erlin-based writer and artist Hito Steyerl’s installation How Not To Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .Mov File (2013) opens in a room that features groups of three parallel white bars painted on the floor. In an accompanying video, an unseen narrator explains that larger versions of the white bars, painted on concrete in the California desert, were once used by the U.S. Air Force to calibrate the resolution of aerial surveillance photographs.
Noting that these test patterns have been made obsolete by digital satellite images with resolutions of up to one foot per pixel, the video suggests ways to evade new, high-technology surveillance. These include making yourself smaller than a pixel, living in a military zone, or being “deleted” as an enemy of the state. As the film progresses, solutions become more outlandish: one might wear an invisibility cloak or “merge into a world of pictures”—this last illustrated by a sequence in which silhouetted figures haunt a computer-generated image of a luxury hotel.
Steyerl’s work addresses global capitalism and militarism and the way in which images consolidate systems of control, while intimating that autonomous action and even disobedience are still possible. At times, as here, her approach, bordering on winsomeness, grates. Unlike the more trenchantly political films of the late Harun Farocki, this piece, while avoiding didacticism, also risks inconsequence.
A version of this story originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 119.