The New Yorker
Hito Steyerl’s Digital Visions
By Merve Erme
Read the full article here
'It would be wrong to claim that I first met the German artist Hito Steyerl on such-and-such day, in such-and-such city, where the weather was bright or blustery, and that she arrived suitably dressed for this season or the next. It is more accurate to say that she simply appeared while I was waiting in the atrium of the Communist Party court, under a spectacular red banner from which the faces of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin bore down on me. One minute I was alone, and the next she was there—all yellow and smooth, except for the thick black cubes of her hands and her large, impassive face. Four black cats trailed her, in place of her shadow. “I spawned a lot of them, so they have multiplied,” she murmured. Suddenly, a kitten wobbled out from between her legs. “I made a baby!” she cried. When I tried to balance a puffer fish on my own blocky hand to feed the kitten, I pressed the wrong button, and kicked it instead.
Kicking kittens is, I believe, usually discouraged, but in Minecraft, the sandbox video game in which players extract raw materials—water, wood, sugarcane, coal ore, gold, lapis lazuli—and use them to craft three-dimensional Legolands, the stakes of violence seem lower. The game is “a very good metaphor for how platforms really work,” Steyerl told me. Platforms seduce their users into performing the unpaid work of content creation—uploading the texts, photographs, videos, and music that are the raw material of the digital world—while mining their metadata to create new markets for corporate and military surveillance. “Many of the other platforms are quite devious,” she said. “We don’t really know whether your face is being used to train facial-recognition algorithms or something like that.” In the digital economy, free labor tenders a self-replenishing vein of gold for capital’s pickaxe.'
– Merve Erme for The New Yorker, February 2022