Hito Steyerl

Hito Steyerl is a German filmmaker primarily working with documentary video examining issues such as the militarisation and digitisation of society and the media. She is also a regular writer in art journals such as e-flux, commentating on issues such as the politics of the image.


In her 2009 essay Is a Museum a Factory? [1], Steyerl examines the changes to spaces seen since the invention of film over a century ago: one of the first films made by Louis Lumière shows workers pouring out of his factory that manufactured photographic film. Subsequently, the same factory was developed into a cultural space, including a cinema replete with reception areas for hire.


As Steyerl notes, this is a complete transformation of space. Once people flooded out of factories at given times, just as they would leave a cinema en mass at the end of a film. Today, there are fewer factories but also fewer cinemas. The crucial point is that sites become merged; former industrial buildings are transformed into cultural spaces. However, these spaces do not have the same relationship with ‘the masses’ as in the 20th century. They are no longer for the masses as the cinema of the 20th century were. They are now like museums - people drop in and out of multi-screen projections, moving around as incoherent atomized multitudes.


This reveals important transformations over the past century: a blurring of work and leisure spaces and the rise of individuality over community. It is tempting to see this as a purely negative modern manifestation but applying it to specific situations shows a more complex picture.


Groups such as the Justice for Cleaners campaign are primarily about workers making a common cause, focussed in relation to their employers and their place of work. While the campaign is around employment rights, there is also a social side, for example music nights held on the SOAS campus. This merging of the work and leisure space is positive; drawing people together, developing a real community, which in turn makes their employment campaign stronger.





[1] Hito Steyerl (2009) 'Is a Museum a Factory?'