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Introducing: Hito Steyerl and Devin Kenny

Hito Steyerl and Devin Kenny
Hito Steyerl and Devin Kenny
A conversation between artists Hito Steyerl and Devin Kenny. The dialogue took place in person, in New York City on Friday, February 5, 2016. The following is a transcription, from video, of the first time the two have spoken.

Devin Kenny: Thanks for coming. Thanks for making the time for this.

Hito Steyerl: Sure, my pleasure.

DK: I was reading the text "A Tank on a Pedestal,” and it had me thinking about a couple different things including one of the texts in The Wretched of the Screen when you were talking about the use of the horizon in relationship to a certain view of history and progress. In “A Tank on a Pedestal,” it seems like there’s a kind of relationship to an argument laid out there, except that here, you’re thinking about physical spaces of display more than a pictorial space.

HS: [inaudible] It’s thinking about time.

DK: Yeah, but I also think that it’s about space, display, and the logic of the exposition or museum. There’re certain moments in the text where I found a kind of dark humor. That’s often the first thing that pops into my mind, but your text got me thinking about the idea that in wartime, paintings are rolled up and sculptures are crated. When “the shit really hits the fan” so to speak, there’s a notion that art as an object can’t really hold its own, or it can only function in times that are not the most dire. So I wanted to ask you what you thought about that idea, particularly because you’re talking about how museums function and how art can function during a time of global unrest.

HS: I don’t know, is it something that’s only done in peaceful times?

DK: Or is it a thing that is most legible during those times? This is made evident when things are exploding or have the possibility of being seized, then they’re protected, they’re put away. I guess I’m thinking about these particular terrorist groups—I guess ISIS or ISIL—and particular videos of theirs where they’re destroying historic, national treasures that are really part of humanity’s accomplishments. And then later it’s revealed that these objects are actually copies. They’re destroying copies.

Photo from Associated Press

HS: Yeah, maybe that’s an interesting angle because you know what they do? Something many groups involved in civil war do is that they break up larger artworks. You have historic wall panels, for example, that get broken down into pieces because they can get more money for fragments. [laughs]

DK: Whoa!

HS: So destruction is a form of production. It’s an increase in value.

DK: Sure. I mean that’s like that [Pablo] Picasso quote, right? “The urge to destroy is also a creative urge.” But it’s awfully convenient for him to say that. [laughs]

HS: Yeah, the value of the objects on the art market actually exponentially increases. So you will not have the full Babylonian relief, but only the duck or only the cow or only whatever it is, and then you can sell lots of them. Another example would be the €50,000,000 ransom that right-wing Ukrainian militias demanded for a number of historical paintings stolen from a Dutch museum. The ransom wasn’t paid—the director of the museum in question noted that the total value of the paintings was actually €500,000, and the perpetrators included Ukrainian political elites.

DK: Yeah, I guess that’s a really perverse version of a ransom: you’ll steal someone’s childhood blanket and then sell it back to them piece by piece…

HS: Yeah. But it’s also some kind of dystopian version of mass studio production, right?

DK: In what sense?

HS: Well in the sense that many artists have a similar kind of operation. [laughs] They multiply their artwork by basically fabricating their artwork themselves… [inaudible]

DK: Sure, sure.

HS: But this is the very dark version of it, you know? I think it’s always more interesting to see the affinities of warfare to contemporary art production because there are many. I don’t think there is an opposition, like contemporary art always appears when in times of peace. I think that right now, production, consumption, sale, and even storage of contemporary art is really implicated in a lot of the economies underlying war.

DK: Yeah, totally, contemporary art has affinities to contemporary warfare practices. There’s this organization that Nato Thompson told me about while I was a student called the Center for Tactical Magic.

HS: Oh, wow, that’s interesting.

DK: They would do a lot of different kinds of projects during the ’90s and 2000s in Chicago and elsewhere. He did a presentation where basically he makes a direct lineage between surrealist collage practices and the kind of propaganda used by the George W. Bush administration. You know—where there’d be a flag and an eagle, all these kind of weird, very super loaded soft Photoshop collages. It would be a collage, but there would be no hard edges, everything is feathered. There’s also [Guy] Debord and his war game.

HS: Oh yes, yes.

Alice Becker-Ho and Guy Debord playing the Game of War (Becker-Ho & Debord, 2007)

DK: So that’s an example of a cultural producer being directly engaged in the consideration of war tactics and strategies, which opens up a whole set of questions about the use of culture as a weapon or another arm of a government that uses their presence and weaponry to secure a hegemonic position. In “A Tank on a Pedestal,” there’s an image that you use of these guys from The Monuments Men, which I actually saw on the airplane. [ironically] It was very heartwarming, a very heartwarming movie… [both laugh] But there’s a section where you say, “quoting Marx, or indeed any historical figure, would itself constitute repetition, if not farce,” and that made me laugh out loud. Mainly because, in some ways, the use of any kind of quotation is perhaps the foundation of all discourse in some way: building on things that came before and then shifting it to talk about what’s happening in the present. But if time ceases to be linear, or if we’re aware that time can be viewed in a nonlinear way, which I think is the kind of contemporary state…

HS: …of life. [laughs] Yeah.

DK: Especially with the Internet. Then it kind of puts “discourse” and “history” into question also. If you can’t use these same methods of building on the past to talk about the present, what do you do?

So I guess I wanted to ask you: what do you think about trolling or the use of the provocative statement to create a kind of break? Is that a more effective approach, if that can fit within contemporary discourse? Or does it signal a big change in the overall way of doing things?

HS: Yeah, but it’s an essential part of contemporary discourse. Whether it’s necessary or beneficial or not—I don’t think so—it’s a reality, it’s a fact. And it’s two very similar situations or basically the same condition. Time doesn’t move in a linear way, and then basically all the conditions for discourse are distorted and shifted. Also, you know, the idea that in Western societies people have a real public discourse, that you have it together, everyone has their say, and then everyone will deliberate and think about it, and then maybe they will change something if they find out, none of that works. [laughs]

Basically, this kind of discourse or critique or public commons or whatever, that has been replaced largely by trolling. Yes, that’s a fact. Trolling is the contemporary form of critique, right? Trolling Trump-style is contemporary politics. That’s not very pleasant, but there is no way but to face it. So what do we do? I don’t know. What do you think?

DK: It’s a funny thing, ‘cause I was talking with a friend of mine, saying that I was going to be talking to you, and she knows your work very well, but she is also often very frustrated when there are moments where there may be things that you say that are not entirely factually accurate, and then the whole thing collapses for her. But I kind of arrived to the opposite perspective, where I find that there’s a way in which you’re using discursive practices and the practices of academia as a material. [Hito laughs]

In contrast, I feel like trolling is doing something destructive, not to change a situation, but to get a rise out of someone without actually having stakes in it—not doing something towards an end. You’re doing something for its own sake, which is why I think trolling can only exist within this weird Internet zone, where there’s either anonymity or the illusion of anonymity. This is maybe similar to a bathroom where you can write whatever you want on the walls in the stall. If you are a person that’s in a crowded theater, and you yell “Fire!,” that’s not trolling, that is a different kind of violent speech act. Someone could easily say, “Oh, it was that person in that corner,” and then they’ll narrow it down to who it was. In that situation, you don’t really have the same flexibility and freedom, you’re not sitting in your room with no pants on at the computer with Cheetos patina on your fingertips. You’re in the exact same situation as all the other people, so there are physical ramifications for the person that executes the act.

This is why trolling is so intense, because people are putting out all these materials and actions, and they don’t receive any. It doesn’t directly impact them at all—even actions as intense as swatting, even though trolling may result in someone killing themselves, or it may result in someone developing mental distress or illness. So, I feel like if you’re in the public, you can’t be a troll. I think it’s impossible. You can be a provocative person in public, but that’s not the same thing as trolling.

Swatting; Photo from Newsday

HS: Well, [in response to the earlier question regarding factual accuracy in writing] it’s the equivalent of people wanting their writers to be like [Joseph] Stalin, Pol Pot, Jeff Koons, or other immutable self-identical brands that one can confidently follow without ever having to worry that they would actually think anything. My answer would, of course, be: but that first text was in 2007! If I was still saying the same thing, I’d be insincere and insane! Look, there was no Instagram, no IS [ISIL or ISIS], no Snowden, but there was the Lehman Brothers. I’d be worried about anyone who is still saying the same! Also if you comment on very different situations, it will be necessarily contradictory to a certain point, because you reach different conclusions from different starting points. If you are faithful to some material on the ground and don’t hover in space like an omniscient spy satellite, there will be lots of contradictions because that’s reality. If it wasn’t contradictory it wouldn’t be true.

DK: That brings us to two questions: (1) if it’s not trolling, then it brings up the question of lying and how that functions within the way you work, and (2) what your writing process is like. ‘Cause I find it really interesting that after each of your texts there will always be a small paragraph or something similar where you make acknowledgements to the people that helped you do certain kinds of research—or whatever it is, sometimes it’s unclear as to what their contribution is—but you always acknowledge a group of people, which I think is really cool. It’s like a production in a way, it’s like, “Here’s the credits.”

HS: That’s what you do in videos, you know. Filmmakers consider it as normal, I can’t get over the fact that artists do not consider this necessary. You will put up this huge solo shows in which 500 people are working and not acknowledge anyone, you know. So in that sense, I try to treat the text like a visual production… [inaudible]

So lying—I don’t think I ever lie, I just tell stories. I never lie intentionally—why would anyone do this?

DK: Yeah! OK, OK.

HS: It’s about deliberate fiction. You know, there is no benefit in openly lying. I believe in facts. But I think there are benefits in trying to construct what-if scenarios, or just plainly making up things in order to think through certain possibilities, which may not have happened yet, but could or could not happen.

But usually, when people think I’m making things up, in fact, those things are factual. They just can’t believe it. But the reason is not because I’m devious or something, but because the reality is very imaginative, right? It’s much more imaginative and unbelievable than we acknowledge. One has to do it justice, and you can only do it justice by fictionalizing. Otherwise it’s not documentary.

DK: Yeah, I totally agree. There’re certain instances—and it’s something that I even do myself at times—where I’ll read something that is taking place in current events, and then I’ll postulate it next to something else and create a what-if sort of scenario.

A few years back, I made this drill song using an alter ego:Lil Resin. Drill is a genre of rap born in Chicago, where there’s been a long, long history of really intense gang warfare in addition to police terrorizing communities. And this song sprang from the idea: what if kids could just use libraries to rapidly prototype gun parts? What if that actually created a different balance of power, where then it wouldn’t just be those that are the traditionally macho, masculine figures that would have power within a particular community, but also those that have computer skills or those that have friends that work in a library? I think this is not implausible because in certain instances you might not buy a gun—if you’re hard up, you might buy a nail gun from Home Depot or a flare gun or any number of other legal tools you can repurpose into lethal weapons.

Photo by Shanrilivan

So in this fiction, I’m basing it in reality: (1) gun violence is plaguing communities, (2) you could use the 3-D printer for free at the main library downtown, (3) you can make gun parts with a 3-D printer, and (4) libraries were recruitment centers for gangs during summertime when I was growing up. Taking this to its logical conclusion talks about a whole constellation of things, so even if there aren’t really kids that are rapidly prototyping gun parts in Chicago, there are people rapidly prototyping gun parts in other parts of the country—primarily upper-, middle-class white guys, who are doing it as a thing about their right to possess a gun. The process is taking one figure and replacing it with another to talk about the larger issues. So anyway, it’s perhaps related to that process of what-if fiction.

HS: So is this lying? What do you think?

DK: Oh!

HS: It’s not lying.

DK: It’s not lying. It could have the same negative impact that a lie can have, but not necessarily. I feel like a lie is where you’re altering reality toward a goal of either achieving or protecting something. But with satire or a fiction, maybe there’s a more abstract goal. Like discussion? Or “awareness?” So maybe it’s a more complex operation than lying. I don’t know…maybe I just need to feel that way so I can go to sleep at night. [both laugh]

Again, with this and the text that’s dealing with the picture plane and the horizon [“In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective”], I want to ask: is there a crisis happening right now with perception in the Global North? Because in “A Tank on a Pedestal,” it seems like it’s a really a big deal if time functions in a loop. It seems like there would be a kind of epistemological crisis if history doesn’t go in a line, ‘cause that’s been an important grounding for Western society.

HS: Yes, but in fact if you see it abstractly, then everyone could say, “OK, who cares?” But if people are really stuck in a war on a loop or endless repetition of a pseudo-historical pattern like in a game from hell, then that’s really sad. It really seems to me as if this is an increasingly common situation of conflict which is stuck—really stuck—stuck on auto-repeat with extraction, impoverishment, impunity, and oligarchs getting richer as a result. If it’s auto-repeat of misery, which it certainly is in specific cases, then that’s very depressing.

DK: Certainly.

HS: So probably these ideas of time have been breaking up for a long time, right? And of course, there is no going back to a sort of linear progress model, but still now you have to go within this [inaudible] paradigm to figure out how to move on if you need to.

DK: I’m thinking about the ways in which contemporary capitalism—and the way we think in it—is actually mimicking things that were founded in pre-capitalist societies. I’m thinking about the Internet of Things and how that is a weird version—it’s almost animistic, as if there were a spirit in a tree, in a rock, in the dirt. If there’re spirits ever present, that’s kind of like the Internet of Things—except that with the Internet of Things everything is for labor, everything is somehow part of the exchange economy, whether we’re using it for exchange or just being mined for data that will later lead to an exchange.

In another way, I was interested in this time loop thing because within Mayan and Aztec civilizations, the idea of time functioning in these kinds of concentric circles like interlocking gears or almost a spiral pattern versus a line, similar to a loop. Sometimes it’s hard to not get deterministic because these civilizations that produced hugely important contributions—in this continent and for humanity in general—that looked at time in a circular or spiral way were then destroyed by another civilization that views time in a linear way. Then that civilization ceases to function linearly and starts to change exponentially, and the exponential curve looks a lot more like a loop than it does a slope or a line. For example, I’m thinking about climate change and population growth. So in “A Tank on a Pedestal”—where you make reference to Edge of Tomorrow, stasis, and this very specific kind of loop—I am reminded of other models.

The tzolk’in (13 day numbers, within the 20 named days) and a portion of the haab. Drawing by ML Design. From Ancient Mexico and Central America by Susan Toby Evans, Thames and Hudson, London and New York.

HS: Yeah, it’s a launchpad [inaudible], right? Either you go to space or you just do a backflip and start spinning in a never-ending loop.

DK: But if you zoom in on a curve, eventually it can start to look like it’s a line.

HS: Yes.

DK: Right? Like if you go in close enough, you can find a small section, which appears to be a line segment. So it’s almost a matter of perspective.

HS: Of scale.

DK: Yeah, scale. I mean it’s not totally, ‘cause someone might say, “Oh, a circle is a just like a polygon with infinite sides.”

HS: Well, I think the idea of the exponential curve is very important because if we live in this age of the exponential curve there are problems that have never existed before on this kind of planetary scale.

DK: Yes.

HS: Problems, but also opportunities, if you like. Why not? They cannot be solved with loop-like patterns, right? Because these conditions have never existed, so they cannot be solved with anything has existed before. So how do we even adapt our thinking to that situation? And I think it wouldn’t hurt in terms of survival…

DK: …to have a different approach. Yeah. How do you propose you get to a different kind of approach?

HS: Stop quoting Marx and extorting huge amounts of money for MA programs constructed around that aim. [laughs]

DK: Oh, yeah, that’s really good! [laughs]

HS: Or quoting anything as if it were a recipe for action, which it may have been at one time of course. But basically, no historical wisdom is adaptive to a situation like this, because this is unprecedented. It was probably different in mythical times when people lived with natural seasons, which in themselves do not change did not change that much.

Now we have this whole cycle of nature and natural time basically disrupted as well. How do you act in a situation where the seasons are disrupted already?

DK: Or yesterday, it felt like spring, and then it feels like deep winter again today, and then a few days previous to that it was late spring. It’s just a strange…

HS: This is also to underline the fact that we can talk about patterns of time, but there are also real material patterns of time that have been massively disrupted. And you know, nature has adapted to a lot of different changes, even humanity has. It’s not unmanageable, right? But it’s about getting used to the fact that things do not work as planned, and the end may be before the beginning but after the advertisement break, which in fact is everywhere.

DK: With that in mind, how does it change the way that you produce? Texts, speech, video, artworks, video, documentary…however you want to define it.

HS: Do you ever have a plan—when you do something? Do you ever consider such questions?

DK: Yeah!

HS: Oh, you do!

DK: Sometimes I’m like, oh, well, if this is the case, then I need to do this.

HS: Really? Wow.

DK: Yeah, it’ll be like: well if this is the environment, how about I make an album, which mirrors this [gestures at computer display], like the way that there’re 26 tabs open on your computer or something. I’ll do something that mirrors that more closely than it does traditional songs. Traditional songs will be a three-verse structure that comes out of ballads and a kind of Aristotelian arc thing. But if we don’t have that kind of arc structure or if it doesn’t resonate as much in the contemporary era—where we have more short-burst declarative statements like tweets, macros, memes, status updates, etc.—how do we do something that responds to the kind of fragmentary nature of that? So I’ll think about what’s happening, and then I’ll do something in response to it.

HS: Yeah, I know, but do you ever think of the whole situation—of the whole plan?

DK: Do I stick to it? No. [both laugh]

HS: Yeah, I know. I don’t. It’s just puttering along—that’s my way of working. [laughs]

DK: Ah, OK.

HS: Something comes up.

DK: But do you feel like there’s been a shift in the way you’ve puttered away in the past couple of years compared to a decade ago?

HS: Sure, everything changes all the time, yeah.

DK: But you don’t focus on how? It’s not a concerted effort to change your practice?

HS: It changes all the time in relation to reality—because you know, I still have a sort of documentary mindset, right? So I’m still trying to do justice to reality, even if it’s by fictionalizing or whatever. But the means for doing that change all the time because the reality itself changes all the time. So of course I try to adjust, but I don’t have a plan. There’s no master plan.

DK: Sure, sure.

HS: Usually there’s deadlines and stuff.

DK: Right, that helps make it concrete faster. But when you say you have a documentary mindset what does that mean? Because documentary could mean almost anything. I remember reading a packet of Bill Nichols’s six types of documentary filmmaking. Looking at examples from each of them, they are all drastically different. Some would be so expository or poetic that most people wouldn’t be able to register them as a documentary, like essay films, Chris Marker, or something like that.

I guess that leads to an even larger question of the document—what is veritable? Could you open up that a little bit? For what that means for you?

HS: Exactly. Trying to adjust to that situation is what I’m trying to do all the time, right? Because I don’t know, no one knows. Documentary changes also. People are trying to fix it and define it, but then they are not doing justice to the constant changes—permanent and dramatic changes.

DK: This idea of these constant dramatic changes makes me think of how in the last year or two, it’s become mainstream here for people to be aware that police brutality occurs against Black people, Latinx people, and other ethnic minorities. People really want to have all these different solutions, and it makes me think about the“In Defense of the Poor Image” text because one of the solutions that people really want to have are body cams for police officers, which I don’t think would actually be a solution. Police officers just figure out ways of—not disengaging it—but moving their bodies in a particular way where it’s not functional.

But there was a case recently where media outlets were trying to acquire the footage from the NYPD for a particular case that led to someone needlessly dying. And the NYPD claimed they need $36,000 to release this body cam footage, right? I guess then it brings us into another issue because I’m sure the footage is of incredibly poor quality. It’s a piece of garbage lens on their armor, which could easily be manipulated—or even without manipulation, there’s pausing, editing, and narration, like the Rodney King case, right? With Rodney King, it was clear what was happening, but the way in which it was paused or zoomed in changed the way that people read it.

Still from Rodney King tape (1991)

So people are aware that tons and tons of images are being made, and they’re aware that they have the power to produce these images, but I feel like people don’t yet grasp the importance of the framing and pacing and distribution and all these things that you think about as a person working in documentary.

HS: I think that a visual arms race is mostly going to multiply the problem. What’s the use of evidence when no one wants to act upon it? Why wire everyone and increase horizontal surveillance of everything and everyone, when—sorry to say this—gun control and demilitarization of US cities and law enforcement would be a way more efficient option.

DK: I was talking with my friend, and she mentioned to me the horrible public mass sexual assault in Cologne on New Year’s Eve. She said there had been a kind of cover-up with that footage. People want to have the footage so that they can reach a certain conclusion about who the culprits are, but it’s a politically charged act to try to get this material. She brought it up to me when I was talking about the NYPD thing. It is a foil for that in a way. This is of course a different kind of “poor image” than the one that you’re talking about. But it is one that if people actually had access to it, it could become the same kind that you are talking about in the text: memes, bootlegs, and those kinds of things. And in some cases, there has been police footage that goes on and becomes viral media, etc. So I guess I wanted to ask you about that stuff.

HS: Which stuff exactly? Also, I don’t think there was a cover-up in Cologne. It was more or less the usual slowness to respond to sexual harassment. Police think that it’s normal, and in any case, they think they don’t have the resources to deal with it.

DK: Had you reflected on those kinds of events since you’ve put out that text [“In Defense of the Poor Image”]? That text was quite a while ago, but some of the things that you touch on have been shown to be really important. It could be elucidating if more people were reading that particular text, there would be other ways of looking at this kind of footage and perhaps other ways of thinking about the kinds of solutions and justice since you can’t rely on the image to give you a solution. It means that you have to think about the image, the production of the image, and the people that have the equipment to produce it differently.

HS: Yeah, of course. Maybe that’s the answer, because I think if one tries to discuss these issues just on the base of image or evidence—let’s put it like this—you very quickly end up in some sort of deadlock, where you have to argue for either more image production or less image production. On the one hand, this means more or less surveillance or more or less evidence, you know. It really depends on the situation. I mean just talking about the image and its existence doesn’t really mean anything. You have to know what you want from this image. Do you want more justice? Then let’s say that!

DK: Sure.

HS: Then it’s about justice, not about the image itself. I mean maybe body cams help—I’m not going to exclude it—but it’s not going to solve the issue of systemic inequality.

DK: Yeah. It definitely won’t.

HS: And that would be placing too many expectations on this kind of image, no?

DK: And it’s desirable because it’s a quick fix—a thing that you can just buy. There will be companies that will build these particular kinds of cameras for police officers or the public. It’s a thing that easily functions within our economy and production, but it doesn’t change the way they work ideologically, which is the real problem.

HS: And it will immediately also start functioning as surveillance.

DK: Sure. Yeah.

HS: And of course, you need counter surveillance. You need counter evidence. All of that is necessary. But just in itself, just as you said, in the case of the Rodney King, having all the evidence in the world didn’t help. Because the system…

DK: …was not designed for that outcome—a positive outcome centered on justice.

HS: No, no.

DK: Could you talk a little about your writing process?

HS: [laughs] How about yours?

DK: OK, sure, yeah! I basically improvise. It’s a weird stream of consciousness thing. I write as though I’m talking. Often times things will pop into my mind, usually pop cultural references or other kinds of cultural references. Then I’ll include those within the text, and then I’ll go back and change run-ons, and cut sentences up. I really like the concept of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, so at times, I’ll work to produce a thing that has the tone of something that already exists.

HS: Sounds easy.

DK: It’s so easy, right?! [Hito laughs] But it’s also very time-consuming. It’s easy to describe, but it’s super time-consuming to do it in that way. But it’s enjoyable to do that way as well. It’s a lot more vibrant, I guess. I’m looking back now at this text I wrote a few years ago, which keeps popping as being relevant. It was a text called “Being There/ There-being,” and it’s about the shift mainly from Web 1.0 days to Web 2.0 and the pre-Web 1.0 time period. I’m thinking largely about DIY distribution circuits such as zines or flyers, putting up flyers for your party, or graffiti or tapes, like you’ll make a tape for your band and you’ll sell them.

HS: Did you ever do that?

DK: Yeah, I came right at the end of it. Like I was 12 and the other people were in their teens or in their 20s doing this. I was emulating them, but I was also on the Internet at the same time. So I’m in this weird middle zone, where I’m conscious of this shift.

Anyway, I look back on that text and think, oh, maybe I should distribute it, ‘cause it’s evident in the way that I work that I am bouncing off these set of ideas. But then I get locked down in some type of constrictive notions, like oh, I don’t want to close down reads of my work by putting out texts or something like that. Even though I kind of think they would just add to it. But I just go back and forth, and I’d rather be working on music or sculpture or something like that.

HS: What kind of music do you do?

DK: The music works in the same way that the text does, so I shift genres. Right now I’m working with a guy, Drag Lomax, right now. It’s kind of folk music, but it’s about contemporary issues, and there’re no acoustic instruments either.

HS: So what is it?

DK: It sounds like folk music, but it’s made with samples.

HS: But it does sound as if it were acoustic guitars?

DK: Yeah, yeah. But it’s all electronic. In some ways, a cell phone is more of a ubiquitous instrument than a guitar is, so a folk musician would be using a cell phone or a computer or nothing, like strictly a capella versus this intermediary thing, like a guitar, you know. Cell phones are maybe $30, $60, $200, or $500, but a guitar is $100, $200, and up. So I’m just thinking about that kind of thing. I also do a lot of hip-hop, punk, and noise. It shifts depending on what I’m trying to do with it.

Do you look at your writing like a video? Does it function the way that one of your documentaries would function? Is that why you have these “Thanks,” or is that a reference to an academia kind of thing?

HS: No, no. But I still try to acknowledge the sources, also the books, not only the people, so maybe that’s still academic. But other than that, I try not to write in an academic style. I don’t know, I usually just start writing something, then I get stuck, then I start writing something else, then I get stuck…

DK: Like entirely different, about something totally else?

HS: Yeah. Then I go back to the first thing and wait until I get stuck. So it’s basically bouncing back-and-forth between different situations. But it usually starts with something that really intrigues me in the sense that it troubles me, and I can’t figure out what it is. It fascinates me. And then I just try to spin it in a way so that it is spinning differently.

I think probably on a very technical level, there’s a lot of montage going on. I wouldn’t be able to write on a typewriter because then I would have to cut-and-paste things manually all the time, and that would just not work, I suppose. It would be interesting to try to do that.

DK: Sure. So I guess that would be like a “one take” filming style. You’d have to have it all in your head before you do it.

HS: Yeah, exactly. Or you have a secretary to do it, like [Theodor W.] Adorno or someone.

DK: Yeah. I just wanted to give you this image real quick. The idea of the tank on the pedestal made me think of armories in certain traditional museums, but also the Met [The Metropolitan Museum of Art] for instance. I’m sure there’s tons of artillery and things like that—swords and gauntlets and whatnot—in Western European museums as well. It also made me think about the movie cliché where there’ll be a rifle on the wall, like the decorative rifle that the person takes off the wall and they cock it, ready for business. [Hito laughs] Yeah, it made me think about that. Wow, there’s a lot of 'guns' in our culture. I realize I’ve been talking about guns a lot, sorry. [laughs] But yeah, that’s all. This was great!

HS: My friend Oleksiy [Radynski] said you can’t render those tanks useless. As long as they look like tanks, they basically are tanks. One would have to scrap those things entirely. Maybe that will be future art. Let’s be optimistic.

This dialogue was organized by Marco Kane Braunschweiler and edited by Karly Wildenhaus. Special thanks to Aria Dean.