No 27.

Hito Steyerl

in conversation with Emmanuel Olunkwa

Hito Steyerl is easily one of the most influential of filmmakers and media theorists working today. She has come to define and challenge our understanding of storytelling through her essayistic filmmaking, while her texts have theorized the digital transference and dissemination of “poor” images, representation, and culture. Her books include The Wretched of the Screen (2012), Hito Steyerl: Too Much World (2014), Duty Free Art: Art in the Age of Planetary Civil War (2017), and Pattern Discrimination (2018). She has made several genre-defying films over the past two decades as well, beginning with November (2004), which is a self-reflexive account of what it means to be made into a fiction and is a story that details the loss of her close friend Andrea Wolf. Her films include Lovely Andrea (2008), In Free Fall (2010), Abstract (2012), and most infamously How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File (2013). With the new cropping of ideating and theorizing around the NFT, I thought it was essential we heard from the pioneering figure of the discourse. The interview was conducted in December 2021. 

EO

Let’s start with your first film November. I noticed that when the film came out you were thirty-eight years old, which was an incisive moment for you both in your career and as your overnight introduction and ascension into the art world. I’m curious about the work, but I also want to know what you were doing up until that point?

HS

Good question. I was working to support myself.

EO

Doing what specifically? What kind of attention did making the film warrant at the time? And why make this film about your friend Andrea Wolf?

HS

I wasn’t really an artist or a filmmaker or anything at that point in time or before or later, or at least not one that was able to make a living and live off it. When November was released, I was working at Goldsmiths as a lecturer, and before that I was doing different kinds of teaching and odd jobs. I have to say I am still working to support myself as a teacher, so that never ended. I am still an amateur.

EO

What’s your relationship to writing? When you were making November, what came first? Did the story come first, or were you writing through the images?

HS

I think the images came first because it’s a story that also thinks about images. It’s about understanding the way that images were telling that story, which is probably the main shift in November, not using images to tell a story but inquiring and seeing my role as just another image that is creating a story. There was no prior moment of writing first or image first, it was just something I had to work through.

EO

How did you know that it needed to be a film? Did it need the accompanying images to become a fiction?

HS

It’s about traveling images, so I made it as images.

EO

In terms of making that work, do you feel like there’s a definitive before and after moment for you?

HS

Yes, to some degree.

EO

What would it be?

HS

I think really this idea to think about images as agents, literally, and not as passive representations. But as entities which are able to act and catalyze actions, which had a degree of autonomy so you couldn’t control them, it was rather the other way around.

EO

Which you experienced around Andrea’s death . . .

HS

Yes, there’s also a section in the work where I turn the gaze back towards myself and how my own image is used in the film.

EO

I was thinking about that as I was watching the film. How do you feel now to have inserted yourself in your work in that way—not knowing it would become a kind of thinking structure for you? To be, watch, and narrate an image of you? Do you see your body as material?

HS

This would imply that I have some control over it. The interesting recognition in November was that I learned that I don’t have much control over its image, so what would it mean for me to use my body as material? It’s more like the material is using me in some way.

EO

When you first filmed the footage of you, Andrea, and others that mirrors early exploitation films of the 1960s, did you have the structure of the montage as an editing agent in mind? Or were you just interested in recreating the choreography of movement?

HS

No, it was supposed to be a standalone film, not an essay or montage. It was supposed to be a fiction film.

EO

In the film you talk about the Octoberists and the October movement, and I hate to quote you at you, but you say, “We are in November, and in November, the former heroes become madmen and die in legal execution somewhere on the dirty roadside and hardly anyone takes a closer look. November is the time after October, a time when revolution seems to be over and peripheral struggles have become localist and impossible to communicate. In the November movement, a new reactionary to terror has taken over which abruptly breaks with tradition of October.”

This deeply resonates with me and the mission/mantra of this publishing endeavor—which many people think is somehow modeled after the art journal October. It’s true that just as former Artforum editors founded October, three of November’s editors are former Artforum editors who left the magazine in succession and eventually kept circling the same drain of aspiration, intention, and desire.

What does November mean to you now? How do you view it as a work autonomous of you and your practice now?

HS

I think if you understand November as the breaking point of any internationalist mode of communication, then this definition is still valid because we have been talking about globalization since the ’90s, but for the last ten years it started to break down.

EO

Right.

HS

It may have reached a limit and it is collapsing into itself, whilst forming more of these localist-nativist areas, which do not communicate with one another, so in that sense the definition given of November is still very valid. Describing the loss of an overarching framework of communication, plus the creation of new, partly reactionary vernacular filter bubbles.

EO

What’s your relationship to making experimental media? Are you trying to preserve ephemerality and feeling or nothing at all? What are you trying to do with its form and communicate through it as a medium?

HS

I’m not trying to preserve anything, honestly. I’m always very surprised by the outcome because I usually have no idea what’s going to happen at the end of the film when I start working on it. I’m usually more surprised than anyone else by the outcome of the film essay, in a way, something is made to happen rather than preserved.

EO

When in the process do you know that it’s a film or essay?

HS

That’s something that I know very quickly. Sometimes I know I’m making a film and then afterwards there is an essay that’s left over in a way because in the editing process you’re usually getting rid of material so it’s mostly a matter of finding homes for some of the material that was discarded, and there’s a text there. Sometimes it can also be the other way around, where I have an idea that’s quite marginal in a text but then it can be expanded into a visual work.

EO

How do you think against the use of the archive as a site of production?

HS

Barely, I have to say. I never have the feeling that I’m doing historiography, where I’m excavating something. It’s a feeling that all the material is there already, sitting in plain sight and the only thing that I have to do is to point at things and activate or enable them, instead of digging for them.

EO

What’s your relationship to architecture?

HS

Important. Since my very first work, Empty Center, which is basically all-around spatial politics let’s call it. It’s about buildings and ideologies invested in properties, the botched pseudo-Prussian reconstruction of Berlin city center after '89. Humboldtforum type of thing.

EO

I was reading your essay “A Thing Like You and Me,” and thinking about what it means to reproduce an image, also in terms of Harun Farocki’s idea from the mid-2000s that “the era of reproduction is over.” I’ve really wanted to write this essay about Looney Tunes and how cartoons specifically recreate these platonic ideals or representations of these things that are legible to us, so they’ll show the silhouette of a lamp as form and a theatrical flat, where it just projects the light of the lamp and its shadow. What do you consider to be representation and reproduction now?

HS

Reproduction is reproductive labor, which never goes away—it’s always at the core of everything. With representation, it’s something that I stopped thinking about a long time ago.

EO

Why do you think?

HS

Representation is quite overrated, and a lot of the assumptions being made about it are dysfunctional. Like the equation between cultural and political representation. There is more of a vague correlation there. The consequence is that the cultural representation of issues or people is used for window dressing, not political change. Greenwashing, diversity washing, etc. So, I moved into this other paradigm that whatever is considered an image is much more of a projection, anticipation, conjuration, production, or capture of something. So, any image that is made, is made to do something instead of showing something. It is more of an agent than a delegate, more of a protocol than a report.

EO

I was thinking about and rereading Aria [Dean’s] essay “Poor Meme, Rich Meme” and thinking about your text “In Defense of the Poor Image.” Your essay is like a structuring device and Aria’s is thinking about Blackness and Blackness as material and ontological presence. I have kind of walked myself back to this idea of death being preserved as an image (à la Roland Barthes) because it is something that’s flattened on the internet and somehow becomes more real because it’s no longer experiential. It’s something that can be contested because it’s made real by being preserved but not made Real (legitimized) by having been documented.

HS

This is good example to explain what I mean by projection. That’s exactly what the images “does,” the image of death, right? Apart from flattening, it’s to accelerate and accrue a certain speed and virality, serving as a kind of aggregator, which is what the image is doing regardless of what it is showing. Its content is basically a catalyst to make it do what it’s doing, but of course it’s not doing that out of its own accord but because the network or the infrastructure is made in that way. Within the system of a more polarizing algorithm that monetizes affect and outrage, the image of death will become an aggregator of effective power.

EO

A power to . . .?

HS

Power in the sense of accumulating quantifiable value corresponding to energy expenditure.

EO

But with what system?

HS

The system of the internet and social media system.

EO

How do we step out of step with this system of control?

HS

You could ask that same question in relation to traditional photography, cameras, systems of distribution, of photographs, and magazines. Of course, you can ask yourself the same question, what is the photograph outside of the distribution apparatus of Life magazine etc.? In a way, theoretically, you can think outside of the system, but it is very hard to completely substrate the whole system and apparatus of photography, including let's say silver mining, from the photo as such. Hollywood, all these big platforms prior to social media had similar functions to gate keep access to filmic means of production. In social media the misunderstanding is that a laptop is a means of production. But it’s the infrastructure and access to modify or repurpose it. Organized workers did not try to privatize individual machines for themselves. They tried to gain control of the factory as an organization.

EO

What makes something capital R, Real and something capital F, fake? Or can that kind of binarized thinking even hold anymore?

HS

I’m sure to some degree, yes, it can, when it comes to facts that can be precisely defined and quantified. There are several levels to reality, right? Interpretation of facts is a different one and, on this level, it gets more tricky oftentimes to make that difference. Unfortunately, these levels get confused all the time. On the level of fact certainty can be accomplished if you have the data; on the level of interpretation a political struggle over meaning takes place.

EO

This is what I was gesturing at earlier when talking about Farocki and his quote on reproduction being over. In terms of your essay, and how they were all published in e-flux, were you thinking of the architecture of the magazine as a dissemination platform?

HS

[Laughs.] There’s much more coincidence and contingency for those kinds of things that happen. I don’t have overall plans for publishing these things, there’s usually someone like you who suggests that we do a conversation somewhere or publish a text and I’m like, “Yeah! Let’s do it.” [Laughs.] I’m not thinking about specific architectures at that specific point in time. But yes, the architecture of a magazine is important and in that case, the reach and readership was all across the planet with free access which was fantastic.

EO

In “A Thing Like You and Me,” you write: “Identification is always with image. If identification is to go anywhere, it has to be with this material aspect of the image, with the image as thing not as representation. And then it perhaps ceases to be identification, and instead becomes participation. Accordingly, participating in an image is not the same as being represented by it. The image is the thing in which senses merge with matter. Things are not being represented by it but participate in it.” I think about representation a lot and about Blackness as a specific feeling and Blackness as image. It’s something that I’ve tried to put into language for a very long time, and with the passing of bell hooks recently, a friend posted an essay that she wrote on the mechanics of photography as a site for production and Blackness. And thinking about photography as the preserving of a truth and being representative of Blackness, but not being representative of that feeling. This is where your work is essential to me as a thinker and artist. How do you represent something when you can’t live in the feeling of it, and you can only project onto it? Because that projection has a different material reality.

HS

What I mean is that any sort of image is a condensation of energies, in very literal sense electricity, but also feelings, social tensions, and constellations. One can share within this energy on one level or another without necessarily having to connect with what the image is showing and that’s what I meant by participation. On the other hand, I have to add that this principle has now been taken up with cryptoassets big time so participating in the image has been redefined as co-owning the asset, so there’s a different take on it now.

EO

With your recent essay “Twenty-One Art Worlds,” how does it posit the different art movements?

HS

Let’s start from the form. I have to tell you that I haven’t thought about this at all. Writing the text was rather intuitive for me [Laughs.], I was just fooling around with GPT3. First, it’s a remake: Twelve Cautionary Tales for Christmas: Premonitions of the Mystical Rebirth of Urbanism was written by Superstudio in the 1970s, and in that they wrote about architecture and speculative cities. It’s basically rearticulated in the form of a game map. It’s not necessarily a game but a choose-your-own-adventure kind of interactive form, which is nonlinear whereby you can think of these different descriptions of art worlds as almost squares on a map, and you can move from one subject positioning to another by taking certain steps listed. That’s the basic move within that text, where one would be able act on that map knowing their own trajectory and getting off this grid.

EO

Or is it about making the self, visible to itself?

HS

It's an FPP navigating through this territory. Until now, there was something like different art worlds connected by some sort of overarching discourse, but I think that’s a notion that is more or less breaking apart, and those art worlds become more isolated from one another. Sort of like the collapse of the Soviet Union, but applying to the art worlds now.

EO

Why do you think that is happening exactly?

HS

There’s deglobalization for one, strained dynamics amplified by pandemic, closures, lack of income for freelancers and by cryptobubble disruption. All of these dynamics have amplified each other. Look at art magazines. Most reviews happen domestically now. The horizons have shrunk: pandemia, geopolitical tensions, to some degree climate awareness plays a part in this too, so partly this development is also necessary.

EO

In terms of How to Not be Seen? Is subject-object positioning something that you still think about?

HS

[Laughs.] Maybe it’s more object-object positioning more than anything. Or entity-entity.

For the life of me I still can’t understand why people desperately want to be in the position of a slave holding pater familias. That’s what the subject is about. Instead of scrambling to occupy the master’s position and start oppressing objects why not think about rights differently? For me the master serf constellation is pretty personal as I know the guy whose ancestors owned my family. He is the subject, our guys were the objects, movable property. Now do I want to become an irrelevant but still affluent pale hipster fashion photographer like this gentleman taking selfies with Johann König? This an appalling idea. I’d rather stick with my rural proletarian object squad anytime.

EO

What are the things that you think about now or, the things that plague you?

HS

Infrastructure.

EO

[Laughs.] Yes, I want the laundry list.

HS

Yeah, with infrastructure you can think of architecture of course but also operational compositions. I’m thinking about it more like a software that renders, computes, and produces things. Keller Easterling calls this "angle dispositional."

EO

Is that not the internet?

HS

Well yes, the internet is one infrastructure but at this point it’s definitely almost fully proprietary and dysfunctional—let’s face it!

EO

[Laughs.] Yeah.

HS

[Laughs.] So, as you know, I’m certainly not opposed to digital technology, but this infrastructure is a capture machine.

EO

What do you think makes it dysfunctional specifically?

HS:

I mean, they are all entirely corporate or authoritarian structures by now. These different layers overlap to form something like corporitarianism.

EO

Right, and I’m thinking about this a lot in terms of NFTs…

HS

Yes, that’s the next layer that goes on top.

EO

Exactly, and if we think about AI and the people who develop this tech, such as facial recognition, and how the AI is inherently racist and biased in development—that these infrastructures have been built on racist ideology. In rereading “Rich Meme, Poor Meme,” I was thinking about capitalism writ large as the missing link, because Aria [Dean] talks about Blackness and you talk about the structure, but what about the market that houses both things? How do we compensate people for their production and the labor it took to produce the work? Conceptually, NFTs do something productive for this problem in terms of providing a structure that makes the narrative of the object passing hands to be more legible, but if the actual infrastructure itself is racist, how do you compensate someone (Black/a PoC) in the imminent yet proverbial Metaverse? For instance, with Twitter, you're never sure which form you’re encountering if you’re meeting the copy of the copy or the original of a meme or with virality, for example, it doesn’t always coincide with origin but has more to do with algorithmic standing more than anything. So, with NFTs, for me, there are loopholes to seize. Have you done much thinking about NFTs?

HS

Well, yes, I started. I mean it’s first and foremost a technology to introduce artificial scarcity into a field of abundance. So, digital technology could provide abundance easily in the sense of producing ‘x’ digital objects, as many as you wanted to via copy and paste. Of course, that’s hard to commodify. Let’s say Web 2.0 was a compromise in terms of being able to still profit from an abundant digital object because the thing that could be commodified was virality and eyeballs, but the asset itself—the meme for example—was harder to commodify. But now even the files themselves are being integrated into this architecture of making them private property via smart contracts. This move is recentering private property as the focal point of digital technology—not only in terms of owning the infrastructure and platform plus the proprietary tools to access these bubbles, but also in terms of the circulating assets.

EO

It seems like a lot of people are thinking about it very linearly. For most, it seems like the actual infrastructure is more the desire to encase the objects themselves but they’re not actually thinking about infrastructure. What about the gallery for the NFT or the museum structure that’ll eventually showcase work by different artists? As a structure and particularly an archive, NFTs short circuit in that they’re able to be preserved as digital works without the same kind of maintenance as things produced by hand.

HS

I think that the museum form of the NFT right now is mainly the wallet. They are kept in wallets and the wallet in this case is a virtual freeport, meaning that they replicate the mechanism of freeport in virtual space in the sense that works are withdrawn into it. The point isn’t even that you can’t see the work, but that the place that you collect it in, is called the wallet. Come to think of it the Bourse [de Commerce], the Pinault Collection’s new museum in Paris is also literally called a wallet. For the nitpicking bureaucrats out there, yes, I know Bourse refers to an exchange, that’s not the point. So, new museum form, IRL and virtual, defined by proprietary infrastructure, works converted into assets.

EO

Even that language around the wallet, it seems like the hand has been rendered visible in that when we go to institutions and museums, where they create and display these objects, we don’t see the price tag of them but it’s something that’s been produced to be experiential. One doesn’t have to confront the value system in the same way in those places because it’s something that you experience.

HS

Yes, the price tag is the artwork itself, which in the NFT form is kind of an afterthought, an appendix. The smart contract is the focus, the file that’s associated is secondary. But I mean its early days. All this will change to some degree once enough money has been thrown at it. There will be a supporting infrastructure, a discourse to establish value and so on.

EO

I’ve personally been struggling with straddling art theory and architecture by thinking about a lot of the problems that have been resolved and “proven” or speculated in the context of art but are still being teased through in the field of architecture. In short, there’s an accelerationist sensibility to art that lags in architectural theory, where the field of art might just be driven by market which produces this hyperdeveloped network of objects, performance, and thinking because everyone is in a rush to make themselves hypervisible to their peers and the market serving as a “scarcity race” for legibility, to use your wording, and architecture is too professionalized. I’m not interested in pouring the proverbial knowledge I have of art and critical theory into the modeling of architecture by trying to further understand how to excavate in a way that doesn’t contaminate its ideological demands but challenges them. Do you encounter tensions like this across experimental film, art, and theory?

HS

I think in terms of architecture, it’s at least two-fold, because architecture is usually a big material machine with logistics, production, and money and so it’s bound to lag to some degree because it can’t travel as lightly as art theory. The other aspect of the problem is industry, and it’s similar across film and architecture, but not experimental film because that doesn’t have an industry. Industry is the thing that makes things cumbersome and to some degree slow but also scalable on other layers. These industries are interested in ideas that scale, have traction, and are mainstream, which is the opposite of the race for legibility you describe for art which is about trying to occupy a slightly niche position that has not been occupied before. I think with NFTs there is a move to industrialize and scale up art so basically to create an art industry which is as technical and as big a production as the gaming and sports industry, basically porting the mechanics of gaming studios and industrial sports to the art world. Art is a sort of semi-artisanal industry already, quite corrupt as we all know. So, restructuring could definitely be good, firstly in terms of artworkers compensations, but honestly if you look at the industrial sweatshop character of many gaming or big animation industries, the crypto artworld that seems to be on the horizon right now looks more like a 19th century freelance textile mill environment kept in constant chaos by defi bros to me than a chill DAO commune.

EO

I mean the Metaverse to me is just some vague staging of Sims or like Call of Duty, where they’re expanding our spatial and cognitive awareness of what it means to encounter a digital world by bringing it to the mainstream. I think of gaming as the perfected form of the Metaverse as its platonic ideal in that you are embodied, have this fixed point of view, and someone else can see you and employs the mechanics of surveillance and performance. I was tickled to hear that "Twenty-One Art Worlds" was modeled on a game because what does experimental film or cinema and gaming have in common for you? You’re right that NFTs are a gesture to industrialize art as they’re serving as a container to hold matter, mass, and storytelling…

HS

A Marvel franchise is already an example of a Metaverse. So now, bring the whole rig over to art: franchising, animation, branding, logistics, policing intellectual property, big studio mechanics, name recognition, different layers of distribution etc.

EO

How do we short circuit the Metaverse? The thing that has always bothered me about infrastructural building, which you can witness in the building of most social and public housing, is the lack of foresight. For instance, why didn’t the government and urban/city planners construct these buildings and technological infrastructures to house people in ways that are satisfactory and to a point self-sustaining? They don’t have to exceed this imagined universal standard, but they should at least meet it. These buildings have short lifespans and require structural and material innovations and repairs and weren’t meant to last and can’t be updated once they’re occupied which creates this negative feedback loop. I’m always haunted by a saying my mother always told me, which is to “do it right the first time, so you don’t have to do it again.” Equality hasn’t, doesn’t and will never exist, so why can’t we build sustainable and durable structures that can effectively house people?

HS:

I think one answer would be is that we’re usually not really building them, neither you nor me. We’re forced at the moment to inhabit other people’s digital worlds, which already has built-in logics of discrimination and segregation. Wendy Chun described this logic in her new book about data discrimination and network architecture. The other angle is to just start building these worlds yourself now. But in this technical domain, it’s become quite ambitious. It’s not like the early days of the internet, where everyone could whip up a website in 2 hours, but it requires special technological knowledge to build something.

EO

Do you see yourself occupying the NFT space at all?

HS

Actually, I am occupying a sizable chunk of it already. I squatted many ETH art world domains with my colleagues at DOD (Department of Decentralization) a while back already. So, we actually do occupy a large section of the overlap between legacy art world and blockchain art world. And now we are working on how to redeploy those squatted domains using different experiments in governance. Let’s put it like this: after much plenary experience I am not at all convinced by generic DAO formats. One share one vote is basically a stock company model again centered around private property. Rights defined by property sounds a bit archaic, pretty feudal, honestly.

EO

To bring it back to this question about November and thinking about when you came into consciousness professionally, whose worlds were you traversing before it was released and whose worlds were you occupying after?

HS:

After November, I was largely occupying worlds that I was partially able to project myself. [laughs] Before it was broadly encased within preexisting classical materialist architectures.

EO

As someone who has witnessed varying technological advances over the preceding decades, what’s your relationship to technology in your practice now and production?

HS

Good question, but it’s almost too big. Let’s put like this, from the beginning, I was only able to do the things I could more or less do myself with little means, which to some degree hasn’t changed a lot. It was about doing the best with amateur means. I still enjoy learning and using technologies, which have changed of course. Last winter I was on Colab, training GAN’s, this winter I am learning 3D compositing in Resolve and other stuff.

EO:

I know it’s potentially annoying, but I was thinking about how you are regarded for being at the intersection of art and technology [Laughs.] and how potentially annoying it could be to be asked about NFTs. It’s surprising to hear that you’re dedicated to maintaining a DIY approach to making your art when I would assume you would be running more of a studio where you would be orchestrating a body of people. It sounds like it’s important for you to keep and show your hand in all the work that you produce. What are your priorities given your level of exposure?

HS

There are two aspects: where I stand in terms of commerce and market value is not necessarily where people would expect me to. [Laughs.] So, even if I wanted to run a large studio it wouldn’t be financially viable. But more importantly I also don’t want to because I’m not interested in scale and the space. What I enjoy most is being able to make my own mistakes, because this is where [gestures with hand] things happen. It’s clear that the core of certain works happens in the mistakes. You don’t understand any process if you are not able to make mistakes within it. It’s not something I can outsource [Laughs.] the making of mistakes, otherwise there is no practice.

EO

Which brings us back to the question of what gets lost in the mainstream…

HS

Yeah, I mean this morning, and for the past few months I’ve been learning tutorials to master Unity [the game engine] because I want to mess around with it. I want to be reasonably decent at it because otherwise I won’t reach that territory where the interesting mistakes are made. I want to get to a point where I can drive the machine to the interesting edge.

EO

So, is it more about thinking through structures rather than placing things in that context?

HS

You need to be able to know how to misdrive a car, but you have to know how to properly do it first. There are people who have a vision, they can analyze it, and break it down into milestones and work from there but that’s not how I conceptualize and work through my projects. If I ever reached a milestone I would run away in horror. It’s a clear sign something is totally wrong because nothing unexpected happened. I just extended the past into the future.

EO

I was really taken aback by how personal November is as a work but also how generic it is as a story structure. It’s me, you, and the person who is trying to figure out where to place their stake in the ground of conceptual art or essayistic filmmaking. It’s interesting how you're able to confront Andrea’s image, your own image (as a participant), and the image of a person representing themselves. Are there any alternative versions of works that you’ve made or continuations of them?

HS

Nope. At some point you also need to leave things as they are. It’s important to leave stuff behind.

EO

When did you know what to leave behind?

HS

When it feels done, with essay films it’s simple because it’s hard to put them together, so once you manage to tell the story and then you refine it again and again, when it finally holds up on its own that’s when you know it’s done. For example, with the lectures I was doing it was a bit different because I kept giving lectures until the point where they didn’t develop any further. Usually as I was doing it, I would add something on but at some point, it felt like it was done and then I wouldn’t give the lecture in public anymore.

EO

Because the lecture began to feel like a performance?

HS

No, because I was using the lecture format to publicly think on a stage. It’s a good tool to gather ideas, even your own because once you’re putting them out in the world it forces you to develop them further.

EO

Do you still give lectures?

HS

Yeah, I do but at this point it’s a bit different. Because going out on a stage is not the same right now if it even happens.

EO

Oh right, the pandemic. How has being flattened by or confined to the internet and technology changed your relationship to storytelling through images? Because up until a point, we had a certain distance with how we chose to engage the internet and these interfaces as leisurely commodity goods in that the knowledge obtained was a commodifiable good in terms of being of Twitter, Discord, etc. But as a person who thinks through images and digital technologies, how has being confined to the internet changed your relationship to space and technological production?

HS

There are so many aspects to it. Physical space is very tricky right now, and it’s always been tricky, but specifically in the past two years it’s barely happened. It forces you into these very flat and proprietary online spaces, which are of course also very problematic, especially with this new artworld being fast prototyped right now within this flat engineered space. The status of the digital constellation has been reduced to a gif, which has become a very abbreviated form of digital artefact. It’s gone from writing novels to making posters of the books, or something like that. I think posters can be great, gifs can also be great, but if suddenly a whole form of storytelling is reduced to that form, it’s quite a development.

EO

You mentioning posters really fucks me up because I’ve been thinking a lot about posters and propaganda, posters as propaganda, and the poster as a technological advancement in and of itself (and its time) and knowledge dissemination.

HS

Yes.

EO

And that’s essentially what the meme format is, the meme as poster, as architecture…

HS

The meme is already TLDR. Also, you can’t rotate it in 3D.

EO

What do you want from art now?

HS

This moment in digital technology feels as if I was a filmmaker suddenly forced to be a painter, like what?! [Laughs.] No way!

EO

Say more.

HS

NFT are like paintings right now. All narrative and time-based art or complexity-oriented dimension of the work has been flattened.

EO

It’s so crazy that you say the NFT is like a painting because I went to David Salle’s survey show opening at the Brandt Foundation in Connecticut a few weeks ago, and I saw his paintings, and he also has an NFT he made, and I’ve walked myself through this loophole with his work where I realized that painting is back.

HS

Yes.

EO

It’s fully back. I was thinking about his work specifically and how he was this sacrificial lamb of the 1980s and he’s generally been in my consciousness because there’s been a resurgence with Janet Malcolm’s New Yorker profile of him, and her art-canon book, Forty-One False Starts on other giant figures of the 1980s and its culture. The NFT movement has taken us back to the 1980s.

HS

Yes, absolutely. I think so too. It’s like we’re in the mid-80s. [Laughs.] Big shoulders, animal spirits.

EO

I’ve been scared to write this essay because the whole premise is of this person who was disregard in the 1980s is the very person that’s going to walk us back to painting. We’re picking up where we left off. I think phase one will be painting, and then you’ll be in the second wave. [Laughs.] Just thinking in terms of conceptual development, right now we’re in a foundational moment that we’re rebuilding in the newly minted Metaverse, and in Web3. Where are we now?

HS

Lost, which isn’t a bad thing necessarily, it’s just a fact. [Laughs.]

EO

Lost in what way?

HS

I think there are massive power dynamic changes going on now. It’s not very clear where things are headed but it is clear is that they’re headed somewhere else. I think we can expect a lot more compartmentalization of different art forms, whether it’s commercial or noncommercial but also between different genres than before.

EO

I think we’ll have new museums and institutions devoted purely to time-based media or departments more fully developed to engage this more regularly.

HS

Yes, absolutely. Immersive Van Gogh style.

EO

What did you want from art?

HS

I never wanted anything from art, so I guess I’m fine.

EO

Did you ever want something from film?

HS

I wanted much more from film, yes.

EO

What did you want from film?

HS

I think a different ending to the story. [Laughs.]