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Falling into the Digital Divide: Encounters with the Work of Hito Steyerl by Daniel Rourke

Falling into the Digital Divide: Encounters with the Work of Hito Steyerl by Daniel Rourke

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Published by Daniel Rourke
Originally published in AfterImage (The Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism) Vol. 40, No. 5 - Feb/March 2013
Originally published in AfterImage (The Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism) Vol. 40, No. 5 - Feb/March 2013

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Categories:Topics, Art & Design
Published by: Daniel Rourke on May 20, 2013
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03/27/2014

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THE JOURNAL OF MEDIA
RTS
AND
CULTURAL CRITICISM
EDITOR
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EENEN ASSOCIATE EDITOR
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NT
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M
EGA
N
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oc
hester,
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Fax:
5
85) 442-1992
Ema
il
: afterimagf'@vsw.org Web:
www.
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ai/
2
6
16
19
REPORT
T
HE
IM
PORTANCE OF
SEEING FOR
ONESELF THROUG
H
THE EYES
OF
O
TH
ERS
Bill K
ouwenhoven
ESSAY
WHAT
DO
SUBJECTS
WANT
?
J
oscelyn
u
rich
FE TURES
SEX
TOOLS:
NEW
QUEER NARRATIVES
AS COM
M
UNITY
ACTION CINEMA
B
radford
Nordeen
ROMANTI
C
CONCEPTUALISM
: A
CONVERSATION WITH GUIDO
VANDER
WERVE
H
arry
J
W
eil
FALLING INTO
THE
DIGITAL DIVIDE
:
ENCOUNTERS WITH
THE
WORK
OF
HITO STEYERL
Daniel R
ourke
EXHIBITION
REVIEWS
23 GAS PAINS
R
obert
R
ac
z
ka
25
STAR
OF
THE
EXHIBITION
Julia B
radshaw
27 BODY OF EVIDENCE
T
im
Maul
28 UNCANNY
BY
COINC
I
DENCE
]ody , ellen
30
ACTS OF DEF
I
ANCE
Yesomi
Umolu
BOOK REVIEWS
32 MOBILIZI
NG T
ACT
ICS
33
J
oanna Gardner-
H
uggett
BLACK,
WHITE,
AND
BLUE
Th
omas
Mc
Go
ver
n
ETC
34
MEDIA NOTED
AND
RECEIVED
Contributor:
P
atrick
F
riel
PORTFOLIO
[ J
M
egan
M
ette
INSIDE
COVER
SPREAD)
FTER
 
M GE
PROVIDES
A
FORUM
FOR
THE DISCUSSION ANALYSI
S
OF
PHOTOGRAPHY, INDEPENDENT
FILM
AND
VIDEO
,
ALTERNATIVE PUBLISHING
,
MULTIM
EDI
A, AND
RELATED FIELDS.
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PUBLICATION
OF
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I
ES
WORKSHOP
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cepted via
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ailablc online
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rg/ai and
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ue
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s
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une
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s,
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cet,
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he
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ector, Vis
ual Studies Work
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e Shaw. B
oard
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yllis Kl
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res, Allen
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M
arch/
April
2013,
Volume
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conte
nts
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se
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eprint
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e
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ission
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s
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on
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erimage.
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e
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NYSCA
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Still
from
Community ction
Center
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10)
by
A.K. Burns and
A
.L.
Steiner;
photo
by
A.L.
Steine
r
 
FALLING
INTO
THE
DIGITAL DIVIDE:
ENCOUNTERS
IT
THE
ORK
OF
HITO
STEYERL
isplayed
on
two
high-d
efinition television screens,
Hi
o
Steyerl
's
work
bstra
ct
(20
12
) vies for
the
viewer's attention,
even
as
it
severs it.
On
one
sc
reen
, Steyerl
her
se
lf
c
ome
s
into
focus
wearing
a
Ramone
s
T-
s
hirt.
Within the fram
e, Steyer holds
another
screen:
that
of
a s
martphone
,
the
lo
go
of
ts
American
s
uper-corporation
tugging
at th
e ce
nter
of
a s
hot
framed,
in turn
,.
by the Brandenburg Gate
and
a Berlin office
building
belonging to weapons
manufacturer Lo
c
khe
ed
Martin.
Th
e words
Shot/Countershot
" lig
ht up
a
black
tran
sition across
both
sc
re
ens:
o
ne opens
the door
to
th
e other."
The
references
bstract
make
s
are in
s
tantly
manifold.
On
the
one
hand
, "s
hot
/
countershot
ref
ers to
the
filmic t
ec
hniqu
e
of
c
hara
cters looking
at
eac
h
other
across distinct
fram
es,
and
on
th
e other, to
the
se
ntiment
of
co
unt
e
rattack in battl
e.
bstract
is
about
Andrea
Wolf
, a chi
ldho
od
friend
of
Steye
r
turned radi
ca
l activist
and Kurdi
sh
militant
,
who
was
murd
ered
in
1998 by
Turki
sh forces.
bstract
is
about th
e ways
in
which
t
he
grammar of
c
inema
follows
th
e
grammar
of
battle,"
in
c
ludin
g the
inh
ere
nt
violence
of
the
c
ut
and
th
e e
dit
,
carried out
by filmmakers
in
pur
suit
of
their
craft.
At
the
remote dese
rt
location where h
er
friend
wa
s
murd
e
red
,
St
eye
r
is g
uided
through
a
taxonom
y
of
det
ritu
s by a l
oca
l
Kurdi
sh
man.
"
Thi
s is a
pi
ece
of
cloth.
Thi
s
is
a
ja
cket.
Thi
s is
an
ammunitions
container."
On
the
oppo
site screen, film,
battl
e,
and
conceit flicker white
on
black
once
mor
e: "
Thi
s is a shot.
Thi
s is a hellfire
mi
ss
ile."
Th
e a
tt
ention
granted
video works projected onto white
ca
nvases
or
left to rep
ea
t, indefinitely,
on
frees
tanding
high-definition television
s,
chimes between
three main
subjects: artist,
artwork,
and
viewer.
But
in
an e
ra of
multiplicit
y,
arguably brou
g
ht on
by
our
s
ubm
ersion
in
the internet
and
th
e web,
the
s
ta
sis
of
he
v
ideo
exhibition i.e.,
t
hi
s work is
thirt
y
-one
minut
es l
ong
and
will rep
ea
t
at
five
minut
es
pa
st
each hour
" says
nothin
g
of
networked subject-ivities.
Vid
eo
is
inherent
ly a
broadca
st
medium
, for even
if
its consumers
ca
n
walk
in and
out
whenever they
plea
se,
th
ey
may
never
be "
pro
s
umer
s,"
ca
pable
of
produ
c
ing
as
the
y
cons~me
eac
h
mutating
act
an
equivalent
of
its
other
.
Although
.
thi
s "digital," "n
et
worked"
mentalit
y
ha
s
ca
u
ght
th
e tongues
and
pens
of
th
e
art
establishme
nt
, b
eca
use
art
objects still sit
on
plinths
and num
e
rou
s
art
videos still play from beg
inning
to e
nd
w
ithout audience participation
, it often
fe
els as
though the
"
di
gital
cond
iti
on
has
not
been
dir
ec
tly
translated
through
old m
ea
ns to new artistic ends. A
ccor
ding
to
Clair
e Bis
hop
in th
e b
eg
inning
of
a rece
nt
riforum
essay, "
the
app
earan
ce
and
content
of
c
ontemporar
y
art
ha
ve been curiously
unr
es
pon
sive to
th
e total
upheava
l
in
our
labor
and
leisure
inaugurated
by
the
digital revolution."
1
Bis
hop
goes
on
to
make
some
va
lid assertions
about
the ever-burgeoning
Above
Sti
ll
from
ovember
2004)
by Hit
o
Steye
rl;
©
H
ito
Steyerl;
court
esy
Wilfried
Lentz
Rott
e
rdam and Wi
lso
n L.
Mead
Fund
di
gital condition, even as she r
ecant
s
'
new
me
dia'
art
as
a
sp
ec
ialized field
of
its
own, not
worthy
of
consideration
within
the l
og
ic
of
her own argument
. Her
comments, whi
ch se
nt
ripples
of
di
sa
ff
ection
throu
gh
MFA
se
min
ars
and
new me
di
a webzines alike, exe
mplif
y
th
e very disavowal
of
the digital
about
which she ·warns:
While
man
y
arti
sts use digital
techno
log
y,
how many
r
ea
lly
co
nfront
th
e
qu
estion
of
what
it
mean
s
to
think
, see,
and
filter affect
throu
gh
the
digital?
How many
thematize
this,
or
reflect deeply
on
how we experience,
and
are
altered
by, the digiti
za
tion
of
our
exis
ten
ce?
2
Steyer
ma
y be such
an
artist. Bo
th
her
video work which is essayistic
in
content
and
approach
and
her writt
en essays
are
e
mblematic
of th
e
tran
sc
ription
s
the
art
world
ha
s
undergon
e
in
th
e
pa
st two d
eca
des.
Th
e
po
etic collapse
of
signifier
and
signified pe
rform
ed by
b
 
tract
a
tt
ests to
th
ese
pur
suits
in
Steyerl's work.
Althoug
h not
imm
ediately obvious
in
a
ga
ll
ery
co
nt
ext,
mo
st
co
nt
e
mporary
video work is digitally
generated
.
Th
e
once
phy
si
ca
l acts
of
cutt
in
g film
and
splicing
frame
s is now
don
e
through
software
int
erfaces
that
, as theorist Lev
Manovich
a
tt
ested
in
the
l
ate
1990s,
metonymi
ca
lly fabricate
the co
nditions
of
film. As
Olga Goriunova
and
Alexei Shulgin
hav
e suggested,
computer
s do
not
have a recognizable
or
signifi
ca
nt
aesth
et
ic
th
at possesses some
kind
of
auth
enticity
and
compl
eteness,"
3
but
th
at
very
l
ack
is
not
an
absence, for
the
dig
ital
is
anyth
in
g it
can
be
made
to s
tand
in
for. Aes
th
eti
ca
ll
y,
perhaps
,
th
ere is
nothing
to dis
tinguish
finely enc
oded
video, music,
or
imag
es from
their
mate
rial
precur
sors. Yet
at
the
level
of
code,
artwork
s
produced
digitally
are
also
indi
s
tingui
s
habl
e from
one anoth
e
r.
Writing about
th
e c
ontinued
)>
Tl
__
m
:::
)>
G)
m
0
Ul
11
>
t
c
o
m
19
 
 
IX
>
~
lL
L )
0
w
(.9
<{
a:
w
LL
<{
2
de
ta
c
hm
e
nt
of
currency
from co
mmodity
,
Jean-Jo
se
ph
Goux point
s
out what
might
be
th
e
mo
st authentic condition
of
the digital:
"the
detached
, abstract, divested,
and
even why not?
inconvertible
mark
 
4
of
the dese
manti
cized zero
and
one.
The
"co
mpleteness 
of
the di
gital,
th
en, a
ppea
rs
to
be
lo
ca
ted
at
infinite
di
st
ance
from
any
affective experience,
wheth
er
that
be the
hard
ships
wrought
by collaps
in
g stocks
and
s
har
es, the rep
eate
d
"ping"
of
an
SMS
message,
or the
intellectual
impact
of
a gallery-based video work. Ze
ro
s
and
ones
do
one
thing
very well
ind
eed: they
appear
to
move
at th
e s
peed
of
light. Ac
ro
ss
c
ir
cuit
boards
and
TCP
IP
networks alike,
the
inconvertible
mark
exerts its
power
in
what
N.
Kath
e
rine
Hayles
ha
s called a flicke
ring" metamorpho
ses:
"Information
technologies
do mor
e
than
c
hang
e modes
of
produ
ction, storage,
and
diss
emination
.
They
fundamentally alter the relation
of
signified to signifier.
5
On
e
of
Steyerl's
more
widely
di
sse
min
ated essays,
In
Def
en
se
of
th
e Poor
Image"
(
2009
), explicitly co
nfront
s
the
aesthetic conditions
of
digital
imag
es.
In
a twist
indi
ca
tive
of
her
work,
St
eyerl defines
an
image's value
by
its ease
of
low
and di
stribution.
The
highly compressed,
det
e
riorat
ed
poor
image mocks
th
e
promi
ses
of
digital technology.
Not
only is
it
often
degraded
to the
point of
being
ju
st a
hurri
ed
blur
, one even doubts
whether
it could be called
an
image
at
all.
The
aesthetic affect
of
di
gital
ima
ges thus sta
nd
s
in
metonymi
ca
lly for the networks they navigate
and
the
mean
s
by
which those n
et
works
are
exposed. Built
on
the derelict protocols
and
ce
nt
erless
infra
st
ructure
of
the 1970s
military communication
network
ARPANET
(
Advanced
Research Projects Agency Network),
th
e co
ntent
of
the int
e
rn
et
is
manif
est
today
on
more screens
than th
ere
are
human
eyes to view
them.
Steyerl offers
th
e
poor
image as a
metaphor
for
di
sse
mination
itself.
Our
capacity to wallow
in
images is
enhanced by tho
se
imag
es
being
dilapidated
and brui
sed, forced
through bandwidth
s far slighter
than th
e
ir di
s
pla
y
pot
ential would seem to allow.
Imag
es
are not
valuable b
eca
u
se
of an
originar
y
aura; in
st
ea
d it is
their
transience, the like
lih
ood they will
be
copied
and
re-disseminated
in
ever-mutating form
s
which
mark
s
th
em
out
as signifi
ca
nt.
Thi
s association
of
replication
with
th
e
apparent
failure
of
verisimilitude chimes for
both
the co
mmodit
y fetish
and an
appeal
to digiti
za
tion.
In
Walter Be
njamin
's
The W
ork
o
rt
in
the
Age
o
ts
Technological
R
eproduci
bili
ty
(1936), mec
hanization
and ma
ss
produ
ction beg
in at
the
original
and
work
to
di
s
tan
ce
th
e co
mmodity
from
th
e form
captured
by each iteration.
For Benjamin
, co
pi
es
re
du
ce the
aura
of
th
e original,
but
as
poor
images
propagate
,
not
only does
their
aura
re
main inta
ct,
that aura
is actually heig
ht
e
ned in
a sys
tem
of
ever
poor
er r
epet
itions
and
redisplays.
The
Inte
rn
et exemplifies
Its
own
de
mo
cr
at
ic potential
becau
se
eve
ry
bit
and
byte is
treated
equally
by the
TCP
IP
proto
cols
that
drive its traffic.
Thu
s
slick
HD
advertise
ment
s fall s
hort of
the
potential
of
lossy
JPEG
s
pam
to
be
seen,
and
government
propaganda
is
drown
ed
out by
the s
hout
of
viral videos. Messages from
th
e perve
rt
ed env
iron
s
of
culture
make their
way to
our
eyes
and ea
rs
mor
e r
ea
dily as wrecked
and
ruin
ed
impre
ss
ion
s
th
e
ir
signifiers flicke
ring with
each
act
of
recompression, copy,
and
di
s
pl
ay.
Th
e
poor image
affirms Hillel Schwartz's observation
in
T
he
Culture
o
he Copy:
Striking L
ikenesses
Unreasonable
Fa
csimiles
(1996)
that
it is
within
an
exuberant
world
of
co
pi
es
that
we arrive
at our
experience
of
originality, 
7
offering, pe
rhap
s
a final affirmative answer to his query:
Pra
cti
ca
l distinctions between the
unique
and
the multiple have
hi
 
toric lly
be
en e
ntru
sted to theologians,
notari
es, co
nnoi
sse
ur
s,
and
curators. None
of
these now seems to
be
able to keep
the
One apart
from
th
e
Man
y.
Can
we still uphold
or
is it time to
abandon
any
distinction between
original
and
replica?
8
Poor
images,
seeming
to
prolif
e
rat
e
independently
from
the
s
inuou
s
optical cab
les
and
s
up
er-cooled se
rver
bank
s
that di
sse
minate them, are
absolutely re
liant
on
the
process
of
co
pyin
g.
Copying
is a
fundamental
co
mponent
of
the digital
n
etwor
k where,
unlike
the
mater
ial
co
mmodity
,
matt
er is
not
pa
ssed/
par
sed along.
The
di
g
ital
thing
is always a cop
y
is always c
opied
,
and
is a
lwa
ys copying.
Ab
s
tra
c
ted
from its m
aterial context,
copy
ing
is
"a
universa
l
principle"
9
of
di
gital
di
sse
mination,
less flowing
within
the
circuits as
b
eing
that
c
ircuitry
flow
in and
of
itself.
Enabled by
over-used co
mpr
ess
ion
so
ftware
,
digit
al co
pi
es escape
atrophy
as
they
navi
ga
te multiple
bandwidth
str
ea
ms.
Hiding in
the random
access me
mor
y
of
a user's perso
nal
co
mput
er,
the coded
im
age
waits patiently for
brow
ser software to
determine
which
type
bove
Installation view
of
bstract
2012)
by
Hito Steyerl;
©
Hito Steyerl
;
photograph by
Ray
Anastas

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