'November', Hito Steyerl, 2004.
Screenshot from Rottweiler, 2019.
In Defense of the Poor Image - Hito Steyerl, 2009
The Wretched of the Screen has remained a seminal piece of literature for my practice. While many of the essays in the publication have been of great influence, In Defense of the Poor Image has been of particular relevance to my most recent works: the 'Consensual Crimes' series, 'This Is Fine', 'Rottweiler', and 'Lockdown Diary'.
In this text, Steyerl calls attention to “the subversive quality of poor images and the networks that sustain them" (Hito Steyerl, in 'Art Review'. Paul Pieroni. 2014). She explains how the ‘poor image' challenges fixed interpretations, resists constructs such as borders and private property, attests to appropriation and transcends the categorical binary of consumer and producer. It also functions to strip the signifier from the sign thereby opening up semiotic production to those who have not historically been the gatekeepers of knowledge or content production. The ‘poor image’ has the potential to draft the user into some strange version of direct democracy; through "visual bonds" the workers of the world are linked to each other in a way that private ownership could not.
In Defense of the Poor Image speaks to the current post-truth climate that the West currently finds itself in. When entire narratives are constructed from soundbites, screenshots, and clickbait, the loss of context behind those pieces of information leave gaping holes in knowledge thus changing entire experiences of reality. Something which is displayed glaringly in Lockdown Diary.
In some ways, Steyerl buildings on the same questions Steve McQueen raises in his piece Illuminer; neither fiction nor fact can claim authenticity anymore. In the realm of the transmitted image, both fact and fiction are 'visual representations of given ideological frameworks' that construct their realities according to desires and drives. This instability of realities, and the attendant disconnect audiences experience from the original context or 'truth' (for lack of a better word) of the circulated image, is implied in my recent work.
According to Steyerl's belief in ‘visual bonds’, which are created by the ‘lumpen proletarian’ image, these realities are constructed by those outside of traditional knowledge production - despite having to compete with commercial and national propaganda. The poor image is "as much about defiance and appropriation as it is about conformism and exploitation". 'Imperfect Cinema'* is used as an example of this mechanism and was influential in the preparation and filming of Rottweiler. It is for these reasons that Rottweiler's file size was compressed in post-production - to allow for an (if only symbolic) ease of transmission, accessibility, and reproduction as exampled on this page.
*"The imperfect cinema is one that strives to overcome divisions of labor within class society. It merges art with life and science, blurring the distinction between consumer and producer, audience and author. It insists upon its own imperfection, is popular but not consumerist, committed without becoming bureaucratic" (Hito Steyerl in reference to Juan Garcia Espinosa, in In Defense of the Poor Image)