The Wretched of the Screen

Hito Steyerl
Sternberg Press, 2012, 200 pp.

Smart, eloquent and inspiring, Hito Steyerl chooses various modalities (essays, video art) to investigate subjects that prickle. Small things like hypercapitalism's "jaw-dropping social inequalities“, labour within the feudalistic arts sector, the privatisation of the common by a nomadic elite, “lumpen data“, and anarchic forms of activism such as Occupy! and Anonymous. Steyerl’s The Wretched of the Screen gathers together eleven erudite and deftly written explorations. Each is complemented by endnotes, which charm, inform, and, by exposing the lineage of ideas’ lineages, reveal how knowledge is socially produced. The book engages with cinema studies, anarcho-feminism and Autonomist Marxism (with its critique of the “immaterial“and “affective labour“ that informational capitalism gorges on). But these texts are no trained parrots, squawking a hackneyed canon of Empire and multitude. And unlike the star theorists, Steyerl does not ignore or gloss over the symbolic and cultural (including pop- and sub-) realms, but instead gets right in there, making interconnections that might not be immediately obvious. For instance, in one essay she teases out the relations between contemporary political cinema and the neoliberalised postindustrialised “museum-as-factory“. In another she connects/dissects the cinematic cut (the “device that ... articulates different elements into a new form“) with the cut of contemporary economic discourse and its austerity measures so often depicted in corporeal terms. Fittingly, as Steyerl remains defiantly optimistic, she ends with the kiss, “a wager, a territory of risk, a mess“. Artists/artworkers anywhere will recognise the art field Steyerl maps as “a space of wild contradiction and phenomenal exploitation“, a “mess kept afloat by the sheer dynamism of loads and loads of hard-working women“. Nevertheless, this also can be a generative site for Paolo Freire’s “conscientisation“: collective reflection on material conditions. Such grounded critique seeds radical imaginations and social experimentation, precursors to political mobilisation. Find this book of spells. (H)execute. Now!

Francesca da Rimini is an artist, writer and Honorary Research Associate at the University of Technology, Sydney.

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