Andrew Kreps Gallery // July 2 – August 15
Modern Painters, October 2014
“How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational Installation” is a must-see, delivering a caustic yet funny upbraiding from the title alone. Steyerl pursues concerns of photographic representation that are arguably retardataire in today’s post-identity art world. The Berlin-based German-Japanese artist’s polemical works—like Is a Museum a Battlefield?, 2013, a recorded lecture-performance linking art patronage to the military-industrial complex, and November, 2004, a video tracing the disappearance of her activist friend Andrea Wolf—seem light-years removed from millennial artists’ obsession with Internet-branded digital imagery. The brilliance of How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File, 2013, the centerpiece of the exhibition, lies in how Steyerl twists the rhetoric of her detractors—and the formal signifiers of digital representation—to deliver an acerbic critique of their blind spots.
The 14-minute video delivers five lessons on invisibility from “how to make something invisible for a camera” to “how to become invisible by merging into a world made of pictures.” Narrated by a text-to-speech engine and a montage of digitally manipulated shots, the work traces the changing terms of photographic visibility, beginning with an analog-resolution target painted in a California desert for aerial military photography, decommissioned in 2006 because of the rising digital-resolution standard. “Resolution determines visibility,” the video argues, yet “the most important things” (love, war, capitalism, and, presumably, drones) remain invisible. Lesson 4 escalates the lecture’s speed and bile, claiming that factories, museums, gated-community dwellers, and being a woman over 50 makes one “invisible by disappearing”—the last a personal jab, considering the artist, born in 1966, is approaching this particular visibility expiration date. Amid animations of twirling figures in green-screen-colored burqas and the girl group Three Degrees performing “When Will I See You Again?” Steyerl’s video concludes with a spoken fantasy of disappeared people being the vectors who “prop up our digital world” and rogue pixels capturing a military plane and throwing glitter. Far from didactic, Steyerl’s video takes up the absurdity and hysteria of contemporary digital imagery, forcing us to confront its distortions.