Steyerl’s immersive installation The Tower (2015) focuses on the making of the video game Skyscraper: Stairway to Chaos by the Ukrainian company Ace3D, based on Saddam Hussein’s unrealised plans to reconstruct the Tower of Babel in Babylon, the ancient capital that he began rebuilding in the 1980s. Part of an origin myth explaining the development of different languages, the Tower of Babel has come to symbolise the hubris of humans aspiring to godliness and the chaos resulting from an inability to communicate. As the game developer describes in voiceover, the Skyscraper is a contemporary analogue to the Tower that connects to other dimensions, much as Steyerl’s film merges the virtual with reality. Precariously situated in a conflict zone, which he describes as a ‘1 km ride by tank’ from the Russian border, the developer explains how he has become part of a global network of technology firms, remotely contracted by European companies who outsource labour to cheaper economies, drawing attention to the physical labour underpinning digital culture.
As Zachary Small observes in his review of her Park Avenue Armory show, ‘An oracle of our end times, Steyerl is a crucial voice in a chorus of critics seeking to untangle the problems of contemporary culture. Meandering through the artist’s milieu of dystopias … one gets the sense that she is weaving together a 21st-century global tapestry.’ The installation for The Tower is adapted for each environment, but includes a red felt platform with futuristic red chairs, immersing the viewer in an alternate space that feels removed from reality.