Hito Steyerl

    Lovely Andrea by Hito Steyerl

    30 minutes 2006

    The quest narrative begins western literature. The ur-note, the very beginning, may be found in Homer’s Odyssey, which describes a wandering journey home. It seems that artists have been trying to come home ever since. But what to make of Hito Steyerl’s home—a photo session made when she was a student in Japan 18 years ago? And not just any picture perfect, this was a bondage session, though she can’t recall the name or even the face of the maestro that tied her into knots those long years ago.

    There is music along the way, from the Slits punk anthem Oh bondage, up yours! to the Shirley and Company’s Shame Shame Shame. This is one journey back you can dance to. Each number is cued by a reflection, a word, a feeling which arises out of her encounters with the bondage “industry” (men with bad hair cuts in makeshift industrial spaces).

    She returns to Japan in search of a picture, at her side a guide and translator who is herself an intimate of the bondage scene: Asagi Ageha. Between herself and the primal scene Asagi is a screen of youth and witness, a key which unlocks every door. And as soon as the door is opened the subjects offer the same refrain, “Oh, you’re filming already?” Yes, the camera is always on, ready to catch everything, any small glance or gesture that will offer a clue in this feminist detective search which is more interested in travel than arrival.

    While the movie is a personal voyage it slowly gathers the experience of others into its web, not only pop tunes but faces, locations for past and future bondage shoots, stage shows where turning bondage models are shown off, and a fortunate, uncanny visit to a sex archive. But more than this, the revelation of the thing itself, the primal scene uncovered, leads to a musing on bondage as a societal form, granted shape in the workplace, in social relations, in family ties. This small and spiky and very un-Austrian movie asserts that bondage is not some faraway fetish for specialists, never mind the rows of magazines for connoisseurs, the hundreds of thousands of shoots, the processions of girls lured by false promises, the miles of rope. We are each of us hanging even now by obligations we can scarcely name. We are all in bondage.