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].

Originally published at francescoimola.tumblr.com.

Alfred Barr: Design & Exhibition Techniques

Barr believed in an aesthetic based on the intrinsic traits of a work of art. It is by Sibil Kanton’s biography of Alfred Barr that we can get a sense of how the MoMA director expressed his formalist approach not only on his organizational structure but on the exhibition design of the museum itself. His manner of presenting artworks — painting in particular — was so significant that has become of conventional use in galleries and museum in New York and worldwide. MoMA’s introduction of a multidepartmental plan was also due to Barr innovative vision for a museum with one of the most diverse audiences in the country.

He “departed from traditional display methods of treating painting as room decor” and presented them “skied”, at approximately eye level and in spacious design arrangments (Staniszewski, 1998). Artworks at the MoMA were installed on pale grey walls, not exactly white, usually disposed in chronological order. Barr also introduced informative labelling of painting in MoMA’s 1935 Vincent Van Gogh exhibition (Staniszewski, 1998). Didactical labelling was used so that people would get a sense of what they were seeing in the context of the room or the entire exhibition.

Installation view of the first exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, “Cezanne, Gaugin, Seurat, van Gogh.” 1929 Image © MoMA, The Museum of Modern Art, New York

In particular, Barr expanded the comprehension of Cubism and its historical significance through exhibitions such as “Cubism and Abstract Art” (1936) and “Picasso: Forty Years of His Art” (1938) (Stark, 2015). After a trip to Germany, he remained impressed by the exhibition design of the Folkwang Museum in Weimar. Barr’s later extensive use of the “monk’s cloth” colour for painting rooms is in fact directly inspired by the German museum design.

However, Barr’s static approach to displaying works presumed a specific type of viewer of a certain stature. By not taking into account for different categories of viewers — e.g. children or disabled individuals — he failed to create “immersion” between the viewer and the artwork. The experience of artworks was reshaped by designers like El Lissitky and Frederick Kiesler, who both focused on the relationship between the viewer and the artwork, and between this and the space in which is contained.


Kantor, S. (2002). Alfred H. Barr, Jr. and the intellectual origins of the Museum of Modern Art. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Metmuseum.org. (2015). [online] Available at: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/libraries-and-research-centers/leonard-lauder-research-center/programs-and-resources/index-of-cubist-art-collectors/barr [Accessed 15 Oct. 2018].

The Power of Display. A History of Exhibition Installations at the Museum of Modern Art, by Mary Anne Staniszewski. Published by The MIT Press, 1998.

Originally published at francescoimola.tumblr.com.

Ways of making art and concerns regarding the production of art

A summary and reflection on the Introduction to Art in the Making by Glenn Adamson & Julia Bryan-Wilsonhe.

The art of today is changing to a strikingly large extent because the ways of making art are changing. Artworks are no more produced following earlier methods of production, created by the artist themselves from the confines of their studio or home.

Art is created using pre-existing objects — the readymades (as Duchamp used to call them) — and incorporating those into an artwork. An approach which appears to “deskill the act of making” but is actually strongly compatible with “expressive gestures”, like the brush strokes of a painter. Today’s art is not created directly by the artist but by teams of carpenters in massive warehouses, through expensive software, performed live in front of an audience, or developed from the contribution of thousands of people.

Aaron Koblin’s work is a brilliant example of contribution-made art. His website TheSheepMarket.com “is a collection of 10,000 sheep made by workers on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Workers were paid 0.02 ($USD) to draw a sheep facing to the left.”

Figure 1. The Sheep Market by Aaron Koblin, 2009.

Some artists have taken the making process a step further by completely getting rid of it. Performing becomes the act of making for those, such as the artists Cornelia Parker with her The Maybe, who believe in the body and its actions as the ultimate artistic tool.

For seven days, eight hours a day, Tilda Swinton performed The Maybe — a collaboration with Cornelia Parker — lying asleep in a glass case. Firstly performed at the Serpentine Gallery in London in 1995, thereafter in the Museo Baracco in Rome in a collaboration with Pierre et Gilles in 1996 and, in 2013, at MoMA in New York.

Figure 2. Tilda Swinton performing The Maybe at MoMA (2013).

The issue of resources

In the Introduction to the Art in the Making, we are presented with multiple examples of how money is invested into art in order for artists to have the necessary resources to produce work. However, a large percentage of artists is still struggling to find corporations or institutions to sponsor them. Some have turned to micro-fundraising through social media, while others have decided to downsize, connect with local producers, and skill-share with other makers.

The acquisition of raw materials, wages for the workers, and bureaucratic obstacles are all factors which for decades have been overlooked by the critic and audience. Art has been mainly valued for its ideas, not for its “physical qualities” — which are a result of the making process. Those involved in such process and responsible for the hands-on production of art, e.g. performers, fabricators, and studio assistants, rarely get mentioned. Art-making is inherently limited: by economic resources, geographical distance, engineering matters and a series of other constraints. It is for this reason that makers turn to the “handmade”. And it is for this reason that the constrained realm of the Making needs to be analysed with a broader image in mind — because the process behind the artwork is embedded in a regime of economic disbalance and social inequities which cannot be unseen.


Aaronkoblin.com. (n.d.). Aaron Koblin — The Sheep Market. [online] Available at: http://www.aaronkoblin.com/work/thesheepmarket/ [Accessed 28 Jan. 2019].

Lever, C. (2013). Tilda Swinton’s The Maybe. [online] AnOther. Available at: http://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/2664/tilda-swintons-the-maybe [Accessed 28 Jan. 2019].

Originally published at francescoimola.tumblr.com.

Lawrence Abu Hamdan: Earwitness Theatre

Last week I visited Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s new co-commission for Chisenhale Gallery, Earwitness Theatre. For this exhibition, the Beirut-based artist presents a work that “explores the hallucinatory world of the earwitness”. His investigation around the Syrian regime prison of Saydaya and research into sonic evidence form the basis for Hamdan’s work at Chisenhale Gallery.

In 2016, he was invited by Amnesty International to complete an architectural investigation into the violations that took place in Saydnaya, a prison inaccessible to many and completely unknown outside Syria. As many as 13000 people have been executed in that prison since 2011.

Six former detainees were interviewed between January and April 2016. The violations taking place during those years are only recorded through the memory of those who survived.

These interviews are critical to Hamdan’s work. In the exhibition, he presents his library of custom designed and sourced object used to understand the experience of acoustic violence.

In an interview with Ellen Greig for Chisenhale Gallery, Hamdan argues that the exhibition, rather than giving a comprehensive account of all that was revealed in these interviews, acts as space where the experiences of the detainees can be explored and presented to the public in an unconventional way.

Focus element in the exhibition is Saydanaya (the missing 19db), a sound work hosted in a contained listening room set to total darkness. In this composition, the interviews are combined with sine pulses and silence and transformed into a dazzling 15 minutes work that sits inbetween sound art and documentary.


Earwitness Theatre, Press Release, Chisenhale Gallery, 2018.

Ellen Grieg: in conversation with Lawrence Abu Hamdan. Chisenhale Gallery, 2018.

Images by Francesco Imola

Originally published at francescoimola.tumblr.com.

“Do Artifacts Have Politics?” By Langdon Winner. A reflection.

Landon Winner is a political theorist whose work focuses on contemporary political thought, race, technology, and social theory. “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” is a journal article by Winner published in 1980. Through this thorough [and to some extents alienating] research paper, the authour claims that artifacts, here intended as technical objects, have political properties and can embody forms of authority and subordination. He suggests that we pay close attention to the properties of the technologies that surround us and the meaning of those properties.

Winner provides examples of technical systems of various kind which at first sight may not explicitly express any form of political intent, but have in reality been designed to produce concrete social consequences. See the parkways erected around Long Island by Robert Moses in the 1930s and the introduction of the Mechanical Tomato Harvester in 1949.

These examples show how some technologies have been deployed to discriminate, pose threats, and maintain a regime of power where skilled leaders are those making choices. Workers are not given the right to participate in the decision-making process which rules how technology influences the way people connect with each other.

While some artifacts are widely believed to require social structures in which those can operate, others are thought to work well in conjunction with specific systems of power and authority (Winner, 1980). However, the author states that certain technologies are inherently autocratic and must require particular social structures for their implementation. The atom bomb in one of those.

Winner contrasts nuclear power with solar power, which is decentralized and doesn’t represent a security risk. It is inherently democratic and populist (Innovation Group, University of California, n.d.).


Winner, L. (1980). Do Artifacts Have Politics?. Daedalus, Modern Technology: Problem or Opportunity? (Winter, 1980), [online] Vol. 109,(№1), pp.pp. 121–136. Available at: http://innovate.ucsb.edu/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/Winner-Do-Artifacts-Have-Politics-1980.pdf[Accessed 2 Oct. 2018].

Innovation Group · University of California, Santa Barbara. (n.d.). Innovation Group — Langdon Winner, “Do Artifacts Have Politics?”. [online] Available at: http://innovate.ucsb.edu/463-langdon-winner-do-artifacts-have-politics[Accessed 2 Oct. 2018].

Originally published at francescoimola.tumblr.com.