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Duty Free Art: Art in the Age of Planetary Civil War

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What is the function of art in the era of digital globalization? In Duty Free Art, filmmaker and writer Hito Steyerl wonders how we can appreciate, or even make art in the present age. What can we do when arms manufacturers sponsor museums and some of the world's most valuable artworks are used as a fictional currency in a global futures market that has nothing to do with What is the function of art in the era of digital globalization? In Duty Free Art, filmmaker and writer Hito Steyerl wonders how we can appreciate, or even make art in the present age. What can we do when arms manufacturers sponsor museums and some of the world's most valuable artworks are used as a fictional currency in a global futures market that has nothing to do with the works themselves? Can we distinguish between creativity and the digital white noise that bombards our everyday lives? Exploring artifacts as diverse as video games, Wikileaks files, the proliferation of spam, and political actions, she exposes the paradoxes within globalization, political economies, visual culture, and the status of art production.


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What is the function of art in the era of digital globalization? In Duty Free Art, filmmaker and writer Hito Steyerl wonders how we can appreciate, or even make art in the present age. What can we do when arms manufacturers sponsor museums and some of the world's most valuable artworks are used as a fictional currency in a global futures market that has nothing to do with What is the function of art in the era of digital globalization? In Duty Free Art, filmmaker and writer Hito Steyerl wonders how we can appreciate, or even make art in the present age. What can we do when arms manufacturers sponsor museums and some of the world's most valuable artworks are used as a fictional currency in a global futures market that has nothing to do with the works themselves? Can we distinguish between creativity and the digital white noise that bombards our everyday lives? Exploring artifacts as diverse as video games, Wikileaks files, the proliferation of spam, and political actions, she exposes the paradoxes within globalization, political economies, visual culture, and the status of art production.

30 review for Duty Free Art: Art in the Age of Planetary Civil War

  1. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Thinks through the production, circulation, and consumption of art in an increasingly undemocratic world, across a series of short, dense essays barbed with caustic wit. The pieces here range from considering the origins of spam and the tropes of the scam email to the relationship between tax havens and art freeports; many are drawn from talks, some feel sort of clumsy on print, but all are thought provoking.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Scotty

    this was the first book I finished this year. the title might make it look like an art book on first glance but notice the phrase 'planetary civil war' in the title. it's about the globalized world crumbling apart and devolving into a million little extra-territorial tax havens (see: switzerland, the caymans, the panama papers, etc). this is more a commentary on neoliberalism than on the art itself. but it does take time to criticize artists and critics who could be doing good as opposed to norm this was the first book I finished this year. the title might make it look like an art book on first glance but notice the phrase 'planetary civil war' in the title. it's about the globalized world crumbling apart and devolving into a million little extra-territorial tax havens (see: switzerland, the caymans, the panama papers, etc). this is more a commentary on neoliberalism than on the art itself. but it does take time to criticize artists and critics who could be doing good as opposed to normalizing bad. less picassos, more pistolettos. the bookended first and last chapters are meh to be sure. too many adjectives for too few ideas. i'm sure they resonate live, with a crowd reacting to the speech, but on paper not so much. the book's best pieces are in the middle. they hit like a sledgehammer to the brain. overall very enjoyable. i haven't encountered an author this smart and engaging in a long time. sure, it gets a bit International Art English'y at times, but what do you expect? this was a very fucking book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sophie

    Less about art than I anticipated and a lot more focused on the contemporary Art in relation to politics and globalization. Steyerl’s work makes a lot more sense after reading her well-supported theories. A lot of interesting topics about the future of new media art, at times it was a little dense or too abstract to me, but my favorite essay was called International Disco Latin!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Xaq Rothman

    I will admit this one was somewhat mystifying. As someone who is not particularly involved with contemporary fine art except as an occasional consumer, some of the essays seemed to whiz right by me. As someone who enjoys creative thinking about the effects of the Internet on art, politics, culture, etc., though, I enjoyed it. Steyerl definitely has a sense of humor and wordplay that is fun to see.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Russell

    slightly list-y run on sentences that clobber you with a pessimistic lens of our world. But! A lot of ideas worth pondering. I struggle with art writing that is mostly about exposing the ills of the world instead of exploring the grace of art despite our humanity.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Stevie Dunbar

    Hito Steyerl frames contemporary issues (late stage capitalism, algorithmic data processes, spam as both a food and type of communication, online romance scams, 3D printers, art as a currency, the use of Latin as a text placeholder, fascism, video games) in unique, thought provoking and sometimes confusing and heady ways. I won’t pretend I fully understood all of this book (the last essay in particular was confounding) but I very much enjoyed it. Let’s say I grasped the overall concept of almost Hito Steyerl frames contemporary issues (late stage capitalism, algorithmic data processes, spam as both a food and type of communication, online romance scams, 3D printers, art as a currency, the use of Latin as a text placeholder, fascism, video games) in unique, thought provoking and sometimes confusing and heady ways. I won’t pretend I fully understood all of this book (the last essay in particular was confounding) but I very much enjoyed it. Let’s say I grasped the overall concept of almost every essay, though it’s easy to get lost in the abundance of details. Not to mention that the subtle swapping of fiction and non-fiction. Using the book’s notes is a big help which I admit I didn’t realize until the end. That said, I look forward to reading this again! Anyone who is willing to look at the aforementioned issues (and more) from a completely different angle than what I’m used to is absolutely welcome. This book made an impact on me though I’m not entirely sure how or in what way but I enjoy that ambiguity.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dot Dunn

    I thoroughly enjoyed the chapter outlining the history of both spam & SPAM, and now will forever hold in my memory and wonderment that as a delicacy in Hawaii, traditional dishes from around the world have been creatively reimagined to incorporate spam, most beautifully producing the delightful reincarnation of macaroni cheese as Spamaroni & Cheese. What else will I retain from the book? A re-remembering of what was already half known about the neoliberal, privatised, automated, unsanctioned, wa I thoroughly enjoyed the chapter outlining the history of both spam & SPAM, and now will forever hold in my memory and wonderment that as a delicacy in Hawaii, traditional dishes from around the world have been creatively reimagined to incorporate spam, most beautifully producing the delightful reincarnation of macaroni cheese as Spamaroni & Cheese. What else will I retain from the book? A re-remembering of what was already half known about the neoliberal, privatised, automated, unsanctioned, warmongering world at hand; there was no huge enlightenment, no wider scope, I felt, no conciseness towards an ultimate answer (of what question?) but a general theme of reminding the reader of the interconnectedness of these things within our lives, and, occasionally mentioned, though not as much as I’d wish it to be, the art world; the insidious effects these policies, ideas or non ideas, and notions have as they play out upon a global sphere filled with drone warfare, art as currency and duty free warehouses of unseen and unaccounted for art. But. We are free to reimagine a parallel universe running alongside the pessimistic scope of the world that Hito constantly alludes to, and, amongst her more enlightening essays, we find can find the ways and means to begin to do so.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Srijoni

    some parts of the book will stay with me for life, especially the chapter about spam and its origins. some parts were a miss for me and that's why the four stars but the analysis for every topic is *chef's kiss* some parts of the book will stay with me for life, especially the chapter about spam and its origins. some parts were a miss for me and that's why the four stars but the analysis for every topic is *chef's kiss*

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sam Russek

    Someone else said this collection is “mystifying” and I agree—there were definitely portions that went over my head, not because of the subject matter, I don’t think, but because it was occasionally difficult to follow the structure of Steyerl’s argument. Take chapter 13, Let’s Talk About Fascism, for instance: it begins by defining two kinds of representation—cultural and political, and the way cultural representation increases at the expense of and in an inverse relationship to political repre Someone else said this collection is “mystifying” and I agree—there were definitely portions that went over my head, not because of the subject matter, I don’t think, but because it was occasionally difficult to follow the structure of Steyerl’s argument. Take chapter 13, Let’s Talk About Fascism, for instance: it begins by defining two kinds of representation—cultural and political, and the way cultural representation increases at the expense of and in an inverse relationship to political representation—which are, respectively and taken together, very interesting! Then there’s a section break and suddenly we’re defining speculation as an economic and philosophical concept. But from there we begin to talk about speculating on representation itself and how that ties into fascism, and at that point it was difficult to follow the threads that pull everything together. Steyerl is a talented writer prone to sacrificing an argument for a good turn of phrase; sometimes it works, but other times it feels like an oxymoron-generating algorithm beating my brain into submission. The different topics she researches, from Google’s use of captcha’s to computational photography, are by themselves worth the read, but now that I’m putting down the book for the night I feel more frustrated than anything

  10. 5 out of 5

    Callum Cound

    In 'Duty Free Art', Steyerl's iconic and accessible writing style shines through in this collection of recent essays/ lectures. Working through the concepts that centuries of unregulated art market capitalism have given us, she makes important points around how we can organise, collectivise and resist against what seems to be all pervasive challenges in the art-world. I super recommend the chapter on 'International Disco Latin' (a version of which can be found here: https://www.e-flux.com/journa In 'Duty Free Art', Steyerl's iconic and accessible writing style shines through in this collection of recent essays/ lectures. Working through the concepts that centuries of unregulated art market capitalism have given us, she makes important points around how we can organise, collectivise and resist against what seems to be all pervasive challenges in the art-world. I super recommend the chapter on 'International Disco Latin' (a version of which can be found here: https://www.e-flux.com/journal/45/601...) which attempts to demarcate English as an/the International Art Language, arguing in favour of the language of exploited art workers in forming a bulwark against the fascism of language and the monolithic power structures that keep art in the hands of the few. Hito Steyerl is ever prescient in her analysis of contemporary conditions of art / production, and this book further illustrates what an important figure she is in the art landscape of today.

  11. 5 out of 5

    ashes ➷

    I can't believe this book has no low reviews with text... I don't know if I should be suspicious, but the book itself is practically unreadable. I lost all confidence in Steyerl when she tried to get deep about--wait for it--Lorem Ipsum. The use of Lorem Ipsum represents a relationship between absence and presence now. And then she tried to pessimistically analyze the change in text in Lorem Ipsum, because the original phrase is jumbled in it, and made some claim that this was negative and remin I can't believe this book has no low reviews with text... I don't know if I should be suspicious, but the book itself is practically unreadable. I lost all confidence in Steyerl when she tried to get deep about--wait for it--Lorem Ipsum. The use of Lorem Ipsum represents a relationship between absence and presence now. And then she tried to pessimistically analyze the change in text in Lorem Ipsum, because the original phrase is jumbled in it, and made some claim that this was negative and reminded her of "Cicero’s head and hands cut off and ending up being nailed to the rostra on the Forum Romanum following his assassination." I mean, okay. If you think it is that deep. Overall this book just feels impossible to comprehend. The text is purposefully long-winded and coated in poetic nonsense, and no points are ever solidly made. It's like an avante-garde film was ironed onto a printout of someone's spoken-word poetry. DNF'ed.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Vincent Perrone

    Alongside luminaries like Baudrillard, Berger, and Benjamin, Styerl reintroduces us to art and image through the context of the political, metaphysical, and economic realms in which they persist. From the Syrian Electronic Army to email scammers, the proliferation of spam, and the reorientation of art as currency, Duty Free Art is broad in its approach and bountiful in its examples in which the real and unreal continue to fuse themselves. Appropriately, the subtitle, Art in the Age of Planetary C Alongside luminaries like Baudrillard, Berger, and Benjamin, Styerl reintroduces us to art and image through the context of the political, metaphysical, and economic realms in which they persist. From the Syrian Electronic Army to email scammers, the proliferation of spam, and the reorientation of art as currency, Duty Free Art is broad in its approach and bountiful in its examples in which the real and unreal continue to fuse themselves. Appropriately, the subtitle, Art in the Age of Planetary Civil War, is front and center within Steyerl's essays. The context of our new machinations and communications are key. We are in an era of permanent war, of adversarial attacks on all sides and art is both a weapon and a battlefield. This contextualization allows Steyerl to not only process the present but to navigate toward a possible future, one in which the real may be duplicated as the digital is now, or where humans might acknowledge the shifting of the real and face it head-on.

  13. 5 out of 5

    CY Forrest

    It's patchy, uneven, sometimes incomprehensible (to me at least), but I was completely absorbed by this brilliant book. It took me through the painful yet enlightening stages of some kind of 21st century decline and rebirth in a way that's desperately needed now. Someone needed to break free, and Hito Steyerl moves on a higher plain altogether with the ability to see above and beyond the immediate problems of serving an increasingly uniform world of algorithmic instruction, vast spreadsheet data It's patchy, uneven, sometimes incomprehensible (to me at least), but I was completely absorbed by this brilliant book. It took me through the painful yet enlightening stages of some kind of 21st century decline and rebirth in a way that's desperately needed now. Someone needed to break free, and Hito Steyerl moves on a higher plain altogether with the ability to see above and beyond the immediate problems of serving an increasingly uniform world of algorithmic instruction, vast spreadsheet data and the mute tribe of automatons. Is the Internet Dead? Yes, but it hasn't even been born yet. International Disco Latin made me rethink every input in a new way. Proxy Politics, Signal and Noise, shows how the binary world was created. I'm particularly interested in the chapter on spam and scam in Her Name Was Esperanza, and how the digital world plays on gestalt psychology.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Helen Varley

    this collection of recent articles and essays confirms hito steyerl as one of the most exciting and inspiring thinkers of our time. her style is playful, provocative and poetic, and highly readable. she deals with myriad complex topics in ways that are engaging and often surprising. for example, a chapter exploring the implications of 3D technologies leaps unexpectedly into the 1990s war in Bosnia-Herzogovina and, curiously, kisses. drawing connections between such disparate events and ideas, st this collection of recent articles and essays confirms hito steyerl as one of the most exciting and inspiring thinkers of our time. her style is playful, provocative and poetic, and highly readable. she deals with myriad complex topics in ways that are engaging and often surprising. for example, a chapter exploring the implications of 3D technologies leaps unexpectedly into the 1990s war in Bosnia-Herzogovina and, curiously, kisses. drawing connections between such disparate events and ideas, steyerl reminds us of the extent of inter-connectedness and thoughtfully interrogates the massive social changes that currently taking place. from email scams to tax dodging, language to facism - steyerl starts with reality and dances us rapidly into critical thought and imagination. she is unafraid to state difficult truths or to open cans of worms. the world needs more writing and thinking like this.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mtume Gant

    This is easily one of the most important polemics of our era. A collection of necessary analysis of our constantly changing relationship to the world as beings, creators, consumers and citizens. It’s wide ranging but incredibly coherent and always connected. Stereyl is a legit genius of thought. This book is of the highest levels and frankly I can’t think of a non fiction book published in the last 10 years that is more important globally. Read it.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Charlie Kruse

    Hito Steyerl plays with language in such a concise and cogent way, it would be hard to navigate contemporary art circles without being somewhat acquainted with her. Her ability to explain the current conditions of neoliberalism, the recent rise of fascism, and the methods to confront them are always illuminating.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Riar

    Great follow-up after The Wretched of the Screen. Certainly one of the best out there who is really capable of dissecting media, politic, art and technology with witty comments and anachronistic montage-style writing.

  18. 4 out of 5

    David Rice

    A dense, compelling, and often frightening look at the contemporary connections between art, war, fraud, unreality, and the Internet. It reads like a series of sci-fi stories that one suspects are all too true. Occasionally too clever for its own good, but very often arresting and profound.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    Some parts of this blew my mind while some didn’t, but the analysis is always compete and compelling. You don’t find yourself to this book by accident so if you’re here, you’re meant to be. Pick it up.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Vuk Trifkovic

    Great set of essays in the intersection of art, technology, and politics. Informed and inspired. Great pairing with "New Dark Age" by Bridle. Great set of essays in the intersection of art, technology, and politics. Informed and inspired. Great pairing with "New Dark Age" by Bridle.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kitzel

    Super interesting but definitely not an easy read. A work of art in itself, this thought palace that is all over the place.

  22. 4 out of 5

    dipandjelly

    T_T no words for how incisive + imaginative steyerl's writing is. T_T no words for how incisive + imaginative steyerl's writing is.

  23. 5 out of 5

    nis

    highly (overly?) speculative but fun

  24. 4 out of 5

    Fiachra

    Steyerl takes the reader on a fun but anxiety-inducing journey. Often the links she makes can seem flimsy, with a lot of hypotheticals, but her viewpoint and style are charming nonetheless

  25. 4 out of 5

    Niamh

    Read more like entertainment, clever quips, riveting thought experiments that got me cackling instead of thinking profoundly on the topic but I did really enjoy it.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jack

    It makes sense that this started as a collection of artist talks and not as a book length manuscript because some parts are really cool and others just sort of seem like free association. 3.5 stars.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Alex Dabi Zhevi

    I resisted Hito Steyerl for a long time... but between this collection and the Mission Accomplished Belanciege work, I can't help but be converted, devoted and I don't know what else. I resisted Hito Steyerl for a long time... but between this collection and the Mission Accomplished Belanciege work, I can't help but be converted, devoted and I don't know what else.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Reid

    Art criticism is dead. Long live art criticism!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tyler

    Philosophy at the intersection of modern art, markets, politics, war, and the fractured, filtered, digital present times. It's a collection of separate articles and talks but they all feed into each other, building a toolkit for modern media critique. Steyerl has the ability to draw connections in the most unlikely places and I totally buy it every time. Art is inextricable from the shady off-the-grid funders as well as the palatial exhibition displays by authoritarians in need of PR. But so are Philosophy at the intersection of modern art, markets, politics, war, and the fractured, filtered, digital present times. It's a collection of separate articles and talks but they all feed into each other, building a toolkit for modern media critique. Steyerl has the ability to draw connections in the most unlikely places and I totally buy it every time. Art is inextricable from the shady off-the-grid funders as well as the palatial exhibition displays by authoritarians in need of PR. But so are we all implicated by our place in the web of post-post-modern capitalism, late-neoliberal decline, and rising global conflict. I bought this on a whim and completely loved it. For the heady and heavy subject matter it's witty and even funny. The breadth of critique is impressive and engaging. And although the launching point is modern art, so many of the conclusions spoke to me and my everyday experience with the internet, mass media, and the varied planes of modern life. This is my favorite nonfiction I've read in memory.

  30. 5 out of 5

    RedServant

    9.5/10 - One of the most interesting books I’ve ever read. This will definitely have to be reread several times to get the most out of it. Although I can’t claim to understand everything, I loved Steyerl’s writing styles expressiveness and originality, an originality I prefer over simplification in her case.

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