a vibrant, imaginary garden brought to life with video projection and sculpture. With its pulsing soundtrack, dazzling imagery, dark humor, and astute narrative, This is the Future explores the age-old human desire to predict the future and how AI neural networks promise to deliver it to us.

The exhibition opens with a short film featuring bright colors and fluid, digitally disrupted images. We meet Heja, an incarcerated woman who captures airborne seeds on wadded up paper to cultivate a garden in her cell. She must protect it from the prison guards so she hides it in the future, where her plants evolve through the predictive powers of the neural network. The plants become potent remedies for a range of today’s social and psychological ailments such as alleviating social media addiction to resisting the culture of over working. Interspersed with Heja’s story, a second narrator, the voice of a neural network, ponders humanity’s desire to see and control what is yet to come, ultimately reminding us that despite thousands of years of predictions, no human can escape the inevitability of death. “Entering the future is a massive health hazard,” according to the narrator.

ru·der·al (ro͞o′dər-əl) n. A plant thriving
in disturbed areas. from Latin rūdus,
rūder-, rubble, broken stones.
These floral productions flourish in
triumph, upon the ruins of digital disruption.

The film sets the stage for Power Plants, a series of video sculptures acquired by the Museum through the Contemporary Collectors Circle initiative. Multiple LED screens mounted on steel armatures host colorful and morphing imagery generated by a neural network that predicts a future type of plant based on machine learning of thousands of images of plants. Short texts describe the healing properties of the plants—which seem to grow out of a rocky landscape indicative of the devastating climate crisis—intended to be future remedies for contemporary social, political, ecological, and technological ills.

Dark room with a video screen projecting stonehenge on a psychedelic yellow and orange background.
This is the Future, courtesy of the Artist, Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York and Esther Schipper, Berlin.

Steyerl has described This is the Future as a positive look at our future, despite the impending climate crisis and its worsening impact on society. Steyerl imagines a time when plants take on “political characteristics or abilities that are able to heal the present… it is definitely a vision of nature that is more optimistic than the current allows…” This work proposes that AI could theoretically be used to create positive effects, something that seems unimaginable in today’s world of Big Data. And the exhibition suggests an unexpected pathway toward a resilient future.

The future starts anew at any moment, this moment is always in the present, this moment is always now —Hito Steyerl

Hito Steyerl: This is the Future is curated by Sara Krajewski, The Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. Supported in part by the Contemporary Art Council of the Portland Art Museum, Maribeth Collins Exhibition Endowment Fund, Miller Meigs Endowment for Contemporary Art, and the OCAC Visiting Artist Fund.


A woman with blond hair in a bun, looking up a video screen showing an AI version of a flower
Educator resources
Dark room with a large screen that says "This is the Future"
“This is the Future” transcript


The New York Times: Hito Steyerl Is an Artist With Power. She Uses It for Change—”Her work has never been more recognized or relevant…. She represents a new paradigm of the artist not as solitary genius but as networked thinker.”

The New Yorker: Hito Steyerl’s Digital Visions—”Her savage, mischievous works about surveillance, automation, digital platforms, and the art market have made her one of the most revered figures in the mercurial world of contemporary art.”

ArtReview: Artist Hito Steyerl heads 2017 edition of ArtReview’s annual Power 100—”Art is powerful. Or at least it’s the construct of powerful forces, not always of the positive kind. This is something Steyerl recognises. The artist makes the top slot on this list because she actively attempts to disrupt this nexus of power.”

Andrew Kreps Gallery: The Work of Hito Steyerl—Artist biography, selected works, and more.