Virtual Leonardo’s Submarine is Hito Steyerl’s third solo project with Andrew Kreps Gallery and the first virtual exhibition organized by the gallery. This project is organized in collaboration with Esther Schipper, Berlin.
Originally conceived in 2019 as a video environment for the 58th Venice Biennale, Leonardo’s Submarine has been completely reworked as a Virtual Reality (VR) experience. Upon entering the virtual space—via the means of a VR headset or by web browser version—viewers will find themselves floating underwater, surrounded by fish, seaweed, and coral. The artist’s avatar, outfitted in full PEOPLE gear, swims alongside.
Virtual Leonardo’s Submarine can be navigated in two ways:
- Via your browser (Google Chrome and Firefox recommended) to navigate in 360 degrees using your mouse, arrow keys, and/or w-a-s-d.
- VIa a Virtual Reality Headset such as Oculus Quest or HTC Vive connected to a webXR browser (i.e. Firefox Reality).
Virtual Leonardo’s Submarine is not currently accessible via Safari, mobile devices, or VR headsets connected to smartphones, such as Google Cardboard.
Hito SteyerlVirtual Leonardo’s Submarine, 2020Virtual RealityDuration variableEdition of 10 plus 2 artist's proofs
Courtesy the artist, Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York and Esther Schipper, Berlin. © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2020. Images © Hito Steyerl
Leonardo's Submarine is projected on three virtual curved screens that surround the viewer. The three-channel video draws a parallel between Leonardo da Vinci's primitive submarine-first sketched in the early 16th century-and Leonardo S.p.A., formerly Leonardo-Finmeccanica, an Italian global high-tech company and one of the key players in aerospace, defense and security. Leonardo S.p.A, partially owned by the Italian government through the Ministry of Economy and Finance, has supplied weapons used by the Turkish armed forces against civilians in Syria and sold war planes to Saudi Arabia.
In 1515, Leonardo designed a weapon that would allow Venice to defend itself from the attacks of the Ottoman Empire: a proto submarine that could sink enemy ships inadvertently. Despite the fact that the Doge of the Republic would have rewarded him generously, Leonardo decided to bury his invention under obscure descriptions and cyphered diagrams. Leonardo eventually concluded that people were too evil to handle such a destructive technology.
Steyerl embarks the viewer on a metaphorical journey aboard Leonardo's vessel. Venice's laguna, palazzi and skies, generated by Artificial Intelligence video processing, flow dreamlike and foreign, while a voice-over speaks of technology, power, corruption, art and warfare, topics that the artist has explored thoroughly over the last years.
The VR experience offered by Virtual Leonardo's Submarine echoes Steyerl's concept of a Bubble Vision which she developed during her 2018 lecture at the Yale School of Art. VR experiences place the viewer at the center of an environment while also disembodying them: "The viewer is absolutely central, but at the same time, he or she is missing from the scene. (…) Is this 'bubble vision'-this 360-degree vision-a training scheme to adapt humans to a world from which they are increasingly missing because they have been replaced by invisible systems or automation or robot?" asks Steyerl.
Earlier this year, a previous version of Virtual Leonardo's Submarine premiered on the website of K21 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf, on the occasion of the artist's survey exhibition: I Will Survive.
Hito Steyerl was born in 1966 in Munich. She lives and works in Berlin. Steyerl 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 Centre 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.
Her recent solo exhibitions include: Hito Steyerl. I Will Survive, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen K21, Düsseldorf, and Centre Pompidou, Paris (2020-21); Hito Steyerl, n.b.k. - Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin (2019-20); This is the Future, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (2019-20); Hito Steyerl: Drill, Park Avenue Armory, New York (2019); Power Plants, Serpentine Galleries, London (2019); Käthe Kollwitz Prize 2019. Hito Steyerl, Akademie der Künste, Berlin (2019); The City of Broken Windows, Castello di Rivoli, Turin (2018); Liquidity Inc., The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2017); Factory of the Sun, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2016); The Distributed Image, LUMA Foundation, Arles (2016); Duty-Free Art, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid (2015).