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PRINT May 2015

TECHNIQUES OF THE OBSERVER: HITO STEYERL AND LAURA POITRAS IN CONVERSATION

“TECHNOLOGY HAS TAKEN US by surprise, and the regions that it has opened up are glaringly empty,” Siegfried Kracauer once wrote. The great German film theorist was not merely lamenting the depletion or alienation of life in a mechanized world; he was also expressing elation, anticipation, about the possibilities opened up by technology and in particular by film—a space for play, for discovering extraordinary experiences and visions. The films and videos of LAURA POITRAS and HITO STEYERL conjure a similar sense of exhilaration, exploring as they do wholly new techniques, devices, and immense fields of information. And yet the secrets they uncover and the stories they investigate are often terrifying—whether they are breaking Edward Snowden’s revelations of the US government’s vast, clandestine surveillance of its own citizens or teaching us how to hide from drone strikes in a half- but also deadly serious way. Artforum invited Poitras, whose CITIZENFOUR won this year’s Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, and Steyerl, whose solo exhibition at Artists Space in New York is currently on view, to meet and exchange thoughts about filmmaking, perception, disclosure, encryption, and the promise and peril of the image.

Hito Steyerl, How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File, 2013, HD video projection (color, sound, 14 minutes), architectural environment, dimensions variable.

LAURA POITRAS: The last time we saw each other was about two years ago—right before I started getting e-mails from Edward Snowden. And you were working on a project for the Venice Biennale dealing with surveillance and drone strikes.

HITO STEYERL: We were brainstorming about it together. And then a couple of weeks later Snowden contacted you?

LP: Yes. In retrospect, your project foreshadowed a lot of the Snowden revelations.

HS: I made a video called How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File [2013], which dealt with how to be invisible in the age of surveillance. It premiered, and four days later the leaks hit. It was amazing. I was seeing Snowden everywhere. And I knew you were involved.

LP: A lot of people would think that this idea of disappearing was just paranoid. But if you’re living in a place that’s a potential target for drone strikes, then needing to

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