Eshetu, Theo


British, b. 1958; lives and works in Berlin, Germany


Theo Eshetu is a London-born, Ethiopia-raised, and Berlin-based media artist who creates video-based installations that display the expansiveness of both his cultural inspirations and his medium. Eshetu asks his viewers to reflect on the processes of his own mediation as we discern the multiplicious strategies of image-production occurring across his diverse cultural sources. His form and content generate a provocative "electronic elsewhere," as articulated by Chris Berry, Soyoung Kim, and Lynn Spigel: Eshetu produces social spaces that are of the material world (gallery installations comprised of mirrors, monitors, photochemical representations of lived experiences), yet are equally premised on consideration of the non-space produced by his media technologies. It is this contradiction that finds generative expression in works such as Brave New World (1999). Here, Eshetu commingles far-reaching moving-image selections pulled from Super 8 film and transferred to video, his own recordings on video, and appropriated television programming, into a poetic syncretism that is sensitive to his specific global experience. Further, he presents these images in a playful panopticon: a single video monitor emits his diverse content streams into a mirrored cube that bowls out into a concave mise-en-abyme of vaulted, fragmented projections. A viewer must insert his or her head into the roughly 4:3 frame of the work to see the refraction of the television images. One's own perceiving body is pulled into the spectacular non-place of Eshetu's installation. 

In Trip to Mount Ziqualla (2005), the artist emphasizes the particularity of his position and his manipulative capabilities. In this three-channel projection, the left and right images mirror each other, in contrast to a distinct central image. But the screens soon cross-populate into a lush, complex mandala of figures and brightly colored clothing. Hand-held, close-framed documentary video is inter-cut with religious performances. A swelling orchestral score by Bach and N.W.A. intermingle on the sound track before diegetic audio abruptly returns to assert its synchronous presence. The artist skillfully underscores the elasticity of electronic media technologies. Eshetu asserts the cross-cultural influences that such technologies create, but also the influences that are already quite firmly present.

– Kenneth White, Stanford University

Artworks by Eshetu, Theo

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