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20150406193150-hs14-005 20140213145714-hito_steyerl_2_web 20150406193036-hs14-005 20140512225635-steyerl_afuckingdidactic_4 20150406190845-hs14-001 20140425083244-hitosteyerl_how_not_to_be_seen_a_fucking_didactic_educational_mov_file_2013_9 20150406190656-hs14-001 20150406190537-_mg_4397 20150406185149-hs15-006
'rak'rüm (noun);
the back room of an art gallery
where artists and art lovers hang
20150406184357-hs14-001
Liquidity Inc. , Hito SteyerlHito Steyerl, Liquidity Inc. ,
2014, HD video file, single channel in architectural environment, 30 min
© Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York
How Not To Be Seen. A Fucking Didactic Educational .Mov File, Hito SteyerlHito Steyerl,
How Not To Be Seen. A Fucking Didactic Educational .Mov File,
2013, HD video file, single screen, 14min
© Courtesy of the Artist and Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA)
Liquidity Inc. , Hito SteyerlHito Steyerl, Liquidity Inc. ,
2014, HD video file, single channel in architectural environment, 30 min
© Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York
How Not To Be Seen. A Fucking Didactic Educational .Mov File, Hito SteyerlHito Steyerl,
How Not To Be Seen. A Fucking Didactic Educational .Mov File,
2013, HD video projection
© Courtesy the artist and Wilfried Lentz, Rotterdam
How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File, Hito SteyerlHito Steyerl,
How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File,
2013, HD video, single screen in architectural environment, 14 min
© Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York
How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File, Hito SteyerlHito Steyerl,
How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File,
2013, film still
© Courtesy of the artist and the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven
How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File, Hito SteyerlHito Steyerl,
How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File,
2013, HD video, single screen in architectural environment, 14 min
© Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York
How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational Installation, Hito SteyerlHito Steyerl,
How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational Installation,
Installation view at Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York
© Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York Photography by Thomas Mueller
Adorno\'s Grey (film still), Hito SteyerlHito Steyerl, Adorno's Grey (film still),
2012, Installation. Single channel HD video projection, four angled screens, wall plot, photographs, 14.20 min
© Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York
November, Hito SteyerlHito Steyerl, November,
2004, DV, single channel, sound, 25 minutes
© Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York
November, Hito SteyerlHito Steyerl, November,
2004, DV, single channel, sound, 25 minutes
© Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York
Guards, Hito SteyerlHito Steyerl, Guards,
2012 , single-channel HD video, 20 min. loop
© Courtesy the artist and Wilfried Lentz, Rotterdam
In Free Fall, Hito SteyerlHito Steyerl, In Free Fall,
2010 , Video HDV, 32', single channel, sound, color , 33 minutes 43 seconds
© Courtesy of the artist & Andrew Kreps Gallery
In Free Fall, Hito SteyerlHito Steyerl, In Free Fall,
2010, Video HDV, 32’, single channel, sound, color, 33 minutes 43 seconds
© Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York
Lovely Andrea, Hito SteyerlHito Steyerl, Lovely Andrea,
2007, Single channel video; sound in English, Japanese and German with English subtitles; color, 30 min
© Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York
Red Alert, Hito SteyerlHito Steyerl, Red Alert,
2007, Triptych; three 30-inch cinema flat screens, three mac minis, mounting system, connecting hardware, 3 films each 30 seconds looped
© Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York
Strike, Hito SteyerlHito Steyerl, Strike,
2010, Video, HDV; Installation with flat screen (minimum 46 in.) mounted on two free standing poles, 28 seconds
© Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York
Strike, Hito SteyerlHito Steyerl, Strike,
2010, Video, HDV; Installation with flat screen (minimum 46 in.) mounted on two free standing poles, 28 seconds
© Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York
Liquidity Inc. , Hito SteyerlHito Steyerl, Liquidity Inc. ,
2014, HD video file, single channel in architectural environment, 30 min
© Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York
Liquidity Inc. , Hito SteyerlHito Steyerl, Liquidity Inc. ,
2014, HD video file, single channel in architectural environment, 30 min
© Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York
"Probable title: zero probability”, as performed at the Tate Moden (Tate Tanks).  , Hito Steyerl, Rabih MrouéHito Steyerl, Rabih Mroué,
"Probable title: zero probability”, as performed at the Tate Moden (Tate Tanks).

After the Crash, 2009 (left)/Do you speak Spamsoc?, 2008 (central)/In/Dependence, 2008 (right), Hito SteyerlHito Steyerl,
After the Crash, 2009 (left)/Do you speak Spamsoc?, 2008 (central)/In/Dependence, 2008 (right)

© Hito Steyerl
Hito Steyerl’s films and essays take the digital image as a point of departure for entering a world in which a politics of dazzle manifests as collective desire. This is to say that when war, genocide, capital flows, digital detritus, and class warfare always take place partially within images, we are no longer dealing with the virtual but with a confusing and possibly alien concreteness th...[more]


RackRoom
Interview with Hito Steyerl: "The medium is an information filter"

Amsterdam, April 2015: “If you want to know what art looks like in 2014, go and see Hito Steyerl’s satirical video installations,” Ben Luke of the Evening Standard wrote last year when reviewing Steyerl’s show at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. And right he is. Few artists have the Zeitgeist by the balls the way the German artist does. Her video works deal with technological evolution, the production and reproduction of images, and the power relations involved—subjects right at the heart of today’s visual culture. She explores these themes in writing and film in an extremely entertaining way, lacing very serious subject matter with absurdist twists.

Steyerl’s films have a decidedly theoretical undertone, but they are documentary as well, introducing characters you’ll never forget after you’ve made their acquaintance: Jacob Wood, a Bruce Lee-quoting banker who got laid off from Lehman Brothers and decided on a second career as a professional MMA boxer; Steyerl’s friend Andrea Wolf, with whom she re-enacted Kung-Fu movies as a teenager but who turned PKK freedom fighter and got killed in Eastern Turkey in 1998; the guards at the Art Institute of Chicago who apply their military background to protecting the De Koonings and Rothkos on the museum walls.

Trained as a filmmaker in Tokyo and Munich, and having obtained a PhD in philosophy from the Academy of Fine Art in Vienna, Steyerl has evolved from experimental filmmaking to a new art form, somewhere between visual essay, internet art, documentary, and installation. That makes her the perfect candidate for the EYE Prize, the world’s first award dedicated to art and cinema, which was presented to her on April 2 in Amsterdam.

Hito Steyerl, How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File, 2013, HD video, single screen in architectural environment, 14 minutes. 
Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York 

 


 

Edo Dijksterhuis: You’ve just won an award for “cinema and art” but you call yourself a writer and a filmmaker rather than an artist. Why is that?

Hito Steyerl: I never learned to be an artist. I didn’t go to art school and don’t know how to sculpt, draw or paint—it’s a total mystery to me. 

ED: But you do operate within the art circuit. Your work is presented in galleries and museums, it’s shown in biennials and even Documenta. 

HS: Film festivals stopped selecting my work a while ago, when I moved into installations. That type of presentation requires a different type of environment. And I guess I’m not really adapted to the commercial film industry either; my work is too experimental. In the art field that’s not a problem. It’s also more open to the social implications of the work and draws out a different kind of reception, the type of dialogue that I seek.

Hito Steyerl, November, 2004, DV, single channel, sound, 25 minutes. Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York 

 

ED: Your earlier work, especially November (2004) and Journal No 1, An Artist’s Impression (2007), seem to deal primarily with the syntax and grammar of cinema. Which sources of inspiration do you draw from? And how did it change?

HS: It’s true, my early work is rather cinematic. It refers to film history and a documentary tradition, but also to that whole world of B-films, mostly exploitation and martial arts films. When I was younger, for at least ten years, I would go and see two films a day at the Filmmuseum in Munich. I loved Japanese cinema; Kurosawa was my favorite. But also John Ford, Robert Bresson and Godard—you name it.

My work evolved over time, away from the cinematic, because the environment changed. Before, we could pretend to use media. Now it’s the other way around: we are embedded in media, and used by media: it’s not external to us. Smartphones, social media and the like have infiltrated our daily lives. We cannot turn them on and off.

The evolution of technology is reflected in my work, in the machinery used in my work. First there were film reels. In November, which was made before YouTube existed, the look and feel of VHS is present. Later it became DVDs and now it’s laptops and iPhones.

ED: Red Alert (2007), inspired by Alexander Rodchenko’s triptych of pure blue, yellow, and red, showing the reddish orange associated with the Homeland Security code “attack immanent,” seems to be a turning point in your body of work. While Rodchenko called his work “the end of painting,” you dubbed your work “the end of video.” What happened at this point?

HS: In Red Alert I was for the first time thinking about the medium in a new way. I was inspired by the Russian avant-garde and the history of the monochrome, but the piece was mostly a reaction to the news images on TV of the US invasion of Iraq (2003). These were images shot with cell phones by soldiers in moving vehicles. They were shaky and of low resolution—almost abstract. But they were documentary images. Imagine that: the utmost real image didn’t show anything at all!

Red Alert signals the end of video as a medium for representing something real; it had reached its boundaries. What we see is not an image but the medium itself. The medium is an information filter and it influences our perception.

Hito Steyerl, Liquidity Inc., 2014, HD video file, single channel in architectural environment, 30 minutes. 
Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York 

 

ED: Your work is extremely diverse, combining politics and the personal, pop culture and philosophy. Where do you start? And how do you proceed from that initial point?

HS: It’s different every time and it’s a process of chance. The piece I’m working on right now for the Venice Biennial started with a quote from Donna Haraway: “Our machines are made of pure sunlight.” But Liquidity Inc. (2014) started with a friend telling me about Jacob Wood, the wonderful protagonist who had been a banker and after the crisis turned MMA professional. That got mixed up with a discussion I had with my daughter about how water came to earth by way of meteorites. And Guards (2012) was inspired by an essay I had written in which I was speculating about museum guards who had been in the military or police. When I reread that text, I decided to try and film these people I had thought about.

ED: Is there a lot of interaction between your writing and filmmaking? 

HS: Writing and filmmaking are different crafts and for a long time I’ve tried to keep them separate. But lately I’ve not been so successful at it. Both words and images are based on data, both can be created on the laptop. So my practice has started to blur.

I do make films which are text based, lectures like Is the Museum a Battlefield (2013). In terms of visuals these are modest, quicker to realize, easier to manage. Video work is extremely labor intensive, it takes a very long time. To produce 20 minutes of film takes a minimum of eight months. A lecture I can produce in six weeks. That makes it more suitable for reacting quickly to topical issues.

ED: There’s a lot of music in your work. What’s the purpose of the music and how do you select it?

HS: I don’t want to rely on voice-over so I use music to replace the commentary. The song conveys what I’m trying to say, like a good soundtrack. And also because my work is quite loaded, heavy, it adds a tone of lightness, a certain cheerfulness.

I spend a lot of time doing research and I have a large database of songs. Usually I make selection of twenty or thirty titles and try them one after the other. Rarely the first song I try fits, but at some point I come across the one that creates the mood I intended. I love pop music from the seventies. I’m a child of disco, I guess.

Hito Steyerl, In Free Fall, 2010, Video HDV, 32’, single channel, sound, color, 33 minutes 43 seconds. 
Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York 

 

ED: When looking at In Freefall (2010) I had to think of Johan Grimonprez’ Dial HISTORY (1997). Were you inspired by that work?

HS: I was hugely impressed when I first saw Dial HISTORY and it made a great impact on me. But In Freefall rather deals with the financial crisis and the legacy of 9/11 while Dial HISTORY was made before the attack on the Twin Towers. It deals with a different period in time. But the films do cover similar territory. And I love Grimonprez’ use of music! Do the hustle! That’s probably something I learned from it.

ED: In Is the Museum a Battlefield you argued that the museum is not a value-free zone, separate from the rest of society. Do you feel it’s perceived as such?

HS: There’s a mist surrounding museums, they are seen as disconnected from reality, ivory towers. But although it’s not really acknowledged, they do reflect tensions present in society. The appeal of the artistic profession, for example, has really boomed over the last couple of years. Surveys have shown that no less than 25 percent of German teenagers want to become artists. This mass appeal results in a proletarization of the profession and this is reflected in the spaces. A lot of what goes on in there relies on unpaid labor of interns and volunteers.

ED: You address the problem of not being able to recognize the difference between truth and propaganda, fact and fiction. Do you think the distinction still carries weight in an era where everything is reduced to “likes” on Facebook and numbers of followers?

HS: It’s not simple to distinguish between PR and propaganda but I fervently feel that we have to deal with the complexity of the information we’re presented with. Some things can still be considered facts. Did an event happen or not? Did Saddam Hussein have weapons of mass destruction or not? This type of question can be answered; facts can be checked. In this era of social media fact checking is often overlooked. But it’s important to have information we can trust—otherwise we have no information at all.

Hito Steyerl, How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File, 2013, HD video, single screen in architectural environment, 14 minutes. 
Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York 

 

ED: In How Not To Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File, which takes the first part of its title from a Monty Python sketch, you criticize the surveillance society and the constant visual bombardment we’re submitted to. How did this work come about? 

HS: Some people from Kurdistan told me how they would hide from drones. They would carry around plastic sheets, a bottle of water, and a book. Whenever a drone would appear, they would drowse themselves in order to bring down their body temperature and cover themselves with plastic, lie still like sculptures, monochromes in the landscape, clearly visible for everyone but the drones that operate with heat and motion sensors. Actually, these people didn’t much mind the drone alarm going off. This would be the only time for them to be left alone, read a book. It was like leisure time.

All these contradictions make for a great starting point for a work, but I couldn’t formalize them. It would become too cheesy. But I did want to extract this idea of something being scary and funny at the same time. The format of the educational video presented itself when seeing the Monty Python sketch again. As a documentary filmmaker it was just too tempting to appropriate it, to run amok with it. 

ED: How important is humor for you?

HS: It’s not always possible to use humor, but especially when dealing with more serious subjects it’s very important. It makes life more beautiful. That’s something people in the art world don’t appreciate enough, I feel.

 

Edo Dijksterhuis

 

ArtSlant would like to thank Hito Steyerl for her assistance in making this interview possible.

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