Understanding Hito Steyerl’s 'Being Invisible Can Be Deadly’

“The situation most people face is that they are being visible all the time to certain modes of capture. That’s unfortunate I think because people might want to escape from this inordinate amount of — you know — constant surveillance. On the other hand being invisible can be deadly.”


Figure 1. Still from HOW NOT TO BE SEEN: A Fucking Didactic Educational .Mov File. by Hito Steyerl.

German filmmaker, visual artist, and writer Hito Steyerl has been working with new media, technology, and the consumption of images since the early 2000s. Steyerl’s trademark conceptual approach recurs throughout her 2013 video HOW NOT TO BE SEEN: A Fucking Didactic Educational .Mov File. The film “takes the form of an instructional video which flips playfully between ‘real world’ footage and digital recreations”(Tate, 2016). Steryerl genuine “dark humour” and “linguistic speculation” (aka wordplay), although apparently simple strategies, offers an inventory of evasion tactics for those “wary of Big Data”(Sparks, 2015). 

The artist uses gestures, protocols, and escape techniques to illustrate the viewer how to become invisible. For example, she holds her iPhone in front of the camera that records her, acting out to take a picture she imposes a surface in front of her face which obscures her eyes from the audience — i.e. she becomes invisible.


Figure 2. Still from HOW NOT TO BE SEEN: A Fucking Didactic Educational .Mov File. by Hito Steyerl. Video by Tate Shots, Tate, 2016.

Steryerl‘s experience as a cameraperson and her background in Cinema influenced her work and inspired her to question the viewer’s perception of reality through finely balancing humour and critique. 

In the Tate Shot’s trailer for HOW NOT TO BE SEEN — work which was displayed at the Tate in 2016 — she reveals her starting point, the initial idea: Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch made in the 1970s and also called “How Not To Be Seen”. 


Tate. (n.d.). Hito Steyerl born 1966 | Tate. [online] Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/hito-steyerl-22462 [Accessed 12 Oct. 2018].

Tate. (2016). Hito Steyerl – 'Being Invisible Can Be Deadly’ | TateShots. [Online Video]. 17 May 2017. Available from: https://youtu.be/kKAKgrZZ_ww. [Accessed: 12 October 2018].

Tate. (2016). Hito Steyerl: 'Being invisible can be deadly’ – TateShots | Tate. [online] Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/hito-steyerl-22462/hito-steyerl-being-invisible-can-be-deadly [Accessed 12 Oct. 2018].

Sparks, K. (2015). To Cut and To Swipe: Understanding Hito Steyerl Through “HOW NOT TO BE SEEN” - Momus. [online] Momus. Available at: http://momus.ca/to-cut-and-to-swipe-understanding-hito-steyerl-through-how-not-to-be-seen/ [Accessed 12 Oct. 2018].

En.wikipedia.org. (2018). Hito Steyerl. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hito_Steyerl [Accessed 12 Oct. 2018].