New York

Hito Steyerl, HOW NOT TO BE SEEN A Fucking Didactic Educational .Mov File, 2013, HD video, color, sound, 14 minutes.

Hito Steyerl, HOW NOT TO BE SEEN A Fucking Didactic Educational .Mov File, 2013, HD video, color, sound, 14 minutes.

Hito Steyerl

Andrew Kreps Gallery

Hito Steyerl, HOW NOT TO BE SEEN A Fucking Didactic Educational .Mov File, 2013, HD video, color, sound, 14 minutes.

With large-scale solo exhibitions slated for the spring and fall of 2015—at Artists Space in New York and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, respectively—along with the recent conclusion of shows at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, and the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, Hito Steyerl has had a lot on her plate. It makes sense, then, that on this occasion, the Berlin-based filmmaker, theorist, and critic would choose to present work from her archives, taking a moment amid midcareer pressures to be a little redundant. “How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational Installation” was, at its best, a punning exercise in emphasis, in where the stress lies.

At the entrance to the show, Steyerl placed the installation Strike, 2010, a twenty-eight-second video on a flat-screen monitor mounted between two black poles that sees her approach a screen similar to the one we are watching and whacking at its vacant surface just once with a chisel; a multihued array of digital fissures result. The show’s centerpiece, however, was the video HOW NOT TO BE SEEN A Fucking Didactic Educational .Mov File, 2013, a sardonic quasi-PSA. The piece premiered in 2013 at the Venice Biennale in “Il palazzo enciclopedico,” a presentation that was itself rooted in a performative lecture Steyerl gave at the New School in New York that April, in which she screened a Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch from 1970 that humorously addresses the subject of camouflage via a spoof of UK public information films. Also recalling the video essays of Chris Marker and Harun Farocki (who once described his own work as “images commenting on images”), Steyerl’s lo-fi sci-fi work features robot-voiced narrators, a troupe of actors, and the frequent use of green screen, and outlines five “lessons,” or imaginative proposals to avoid and reject ever more intrusive mechanisms of surveillance.

To buttress Stereyl’s arguments, the performers execute a range of demonstrative actions. During the section “Lesson III: How to Become Invisible by Becoming a Picture,” Steyerl wipes green-screen paint across her face and then merges into a satellite image of the earth in the background. The video then zooms from outer space to an aerial photo calibration target made by the US Air Force in 1951 in the Mojave Desert. The speaker tells us that in order to disguise ourselves in the face of airborne surveillance, our bodies must shrink to the size of one foot—the size of a pixel on this target. Next, in one of the video’s most waggish moments, the actors, dressed as “pixels” with fabric cubes over their heads, enact an odd choreography over a green-screened image of the target.

Much like the Python sketch on which it is based, Steyerl’s video reveals the artist using hypnotic, Steinian repetition and negation to express something cogent about the present. “Resolution determines visibility,” she says at one point. Later: “Whatever is not captured by resolution is invisible.” Near the end of the fourteen-minute piece, a voice describes the ultimate camouflage for our information age: In the “decades of the digital revolution,” the narrator asserts, “one hundred and seventy thousand people disappear.” They “retreat into 3-D animations . . . and reemerge as pixels.”

Anyone left searching for more practical arguments might consult Google. Simply enter “how not to be seen” in the search box, and you’ll surely be prompted to finish the query with “on Facebook.” Why not just delete your profile? With this work, Steyerl seems to reply, Good luck.

Lauren O’Neill-Butler