Hito Steyerl is one of those artists whose practice not only involves the production of art works – largely films in Steyerl’s case – but also the written theorization of their production, and the position of artistic production in relation to social and political power more broadly. Hence, for Steyerl, the discursive systems that surround art works – governing their dissemination, display, evaluation and sale – do not simply supplement their production but form a constitutive part of it.
This is one good reason for choosing an interview where Steyerl discusses her film In Free Fall (2010), rather than the film itself. The other reason is that the film, like most of Steyerl’s other work, is not available online. This may seem to make her an odd choice for this platform which celebrates all that is accessible online, but the very inaccessibility of her work raises a number of important questions about the nature and evaluation of artistic labour on the one hand and the legal status and digital proliferation of images on the other, concerns that have long been key to Steyerl’s practice.
In Free Fall attempts to track the material and financial processes that make the production and dissemination of film possible, both her own and those of major Hollywood studios. She follows the entangled flow of images, materials and commodities involved in the production of her film, from an ‘airplane graveyard’ in the U.S., where Hollywood action shots are produced, to the commercial DVD used to store and sell images made from scrap metal salvaged from retired Israeli jets. It has of course been common in recent years for artists, media theorists and others to seek various ways to materialize the supposedly immaterial, puncturing the metaphysical hot air that frequently fills discussions of the Internet with so much cheap transcendence, by tracking the physical and legal infrastructures upon which the web rests. Likewise, there has been an abundance of Latourian ‘object biographies’, tracing the material processes and social network involved in the production of ready-to-hand everyday ‘things’. Nevertheless, Steyerl remains focused on the critical project of demystifying cultural production, albeit expanding its remit in to the realm of material processes, whilst avoiding the vitalist enchantment of ‘lively matter’ or the depoliticizing wonder at the sheer multiplicity of the object world that has so often seen related discussions dissolve questions of social power into ontological mystifications and the fantasy of Lion King-like get-alongs.