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Hito Steyerl

The visions of the future presented in George Orwell’s novel 1984 have finally come to pass. Big Brother really does see you. Governments around the world are keeping an eye on their citizens using digital technology, with China among the forefront. Most of us don’t even realize that we’re leaving digital tracks behind us every day, in addition to those traces we leave voluntarily on the Internet and social media. Many welcome the growing surveillance systems and the fact that people can be watched wherever they go, believing it increases safety in society. Others see the more problematic sides of this, such as restrictions on our freedom and inviolable integrity as individuals. Hito Steyerl is an artist and professor of media art in Berlin. Her video work from 2013 that you see here at Konsthallen is already a classic in an expanding genre that relates in one way or another to the growing surveillance of people in a society.

Camouflage became a special military branch during WWI when war art switched from brightly coloured uniforms to earth tones. The camouflage patterns were created by commissioned artists to achieve invisibility or to distort the viewer’s perception, such as in the patterns used on ships, aircraft and vehicles.Hito Steyerl’s work is actually based on a 1969 sketch by Monty Python called ‘How Not To Be Seen’, which pokes fun of this invisibility that was then still based on an analogue process using bushes or different painting schemes. Hito Steyerl strikes the same humorous tone when she carries Monty Python’s sketch into contemporary society’s digital and considerably more comprehensive systems for making people visible – and the possibilities this same technology offers to become invisible. Painting geometric patterns on the skin to confuse face recognition programs, for example, or the green-screen technology used in cinematography to move objects in and out of a film. Steyerl’s film was shot at a US military base once used to calibrate flight cameras. In our current era of drones, the base is no longer needed.

In five chapters, Hito demonstrates how to be invisible in the all-seeing world we live in today.