FABRIK. On Circulation of Data, Goods and People / PROA21

The Pavilion as Factory
A Site of Reproducing Images
by Florian Ebner


       The Profaned Temple
Rarely is the latent presence of history more tangible than in the
completely empty German Pavilion in the Giardini in Venice. There are
only a few buildings that call up in the collective (German) artistic
mind so many memories of radical artistic positions as this temple to
the arts, built in 1909 and monumentally extended by the National
Socialists in 1938. There are scarcely any comparable spaces and
locations that put the ‘exhibition value’ of art to the test to such an
extent, and that stage the in situ and the site-specific in the way that
the national pavilions on the lagoon city’s old Biennale grounds do.
Architecturally conditioned, historically charged, and condemned to
the programmatic, to a certain extent they are counterparts to a White
Cube. As in no other artistic context, this particular venue demands
a reaction.
       As is generally known, famous artists (and their curators) have
been grappling with the history and the brutally classicistic design
of the German Pavilion since the 1970s: adopting a historical-associative
approach, as in Joseph Beuys’s Straßenbahnhaltestelle (Tram
Stop, 1976); offering a radical critique as in Hans Haacke’s Germania
(1993); mythologically quotidian as in Gregor Schneider’s Totes
Haus u r (Dead House u r, 2001); or with a media-existentialist take, as
in Christoph Schlingensief’s Kirche gegen die Angst in mir (Church
against the Fear in Me, 201 1). If one were to include Rosemarie
Trockel’s video spaces and the installations by Liam Gillick or Isa
Genzken, the history of the German Pavilion could be described, with
few exceptions, as one of the profanation of this stately temple, as
a history of continual attempts to deconstruct the aura of the monumental
architecture — in order to simultaneously use it, in an act of
détournement, of artistic inversion, as a resonance chamber for whatever
state of the art needs to be newly propagandized at that moment.
       In this respect, the German contribution to the 56th Biennale
Arte in Venice can be seen in a very contemporary way as an attempt
to transform the German Pavilion into a place of reflection on circulating,
migrating, and volatile images and into a venue for the manifold
signs of disintegration of our age. In many respects, it was oppor-
tune to turn a temple of art into a factory — an imaginary, lost, virtual
factory, a factory of political narratives, a factory of digital light, and
a cognitive image factory. In any event, a factory is expected to yield
up an extremely productive profanation.

       The Metamorphosis of Images
Sometimes it is the perplexing spark of uncertainty that sets the process in motion, a sudden flash of an idea that comes to the aid of the curator in the face of an empty pavilion, prompting him or her to put the summoned images of the past, the burden of history, into its place and to create room for the new. This incertitude has to do with the political iconography of the face, a series from the mid-1930s, which on first sight makes many people think of Leni Riefenstahl —  voilà le scandale: Leni Riefenstahl in the German Pavilion ! And yet Helmar Lerski’sMetamorphosis through Lightseries, which was created on the flat roof of a modernist house in Tel Aviv, is anything but a nationalist spectre, following instead a modernist radicalism that is still capable of posing relevant questions today, such as: What does the distribution of roles between photographer, medium, and model look like ? This is a constellation that always has to be negotia-ted and is a question that is re-posed in the age of circulating images and which Lerski attempted to answer in around 140 shots of one and the same face, in the changing light of his mirror under the burning sun of the Levant.
       What remains of this spark, this catalytic idea with respect to the empty pavilion, is a constellation of places and motifs that contrib-uted towards a definition of the space in terms of contents: on the one hand, thinking about the roof as ‘another place’, a place of freedom and experimentation, a heterotopia; on the other, reflecting on the metamorphosis of our contemporary culture of the image and its polit-ical potential. It was the beginning of a constructive dialogue that started to develop between the architectural potential of the building (its high rooms and exposed roof) and a range of unfinished, barelynascent works.
       Researchers in the field of visual culture (cf. the essay by Tom Holert)experience the metamorphosis of our images as an, in many ways, paradoxical situation: they see the ubiquity of the images and at the same time their placelessness, their total presence in social networks, where they are  ‘shared’  and  ‘liked’, and their complete separa-tion from their original and referent. They note the disappearance of any certainty with regard to what will become of the medium of photography in the age of the algorithmic turn.They ask themselves whether the omnipresent digital images —the‘lumpenproletariat’
(Hito Steyerl) of our popular image culture — have not really become,in an extended cultural sense, viralimages, because they question the classical forms of representation. Yet one might counter that these signs of disintegration could also be a chance to conceive of the photographic in a different way, that they could forge a path to rethinknot only our contemporaneity, but also the contemporary (artistic)image. This might imply, among other things, that the photographictoday poses questions not so much about the depiction of reality as about its changeability, placing greater emphasis on the issues of participation, testimony, and representation — and this in a primarily political sense.

       At some time during the continual process of shuttling between exhibition location, artistic positions, and definitions of content, one suddenly notices that the concept has long been pervaded by ideas that emanate from specific works. In which, in addition to the universal presence of the roof, factors and ideas such as  ‘digital light’  or  ‘mi-grating images’ also have significance. This was the moment in which it suddenly became clear what the emerging artistic works that would become part of the German Pavilion had to do with work and economy, the moment in which one realized that the protagonists and the programme of the Pavilion had taken on clear definition: GIRO by Olaf Nicolai, The Citizen by Tobias Zielony, Out  on the Street by Jasmina Metwaly and Philip Rizk, and Factory of the Sun by Hito Steyerl. Perhaps it is this interaction between conceptual perspectives and artistic temperaments, this exchange and the collective process, which marks what is special about this Pavilion, providing yet another reason to describe it as a factory.

      The term Fabrik (factory) — the title of the exhibition —bundles together the fate of industrial labour, the curse of exploitation and alienation in the nineteenth century, the progressive automation of production and its outsourcing to low-wage countries, the lost promise of work for all, and the transformation of these places into venues for alternative culture; today the word ‘factory’ is at most still only a cause of alarm for neo-liberal minds. In the context of Okwui Enwezor’s concept of the  ‘Garden of Disorder’, which he proclaimed as a contextual matrix for the 56th Biennale Arte, the Fabrik wonder-fully finds its place as an echo chamber, for example, to the planned non-stop reading of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital over the course of the Biennale. Yet Fabrik can also be read in a different way, at a media level, as an expression of what is artificial and constructed in images:   ‘You do not take a photograph, you make it,’ postulated the Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar as a bold statement writ large — and in the con-text of his media criticism, this sentence can only be read politi-cally. One of the lines most frequently quoted in photography theory is taken from Bertolt Brecht’s Der Dreigroschenprozeß: Ein so-ziologisches Experiment (The Threepenny Lawsuit: A Sociological Experiment):


‘The situation has become so complicated because the simple “reproduction of reality” says less than ever about that reality.A photograph of the Krupp works or the AEG reveals almost nothing about these institutions. Reality as such has slipped into the domain of the functional. The reification of human relations, the factory, for example, no longer discloses these relations. So there is indeed “some-thing to construct”, something “artificial”, “invented”.’
      Since the 1970s, when people started rereading Walter Benjamin’s Kleine Geschichte der Photographie (A Short History of Photogra-phy), in which the quote from Brecht represents an important argu-ment, numerous artists have investigated the meaning of this direc-tive, and have attempted to use photo-text works and mise en scène to etch the ‘artistic’ into their commentary on reality, even as their discursive and media-technical tools have been adapted to the onward march of time.

The Necessity of a Mise en Scène
Not much is left of the original factory that forms the nominal subject
of Jasmina Metwaly and Philip Rizk’s film Out on the Street apart
from a few hours of raw footage that Essam, a former factory worker,
shot with his mobile telephone. The Egyptian Starch and Glucose
Company, which was privatized, before being destroyed, is one of hundreds
that were liquidated according to the same protocol in Hosni
Mubarak’s Egypt. The artistic charge that Metwaly and Rizk bring
against these neo-liberal processes is not a documentation of the state
of things, but a form of mise en sce`ne, of theatre, based on the experience
of the collective and the power of the imagination.
      A group of workers from a suburban district were invited to a
spacious military tent set up on the large roof terrace above the
eleventh floor of an apartment block in central Cairo, where, after sun-
down, they reconstructed the fate of this particular factory — representative
of many other factories — in scenes that exemplified the
situation and whose everyday nature (and simultaneous abstraction)
expresses the universally effective mechanisms of power, its language
and its indignities. The embodiment of their own experiences,
the act of playing, and the self-empowerment through language
also find their continuation in the production methods of the film,
and are emphatically recorded in the collective drawing of the factory’s
floor plan on the tiles of the flat roof and in the joint elaboration of
the screenplay. The various levels of the project appear in the montage
of the film: the preparatory workshop, the illustrative scenes (from
the appearance of the new manager to the lockout of the workers),
and the scenes inserted from Essam’s mobile phone — a very Brechtian
      In this film project, Metwaly and Rizk process events experienced
as part of their film work before and during the Egyptian uprising of
2011. In the context of their engagement with the Mosireen media
collective, numerous video reports were created that depended on the
direct testimony of their interview partners. ‘From empathy to empowerment’
is how they described the change in their methodological
approach. Working with lay actors is certainly not new from a methodological
perspective, yet Metwaly and Rizk’s action on the roof has
a direct imperative, an unbound dynamic that feeds off reflections on
their previous documentary work. At the same time, it is an expression
of the methodological experiments taking place in fast motion,
which owe their existence to the critical mentality of political upheaval
and whose fate is uncertain today.
      The film is being shown as an installation in one of the two wings
of the German Pavilion, whilst in the other a number of the original
marble floor slabs have been removed and replaced with the tiles from
the Cairo roof on which the factory floor plan is drawn. The hole in
the floor of the Pavilion does not represent a questioning of unacknowledged
German continuities; instead, Metwaly and Rizk’s subtle reference to Hans Haacke’s
epochal gesture from 1993 can be read as a repatriation of the broken fragments of our
economic model or as an attempt to integrate ‘foreign bodies’ into the social fabric of Europe,
to incorporate Egyptian cement tiles into the Italian marble slabs of the German Pavilion.

Photography’s Discursive Space
‘Occupy Berlin: Sudanese Refugees Capture a Camera’ was the title of
an article that appeared at the end of February 2015 in The Citizen,
a newspaper published in Khartoum, Sudan. The editors introduce the
photographer’s images and the author’s essay with the following
      ‘For the past year, Tobias Zielony has been photographing refugee
activists from Sudan and other African countries in Germany. They protest
against the restriction of movement imposed on them, the
prohibition to work or study and the racist asylum policies in Europe.
Zielony asked African writers and journalists to reflect and comment
on his photographs. For The Citizen, Dr Magdi Elgizouli discusses
South-North migration within a broader political and historical context.’
      In his essay, Magdi Elgizouli, a Sudanese doctor and activist
living in Germany, covers a wide range of topics — from the different
forms of colonial pictorial history and images of the white man in black
Sudan, to Leni Riefenstahl’s chapter on the Nuba — in order to discuss
in the final part of the text the political opinions of refugees
living in Berlin, many of whom are the author’s compatriots. According
to the author, the refugees’ political activism is staged, and the photographer’s
camera provides them with an uncritical space for the
show. Elgizouli’s harsh polemic is one of the voices that Zielony
collects for his photographs, whereby the range of texts published in
newspapers and magazines from Sudan, Nigeria, Cameroon, and
Ghana is extremely varied. Zielony’s pictures are used, for example, as
a reason to examine internal Nigerian perspectives on migration or
to introduce an artistic work from Ghana on the theme of transit and
crossing over. They also appear as a photographic essay in a literary
online magazine. Participation is understood here in a multiperspectival
and methodologically new way, as an invitation to express
oneself in the discursive space of a work, even if that also includes
      Zielony’s series The Citizen examines one of today’s great political
questions, namely, the presence of ‘the Other’ in Germany, as
embodied by African refugees. If the migration movements of our time
are often reduced to tragedies on the external borders of ‘Fortress
Europe’, Zielony’s gaze is directed towards the political self-representation
of these people, to the reasons why they left their home countries,
their experiences, and their demands to be taken seriously as
political subjects in Germany. Zielony makes this new self-confidence
the central element in the staging of his portraits, or, to be more
precise, the protagonists of his pictures appropriate his camera — at
least to a certain extent — in order to tell their own stories. In contrast
to media reporting, which was quick to turn its back on the refugees’
activist protests on the roof of the Gerhart Hauptmann School or at
Kreuzberg’s Oranienplatz, Zielony uses this media event as his starting point:
he photographs not only well-known protagonists of the protest
but also nameless refugees, symbolically charged locations (the roof,
the cinema, the tree), as well as previously undocumented ones, such
as the refugees’ (temporary) accommodation.
      Zielony’s pictures are directed towards different recipients and at
least two different audiences. In his large-format wall works, the
photographer uses a newspaper-style layout, only with the text
between the photos missing. The white space between the pictures is
a reference to the ‘unsaid’, to spaces and caesuras in biographies
and in public discourse. The photos that the journalists and authors
from the above-mentioned African countries selected for publication
in newspapers, which were actually printed and published, were often
quite different. Copies of these newspapers are also on prominent
display in the German Pavilion: in the large showcases in the centre of
the room, as if it were not a question of some everyday mass-produced
item but of precious manuscripts.
      Perhaps Zielony’s approach can best be described — using the
term once postulated by Brigitte Werneburg — as ‘discursive documentarism’.
The artist’s recourse to the medium of the newspaper
is seen here not as a simple flirtation with journalism. Rather, Zielony
goes against the grain of classical, event-oriented photojournalism and
simultaneously shows how close the discursive spaces of (artistic)
photography and journalism have once again become to each other,
depending on the interpretative spin one gives to the pictures.

From Travelling Image to Liquid Image
‘Once the property of gods of culture and sun-kings, sunshine is now
democratized, its electro-political frequencies delimited as an open
source, as a “general intellect” hardcoded into machines and bodies
alike. Such is the idealist hope behind so many theories of immaterial
labour. But the effect, as Steyerl points out in what seems like an
aside, is that of a “deadly transparency”.’
      As David Riff elaborates in his text, Hito Steyerl makes use of the
emphatic notion of sunlight, that old symbol of progress, in her
video installation Factory of the Sun, leading us in a dialectic fashion,
which is both critical and playful, to the very heart of the debates
about our digital present. Factory of the Sun slips into the form of a
computer game, so as to draw on the narrative structure of popular
entertainment to establish a more favourable position from which to
do battle. For it is about nothing less than sounding out the remaining
freedom of action that political individuals and subjects have in the
face of the inextricable interlacing of digital streams of information,
economic interests, and social and cultural distortions. As a result,
everything in this game is based on the immateriality of light as a medium
of information, physical bodies, and values.
      Like the diverse modes of a computer game, the film switches
between different levels of reality. The narrator is Yulia, who at the
same time is also the programmer of the game, whose protagonists
are initially introduced to us as slave labourers in a motion-capture studio
— the technical dispositif that transforms the movements of a
person into light impulses, thus creating the basis for the figures’
movements in the virtual reality of the computer game. By way of
example, Yulia tells the tale of a brother and sister who emigrate
to Israel after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The sister becomes a
game programmer, while the brother becomes a YouTube dance star
and a prototype for the figures that later move through the game
as actors. As youthful heroes, they lose their lives in global uprisings
against neo-liberal economic politics — represented in a piece of biting
satire by a drone attack launched by Deutsche Bank — only to be
subsequently resurrected as superheroes in a computer game.
      In a frantic montage, the different takes flow into one another —
studio scenes, media images, shots of aerial drones, objets trouvés
that have been composited and animated, and a great deal more —
with the dance scenes acting as the motor in this incessant stream of
changing images. However, the way the content of the film is structured
connects the distortions of the present to historic lines of
confrontation from the past (Berlin’s Teufelsberg, for example, a key
location in the Cold War, built over buried Nazi ruins), while also anticipating
the destruction of the German Pavilion in the film.
      In her person, Hito Steyerl brings together the roles of artist and
film-maker and of essayist and media theoretician. In both modes
of expression, she adopts the figure of the warrior, who, in opposition
to postmodern relativization, constantly questions the truth of images.
In her film November (2004), she was the first to speak of ‘travelling
images’ and their continual political recoding, of the way they are used
and misused; today she explores ‘liquid images’, probing their infra-
structure and the new channels through which they flow. Without a
trace of wistfulness, she has in recent years bid farewell as a filmmaker
to photographic ‘recording’ pure and simple, and instead seems
to be discovering new political potential in the processing and compositing
of images — in her digital synthesis. If the pure registration of
images always contains an element of resignation, manipulation of the
image promises a greater utopian potential for dealing with reality.
At the same time, she elaborates the dialectic of networked and circulating
images, demands the reinvention of the Internet, which has
been commercialized to death, and, in the guise of dancing superheroes,
challenges its ‘deadly transparency’.

Circular Tracks
‘Perhaps even better than with the arrow mentioned by Lacan, this
“loop formed by the outward and return movement of the drive”
can be exemplified by the first free association that this formulation
resuscitates, namely, the boomerang, where “hitting the animal”
changes over into “making oneself hit.” That is to say, when I throw the
boomerang, the “goal” of it, of course, is to hit the animal; yet the true
artifice of it consists in being able to catch it when, upon my missing
the goal, the boomerang flies back — the true aim is precisely to
miss the goal, so that the boomerang returns to me (the most difficult part of
learning how to handle the boomerang is therefore to master
the art of catching it properly, i. e., of avoiding being hit by it, of
blocking the potentially suicidal dimension of throwing it). The boomerang
thus designates the very moment of the emergence of “culture,”
the moment when instinct is transformed into drive: the moment
of splitting between goal and aim, the moment when the true aim
is no longer to hit the goal but to maintain the very circular movement
of repeatedly missing it.’ (Slavoj iek, ‘A Hair of the Dog That Bit
You’, in Lacanian Theory of Discourse: Subject, Structure, and
Society, ed. Mark Bracher et al. [ New York: New York University Press,
1994 ], 71)
      On the circular tracks of Olaf Nicolai’s thought processes, this find
from Slavoj iek’s ‘A Hair of the Dog That Bit You’ encountered the
novel Montedidio (God’s Mountain) by Erri De Luca, the story of a
young man from Naples, for whom throwing a boomerang on a flat roof
at midday becomes the key to emancipation. This meeting of the
two texts, perhaps also in reverse order, is the inspiration and starting
point for Nicolai’s work GIRO, a performative durational piece and
installation on the roof of the German Pavilion. During the almost
seven-month course of the Biennale, he will stage a kind of shadow
economy under a glistening sun. Hidden from the eyes of the public,
Nicolai’s protagonists will carry out a mysterious activity. In their
workshop, they will manufacture wooden boomerangs, whose flightworthiness
they will then test. They will go to the edge of the Pavilion
roof, where they will be visible for a brief moment, and select a trajectory
before disappearing again into the sanctuary of their workshop.
      GIRO — a title and work that can be read and interpreted in
multiple ways — develops its tension from just this dialectic interplay
of the actors being exposed and then becoming elusive, from the
functionality of what they are doing and the aesthetic dimension of
their choreography. The archaic gesture of throwing is accompanied
by the possibility of failure that is put on show. The figure on high,
up on the roof, likewise acts as a mild irritant and harbours a latent
sense of threat. Thus, with every throw, GIRO triggers a further turn of
our mental image projector, media pictures of occupied roofs and
police interventions pop up here along with other cultural representations
of the roof. Besides the vertical dimension of this work, its placement
on the roof, and the roof’s transformation into a stage, there is also a
kind of horizontal, political dimension. Indeed, Nicolai’s actors are
not performers or artists; instead, the young protagonists act as artisans
crafting boomerangs, implements made of Finnish birch, part
weapon, part plaything, part aesthetic object — which over the course
of the weeks and months will find their way into the public space
and circulate in the streets of Venice as obscure commodities for another
global shadow economy. Nicolai’s project can thus be read
not only as a self-absorbed, aesthetic game devoid of intentionality,
but also as a meditation on various forms of economy and on artistic
artefacts that steer clear of immediate conversion into lucrative
art objects.
In a community of artistic positions characterized by technical images
and media, Nicolai discovers living images, the human medium (see
the lexicon by Lars Willumeit), and becomes part of the central motif
of the Pavilion, the circulation of images, people, and things. In this
nexus, Nicolai artistically embodies the conceptual artist — referentially
anchored in modern European art — who knows how to read places
and architectures and transforms them into (paradoxical) stages. If
nothing else, however, the mysterious, boomerang-throwing workers in
his workshop give back to the temple, which has been profaned and
secularized into a production plant, something of its original iconography,
with the actors at the edge of the roof calling to mind animated
figures from classical or classicist temple friezes.

The Factory’s Function and Words of Thanks
This Fabrik, in the middle the Venice Giardini gardens, is not an empty
shell, inhabited by the ghosts of yesteryear; rather it is a venue for
self-assured actors, be they photographic / documentarist, theatrical /
filmic, filmic / synthetic, or performative/physical in nature. In this
sense, the Fabrik is more a facility producing images that do not primarily
aspire to represent events that have happened, but which
are instead to be thought of as catalysts for change that no longer
regard the ‘redemption of external reality’ (Siegfried Kracauer) merely
as a substitute or relic on exposed silver (or these days rather as a
saved light reading and digital recoding). In another, more political way,
they fulfil LaÅLszloÅL Moholy-Nagy’s old demand that technical media
should no longer reproduce but must rather produce. Should the
factory really turn out to be an aid to also comprehending images as
tools to shape reality, then the profaning of the temple will indeed
have had a productive dimension.
      At the end of this text about a factory, words of thanks can quickly
run the risk of sounding paternalistic. It is for this reason, and with a
view to avoiding unnecessary repetitions, that I would refer you to our
collective acknowledgements in the appendix. The Pavilion is at once
a site of fabrication and a fabric, a weaving together of positions and
perspectives, of amendments and revisions — its concept owes its
genesis to the listening of all those involved. I am thus indebted first
of all to the artists and the Pavilion’s core team, Tanja Milewsky,
Ilina Koralova, Manuel Reinartz, Bernhard Tatter, and Hendrik von
Boxberg. I am grateful to the designers Nicola Reiter, Helmut VoÅNlter,
Pascal Storz, and Fabian Bremer for the look and outward appearance
of the show. I would also like to thank my colleagues at the
Museum Folkwang, who have kept the wheels of production turning
back at the museum. Over and above that, I would like to express
my heartfelt thanks to Ute Eskildsen, Constanze Wicke, and Manuel
Reinartz, who have offered support to me over the years, giving
me their advice, inspiration, and encouragement; to Arno Gisinger for
a great many things and, in particular, for all his constructive criticism
on this project; and to Karin, Paula, Niko, and Karla for their love
and patience down through the years.

Ebner, Florian. The Pavilion as Factory. A Site of Reproducing Images en FABRIK. German Pavillion, 56th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, Die Buchhandlung Walther König, 2015. (pp.13-21)

‘This is Not a Game’ A Walk through Hito Steyerl’s Factory of the Sun 
by David Riff


It never really gets dark on the holodeck. But you know that this is a beginning when a rhythmic creaking resounds as old as the cosmos itself. It’s the sound of light, courtesy of NASA. The holodeck’s grid doesn’t disappear but extends, and a generic PC rotates into its coordinates like the classical commodity, from design to display. 3D clones of a lightbulb float on a solarized golden lava backdrop, generic ‘instances’ of one overarching object, necessarily ephemeral, always the same, immediately ready to burst like bubbles, or to flatten out on screen. Clearly, we are in idealism mode. Electrification + Soviet power = communism. Call it object-oriented trans-substantiation, faux-physical alchemical experimentation where nature’s regularity is replaced with stochastic law, a not-quite-random walk of effects, sparkling as plasma, governed by some underlying choreographic logic. There is nothing metaphysical about this ghost in the machine, as you hear in the slam poetry voice-over that begins Hito Steyerl’s newest film Factory of the Sun. Our machines are made of pure sunlight, she tells you, electromagnetic frequencies. All photons are created equal, so goes the claim. But the consciously camp overuse of melting, glare, and particle effects pro- vides more than a hint: this is promotional speech, performed under conditions of constant atomization and diffusion. All that is solid melts into air. To see an image on the screen is to revel not in the pure objecthood of representation, but in the objectivity of its spectacularly dissolving light, its sameness with all other photons on some final abstract layer, before and after it ever gained its particular frequency. Repetition brings substitutions. Electromagnetic frequencies go electro-political; neo-liberalism turns illiberal. We bask in the glow of labour’s endless glory, and the mind adapts to the genre, not only hypnotized but reforged. This might even be an indoctrination video for re-education through work in post-Fordist times, perfectly sleek and radically chic, a market-made liturgy for the ‘communism of capital’, an agit-prop clip for the sunshine Gulag of immaterial labour. (And indeed it turns out to be a commercial teaser: for a presumed ‘video game’ that never properly materializes but flickers on and off). ‘All that was work has melted into sunshine.’ It is the same sun that used to shine so objectively onto a pile of dung and a palace of gold, illuminating formlessness and form alike, the only source of objective universal equivalence, and therefore celebrated cross-culturally as the symbol of illuminating ratiocination and enlightenment. It is the same sun over which a group of Russian Futurists — including Kazimir Malevich — famously declared victory in 1913, in a transrational spectacle that ended with an aeroplane crashing into the stage; the captive sun of the Enlightenment brought to the grave in a concrete box, a white-hot shining disk soon to be replaced with its exact op- posite, the black square. In the era of the pixel, we too hold the same sun captive, says Steyerl; it lives in our machines, machines that we ourselves inhabit. Once the property of gods of culture and sun-kings, sunshine is now democratized, its electro-political frequencies delimited as an open source, as a ‘general intellect’ hardcoded into machines and bodies alike. Such is the idealist hope behind so many theories of immaterial labour. But the effect, as Steyerl points out in what seems like an aside, is that of a ‘deadly transparency’. Immaterial labour also has its ideal types, and we see them immediately in Steyerl’s film, as the agit-prop intro-mercial echoes out, and the virtual grid of the holodeck becomes a motion-capture studio. Today’s equivalent of the idealized industrial worker armed with a pneumatic hammer is the dancer, embodying the performativity not only of immaterial labour but also of its material counterparts. Performativity individualizes work, renders it virtuosic, fluid, and affective like a dance, and that initially leads to a crisis in universal value and to a fetishist cult of identity, and then to a search for how to measure the moves, how to determine their settings and their quality. This is why the dancer is wearing a motion-capture suit along with his Che Guevara cap; its LED diodes translate to numbers as the relative position of joint markers to one another and to a motion-capture grid. The joint markers have different shapes and sizes, depending on technology: traditionally they were luminescent Ping-Pong balls sewn onto special suits, but there are also other variations, coloured suits strangely reminiscent of Futurist visions from over a century ago with their oddly medievally garish colour combinations. However speculative such modernist aesthetic associations might be, they lead to a genealogy of photo-biomechanical techniques articulated methodologically in the glory days of industrialization by pioneer motion photographers and ‘light painters’— such as Eadweard Muybridge, or Étienne-Jules Marey and Georges Demeny — and then further developed in the chronocyclegraphs and work simplification studies of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, which already contain the rudiments of today’s sophisticated mo-cap techniques: angle-point lights that create a motion trace in a long photo exposure, with a background grid to precisely plot motion points. In Steyerl’s film, the measurements are undertaken by today’s equivalent of an idealized industrial engineer, a computer game designer called Yulia, as the text-to-speech voice-over informs us. She is the level designer, the one who implements an over-determining structure like a state planner in the micro-fiefdom of the motioncapture studio. She is coding a game. ‘But you will not be able to play this game.’ Instead, you are the third party plug-in, it is you who is being played; you are the responsive biomass that biopolitical semiocapitalism so desperately needs, aside from engineers and performers, the consumer with his or her affect. Whatever they told you in the 1990s about interactivity is untrue. Virtualization, inside, entails a new form of passive contemplation. You are on the holodeck, your responses are being registered, but there is not a thing you can do. This is how you see the video game’s protagonist: not in close thirdperson view, nor in the first person, but partially obscured, from a camera position in hiding. It is a hyper-realistic quote of how embedded journalism looks at combat, in a state of intimidated childlike gratitude of being passed over. You are on the outside looking in, passive but grateful to be safe, while somebody else seems to be dancing for his life. Down to the blurry lens refocusing from cover contours to dancer, the image is loaded with a terrifying naturalism, something we know from many CGI sci-fi or fantasy movies: all that keeps you out of the ‘uncanny valley’ of disbelief at a disengaged machine fantasy is the shaky authenticity of the camera action, the mud on the lens, the filaments of dust in the HD / 3D air and so on. It’s not so much that the monsters or drones and the sci-fi costumes become that much more plausible; instead, the contradiction creates a dialectical vertigo (game theorist Roger Callois might have called it ilinx), a head-spinning sense of disorientation more fundamental than anything you might know from conventional gaming that hits you just as the drone launches its weapon at the dancer, not so much as an insight, but as an illumination: ‘This is not a game. This is reality.’ * * * Factory of the Sun remains tentatively faithful to the structure of the video game in that it begins with an intro more grandiose than any Hollywood blockbuster. Replete with spectacular effects and particlesystem magic otherwise unavailable in gameplay, such an intro makes promises and truth claims that the game itself must keep once it shifts into a more realistic, controllable register, once it becomes reality (as Steyerl already announced). The transition to gameplay is usually made in more narrative cut-scenes and introductory tutorials, in which you effectively learn what it is you are supposed to be doing and how it is you are supposed to do it. In the unplayable game that is Hito Steyerl’s Factory of the Sun, you are told that you start out as a forced labourer in a motioncapture Gulag, where your every move is turned to sunshine. It is from here that four bots escaped, as the fast paced sci-fi story tells you. They were recently killed in global uprisings by Deutsche Bank drones, to be resurrected as X-Men type superheroes: orphans of the enemy, a text floater calls them. A cut-scene newscast explains through denial: Deutsche Bank denies having launched an attack with their corporate drone. In the film, this profession of deniability acts an affirmation, and it also sounds quite plausible today. It is true that both governments and non-governmental agents are already using drones to surveil, and while the monopoly of armed drone strikes lies with only a handful of states, research in other forms of drone delivery is ongoing. Today, it is already the drone eye that surveys the scene of history: the vortex of protesters in an age of atomized political subjectivity, thrust together into new combinations, repulsed and attracted; the scene of the battleground, the brand-new airport gutted by cyborgs, leaving only shattered steel girders and blown-up tanks on the runway; the dried-up radioactive swimming pool, or the amateur drone porn where you see people having sex in a field from very far away. Maybe this is how the drone eye sees the various facets of utopia. Much in the same way, a light speed communications programme is also hardly the stuff of idle fantasy. In fact, the reason for today’s extreme financial liquidity and proliferation of fictitious capital is to be found in the drastic acceleration of software-assisted trading, in which predictive and executive algorithms make decisions to transfer huge sums of money in tenths of seconds. The faster, the better. High-tech trading firms have already installed laser and microwave systems to augment the relatively slow line-of-sight speed of fibre-optic cables, and are now working on hollow cables and, more distantly, neutrino communication capable of moving through objects at light speed. It is already easy to imagine something called ‘relativist arbitrage’, where traders (or trading computers) sit on ships in the middle of the Atlantic to profit from momentary imbalances in prices in Chicago and London. So reality in some ways is stranger than fiction, and Factory of the Sun responds with a bifurcation of sorts when it continues with a first-person shooter tutorial sequence, superimposing a headsup- display overlay of status control onto the digitally altered, colour- corrected, heavily effected footage. Yulia’s voice-over sounds more like a ‘making-of’: she talks about how she started shooting in the gun club at an all girl’s school in Japan, and only then does she introduce you to your weapon — a Sig Sauer, first used by Snake Solid in Metal Solid Gear 1, showing you how to switch on the crosshairs in ‘realism’ mode. Her narrative soon drifts into a Gulag biography told to alleviate second-generation, Cold War post-traumatic stress disorder. The game immerses you in ever-stranger holodeck dreamscapes as Yulia tells you of her mother, a Soviet army lieutenant and expert sniper, who decided to leave for Israel when the Soviet Union dissolved. The Sig Sauer shoots bursts of light, at first logically aimed at Lenin’s lightbulbs, then at golden busts of Stalin, which eventually bob in a sea of financial liquidity. Yulia tells you that her relative grew up in a Gulag children’s home as an ‘orphan of the enemy’, after her grandfather was shot on the spot after an arbitrary border move in the far east of the Soviet Union. Relative arbitrage and first-person Gulag gaming has a bloody genealogy of arbitrary executions, cardinal decisions made at speeds approaching that of light. If this were a participatory video game, you’d be shooting by now, but Steyerl makes good on her promise. She disarms you by shifting down one layer into a more sober making-of video that brings you back to the motion-capture studio, where Yulia is directing her brother. She tells you that it was in Edmonton, Canada, where he started to dance in a golden suit for the webcam in the family basement, succeeding in the YouTube economy of attention, and becoming a viral star. Other costumes and characters followed. The Japanese fans captured his motion data, and anime replicas of his different characters flooded the web, valorizing the original act and transporting it beyond its humble beginnings in the basement. (Apropos of humble beginnings, Yulia provides a further salient detail from her biography— which at the same time is the biography of the thing that is this computer game: before emigrating the family sold their amazing apartment in Moscow, and got only enough money to buy a car. Yulia’s brother dances against such instant devaluations, or at least his anime avatars do… ) As Yulia’s brother and his copies dance, we might remember that he isn’t the only one big in Japan. DIY strategies of disseminating viral content can also fall into the hands of resurgent ‘illiberal’ states. Their enterprising armies of Internet trolls will also invent such ‘authentic’ Internet stardom for their heroes. For example, when Russia annexed Crimea last year, the Kremlin’s masters of spin made a star of local state prosecutor Natalia Poklonskaya, commissioning anime music videos and effectively turning her into a Samurai-sword wielding sex-bot called ‘Nyash-Myash’, an artificial presence with human traits, more authentic and toxic the more it is copied or ‘instantiated’. Such botification is integral to what is being formulated as a doctrine of ‘hybrid war’, a new, potentially total form of conflict initiated in what, at least for now, is being called Cold War 2.0. That is to say, its genealogy lies in gaming both virtual and actual, some of its key participants at the early stages — such as the eerie, Himmler-like character of Igor Girkin aka Strelkov — are consummate live gamers re-enacting battles from the early twentieth-century Russian Civil War. The entire scene of the bloody conflict in eastern Ukraine is not only painfully familiar to battlefield historians, but to players of Armored Assault, Call of Duty, or similar military shooters, and was being translated into gameplay in the very first days after the war. At the same time, it was clear from the beginning that this too was not a game. Everything you do potentially has deadly consequences. As if to confirm this, Yulia tells you that before they traded in all their money for a car, her family was on a convoy of buses with fellow immigrants when the bus in front of them exploded. She can’t remember it happening, she says, but they were taken to a military installation afterwards. * * * This military installation is the Teufelsberg, Berlin’s highest man-made ‘mountain’ and site of a former NSA listening post, which monitored all signals and telephone traffic from its hostile neighbours during Cold War 1.0. The point was to show that we have you on the grid. You should know we are watching. Now, the site is a ruin, an Atlas Obscura favourite, its electromagnetic domes ragged, its stairwells and balustrades bursting with graffiti. This is a landscape after the quiet apocalypse, a space created by what was, for all intents, a virtual world war fought over and over again as a broadband communications exercise, an ongoing build-up of electro-political energy, with a growing sense of foreboding that the whole thing could go wrong and end in real-life nuclear holocaust (which it still could). The Cold War did not end in an apocalypse. It was unspectacular, no mushroom cloud fireworks or blinding flashes, a more subtle release of energy that draped the planet in velvet for a decade or two after an anti-climactic retreat of heavy weaponry. The voice-over soberly tells you about the location as the drone orbits above. But here, there is another rupture, another break, another level: we go back from Discovery Channel documentary to pure play, where the entire prosumer childishness of the film explodes, with a rehearsal out-take of a blond-haired, blue-eyed, fake expert who jokes around with the director (‘You must be kidding me, Deutsche Bank has broken the speed of light, you want me to say it in Wolfenstein 3D accent: Deutsche Bank — Continuation of the Third Reich ?’). All joking aside: in fact, the Teufelsberg is ‘the rubble of Hitler’s Germania’, heaped up to hide the indestructible half-completed carcass of Albert Speer’s pet project, a huge military-corporate-technocratic branch of the Technical University in Berlin. This example of sunshine Gulag National Socialist architecture was planned as a generous neo-classicist rendering of functionalist Neues Bauen ideas later reintegrated into university campus architecture all over Germany after the war. As the drone orbits this site, Yulia’s voice is back to tell us that we’ve reached a pivotal level; that the entire game has flipped. You are now your own worst enemy and have to extract as much motion energy from yourself as possible. The chorus line of golden suits dances a fluid ballet, as Yulia’s brother teaches his moves to hypnotized students, body-exploration made sexy with gold skin-suits. This is cloning and instantiation in action, the soundtrack mixes fragments of sunshine Gulag agit-prop with pieces of the Teufelsberg voice-over. The motion- capture studio now appears as the quintessential post-fascist space, where the catastrophes of modernity are coded into the stones themselves as yet another gridded mapping. From the bird’s-eye view of the drone, the Teufelsberg becomes a kill-box, a three-dimensional space of carnage where anything goes at remote control. The fake expert returns with a vengeance, a holodeck Moriarty, ad-libbing and speed-talking an infomercial on the merciless progress of science. Light-speed doubled, high-speed trading increased by 400%. He starts talking about the CERN accelerator, and how only a few crucial mistakes were made, putting us here at @utobahn Equity a few miscalculations and a loose fibre-optic cable away from the Endsieg, from final victory. The wacky flatness of this parody is complicated and intensified when Yulia again tells you that it was in the sunshine Gulag of Israel that she and her brother became serious gamers. Mum, dad, and grandfather went off to can apricots in a Kibbutz, as emphasized by the dancer’s more rigid, robot-like moves, reminiscent of breakdance Fordism. Brother and sister kept in the air-conditioned shade. There was nothing else to do, nobody spoke Hebrew. On the ruins of a violent modernity, the post-Fordist mode of production is born in strange combinations of regression to manual labour and indolent boredom, deadly hyper-productive transparency the result. The @utobahn Equity expert interrupts his imitation of Modern Times Fordist labour to wave goodbye to Yulia’s brother. Again, the hero is dancing for his life. The drone from the end of the intro floats into view, its kill-box goes hot. Yulia biomechanically presses a button and executes a command. We don’t see her brother die in the game, only in the studio, over and over again. These repeated deaths — uncanny returns of a childhood routine — are intercut with a fake Deutsche Bank spokesman, equivocating, denying, and justifying all at once: you may have seen him die from your hiding place but this was an illusion, it was he who was hiding behind a drone, and anyway, who cares. ‘This is an extra-juridical space, I open and close my mouth, I talk, you listen, that’s democracy, this is how it works’, he tells you shortly before the screen goes black. Game or no game, you are back in the contrived installation-reality of the holodeck grid, until the respawn counter goes on and flashes you with the explosion of a 3D lightbulb, Samurai manga heroes dancing… * * * It is here, in the afterlife, that you finally meet the game’s different non-playable characters — fugitive bots killed in the global protests of the future, ‘orphans of the enemy’, arbitrary victims. Naked Normal was killed in student protests in London, respawned to master the Lobachevsky hyperbolic to invert light into itself. Even more, he knows how to slow down light into music, to invert its mix of destruction and deep entertainment. If this still sounds too realistic, Bigbosshardfuck follows the hyperbole: though he speaks Russian, he was crushed in the Singapore Uprising of 2028 after squatting a storage space in the freeport to open a cooperative render farm. Liquid Easy describes Deutsche Bank’s killer drones in Spanish. Solid Sunlight was killed in Kobane fighting for the YPJ and respawned as a Mandarin speaking solar energy expert. The manga heroes appear one after another: all of them operating on appropriated motion data, orphans of the enemy assembling for the final battle with the likes of Natalia ‘Nyash-Myash’ Poklonskaya, anime Samurai prosecutor of Crimea. The dancing is overlaid in a polyglot Babel on the retooled 3D PC floating on its solarized holodeck battleground. Killed in the future, these figures tell you that they crowd your games already today. Which manga figure will you be? Never mind your dreams and wishes, it turns out all of the fugitive bots are unplayable, untouchable, while you, the player, have yet to prove your special skill. You find yourself back in the motioncapture studio, where it all started, and it is clear, this is a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a mystery, and you will never leave. Yulia confirms that map three is completely different. It turns out you will never be a hero bot, but that it’s multiplayer, player vs. player, dog eat dog in the Gulag of life. To return to the outdated terms of Roger Callois: agon (the spirit of pure competition)wins out over alea (the principle of chance), again producing ilinx (a sense of vertigo). The backstory falls away and you are left one on one with the Real. ‘This is not a game.’ Yulia returns to tell one last story: it turns out that her brother was already a super-bot of sorts: back in the days of Homeland Security, he was member of a research group investigating the interaction of light and explosive material to detect explosives at airports. You can send out points of light (these translate back into the motion-capture dancing suit’s angle points), measuring the density of material. Plasma. Photonics. This is the same way they detect planets. Gathering strength, the dancing points of light on the motion-capture suit finally reach the right electro-political frequency, and more or less accidentally hit the Deutsche Bank drone, which goes down as a shower of animated sparkle. But you know this won’t be the end, and that you’ll go right back to the beginning: machines may explode into sunlight, but then sunlight turns right back into machines. And here is the machine again, respawned, in an endless loop; the motion-capture studio extends from airport security all the way to the cosmos; its kill-box could be anywhere, its corporate infomercials being produced as we speak, full of boosted reflections, oozing shine — the drones overhead constantly watching…

Lars Willumeit
Factory Tools
Dictionary for the German Pavilion


refers to a thin, curved hardwood projectile
that was traditionally handcrafted as a
→ tool for hunting birds, but today is mainly
used for sport and entertainment. Returning
boomerangs are designed so that they can
be thrown up to 100 metres and return to
the thrower. While commonly associated with
the material culture of Australian aborigines,
boomerangs have been discovered in archaeological
findings across the globe. The boomerang
effect refers to the going or coming
back to a place, condition, or activity where
one has been before. It is furthermore used to
point to → recursive schemes that, due to
miscalculation, recoil or backfire on their originator
with often unintended and adverse
can be characterized as a dynamically expanding
type of economic organization based
on the following: a) a principle of private
ownership of the means of production through
capital; b) profit orientation; c) appropriation
of profits by capital owners; d) a market-based
system regulating flows of labour, goods,
capital, and information; and e) the supply of
labour by workers who are free agents.
The most recent period of capitalist development,
also termed ‘late capitalism’, is marked by a highly differentiated
division oflabour spreading in interconnected networks
across the globe, → circulating seemingly
endless flows of financial and symbolic capital
(software), goods (hardware), and ‘human
resources’ (wetware). In the ‘first world’, post-Fordist labour
regimes of a third cognitive capitalism
(after mercantile and industrial capitalism)
have been established based on the service
and knowledge economies of immaterial
labour. This stands in stark contrast to the
‘developing’ or ‘majority world’ to which,
by way of imported neo-liberal development
policies and progressivist ideologies of
→ privatization, a large part of → factory
production has been outsourced. Here a bifurcation
occurs: on the one hand, neo-Fordist
factory regimes have become a predominant
model, providing physical goods and manual
labour for the pseudo entity called the
global free market; and on the other, the concomitant
disintegration and liquidation of
public and state-owned businesses and industries
causing unprecedented historical
patterns of → migration and global inequality.
This, as well as the protests against the
intensified high-speed speculations of finance
capitalism, have in turn led to → revolts
against developments calling for alternative
post-capitalist types of economy, focusing on
→ collective forms of practice and theory
in terms of social and economic organization.
This late capitalist metabolism, by
now dominant worldwide, requires increasingly
accelerated, expanded, and abstracted
→ circulation cycles of capital and information
flows, in order to continue generating growth
rates and profit margins. An emblematic
example for this is its reliance on the rhizomelike
networks of optical fibre cables, transmitting
binary data as pulsed → light signals,
thereby enabling algorithmic operations
of high-frequency trading, as well as the migrations
and mutations of → image circulation
through digital media channels. Both these
examples can be seen as epitomizing
the → recursive dialectic between → infrastructural
hyper-connectivity on the one hand, and
volatile processes of affective identity
formation based on hyper-individualization
and self-optimization on the other.
Caste(s) / Casting (of)
the Internet
refers to subcultures with new types of social
agency, → image, interaction, and identity,
as well as to technologies of communication
and visualization that have emerged with
the onset of the digital → revolution. Examples
of these technologies are social media websites
like Facebook and Instagram, as well
as artificial intelligence software and digital
puppetry, which refers to the manipulation
and performance of digitally animated 2D
or 3D figures in virtual environments. In both
the virtual and the physical world, these
phenomena frequently enter into complex
interactions and articulations, often with
→ recursive effects. An incomplete casting
of the Internet / World-interface would contain
on the one hand, avatars, trolls, bots, aliases,
vocaloids, virtual girlfriends, flamers, viruses,
and glitches; and on the other, telepresence
robots, nerds, hikikomoris, NSA agents, white
and black hat hackers, cease-and-desist
order lawyers, average users, YouTube stars,
open source adherents, and transhumanist
Circulationism and
can be read as an attempt that opposes analy-
tical models working with static and solid
metaphors of order. Both terms borrow their
main metaphors from a liquid aggregate
state in concepts like circulation, fluidity, and
chaos as ways to define the main characteristics
of recent social and technological artic-
ulations, phenomena, and developments.
The accelerated and unbounded → migrations,
movements, and flows of information,
→ images, objects, and financial and human
capital have only become possible within the
various global networks and → infrastructures
that provide the logistical, financial, legal,
and political framework. It is these infrastructural
frameworks that have enabled the
exponential transformation, proliferation, and
acceleration of matter and subjects, such
as goods and people; immaterial goods, such
as services, time, energy, capital, and debt;
as well as ‘matters of concern’ (Bruno Latour),
such as social, cultural, religious- and genderbased
identities, beliefs, and values. This
has led to a disembedding and flexibilization
of the previously dominant spatio-temporal
coordinate system and workflow of modern
industrial → capitalism, creating a type of
automated and compulsory freedom for the
individual, with regimes of self-optimization
and → self-representation appearing in
the context of Western multi-option society
(Peter Gross). The flipside of this ‘freedom’
is a huge potential for surveillance and
control by corporate and state organizations.
To exist within the logics of these highly
Interconnected flows, one needs to become
increasingly mobile and visible; a refusal
of flexibility and connectivity in turn leading
to invisibility and exclusion to precarious
→ peripheries.
Collective /
refers to possible types and ensembles of
social relations for being, acting, thinking, and
making ‘together’. A cooperative is a collectivity
founded on the autonomous and voluntary
association of human individuals with
a focus on principles of common ownership,
cooperation, and mutuality, which serve
community needs and result in collective
social, economic, and cultural benefit.
Cooperation is a basal element and condition
for complex forms of work and labour
relations that become appropriated in
→ capitalist labour regimes on the → factory
production line, thereby alienating workers
from the product of their labour.
With their long history and their economic
successes, these human collectivities
are building blocks of a cooperative,
democratic, and participatory economics that
can be seen as a starting point to establish
an alternative model of a post-capitalist society,
with the potential to challenge the
hegemony of current models of neo-liberal,
highly financialized
economics within late capitalism.
This model would also have to propose
alternative relations of trust, protocols of
authentication, and indices of ‘bookkeeping’
other than debt, solvency, or profit margin.
The idea of the commons — as human
‘interaction design’ of a different order, proposing
collective ownership and sharing
of natural and cultural resources — is another
horizon that might enable possibilities of
resistance through socio-technological innovation
under conditions of neo-liberal corporate
and / or repressive state co-optation
of both social movements and technological
→ infrastructures.
In the context of collectivity, the arts
provide alternative models and strategies that
— after the death of traditional notions of
the ‘singular’ author, the ‘artwork’, and its
‘passive’ reception by the viewer / consumer
— propose participatory processual environments
of shared production and reception.
refers to a system of production and manufacturing
based on social → cooperation
and the division of labour, which evolved within
→ capitalist societies during the onset
of the Industrial Revolution, from householdbased
to assembly line production. Its main
characteristics are the concentration of materials,
capital, and labour in one or more
workplaces, and the use of multiple networks
of transportation, modes of mechanization,
and external energy sources, like watermills or
later electricity.
In relation to some of its predecessors
— including domestic manufacture, artisan
craft production, or cottage industry
the factory system provides threefold
efficiency gains for the owner: economical,
through advantages of scale and reduced
distribution cost; technical, through machine
→ tools and the deskilling and division
of labour; and managerial, by closer overall
control of the labour process.
A very early prototype of the modern
factories was the Venice Arsenal, a shipyard
founded in 1104, which introduced
mass production into this field of expertise,
employing at times up to 16,000 workers.
The factory workplace is dependent on and
generative of social ties of cooperation,
while also being a site constitutive of individual
identities and affective gratification.
After Henry Ford’s evolution or → revolution
of the factory concept — which helped
to bring about not only mass production but
also mass consumption — the development
of the ‘postmodern’ factory began in the
mid to late twentieth century with the onset
of technocapitalism, based on information
technology and robotics, until this was,
as least in the West, dethroned by service
industries and outsourced to the globally
distributed and → privatized Special Economic
Zones of developing countries. Today,
software companies that are empowered
by → light and optical fibre cables can be seen
as a new (rapid) prototype of a factory.
originates in biology and refers to tissue
found at anatomically abnormal sites of the
body; it was later transferred to sites of
philosophical reflection by Michel Foucault.
Combining the words ‘hetero’ and ‘topos’,
it literally refers to qualities of difference or
otherness as a place or a space. Foucault
mentions its potential for subversion of
dominant orders of classification within the
space of language as a zone of confusion,
as well as its potential as a liminal place for
the utopian reimagination of reality, and
therefore also for changing its orders of time
and space. Thus, liminality is an important
characteristic that is founded on its location
at the → periphery of society. Yet in addition
to providing examples such as prisons,
brothels and clinics, Foucault also mentions
cinemas, mirrors, museums, and the rooftop
attic as paradigmatic sites and → images
of heterotopia. Maybe it is exactly its wideopen
conceptualization that allows one to gauge the
polysemic qualities of space
combining its physical, mental, and symbolic
dimensions of meaning production and
can be still or moving, but they are all increasingly
subject to travel and → migration. If in
the past the image was an object in need
of containment, stabilization, and conservation,
in its now prevalent mediatized form
of networked-mobility and malleability, it is
in need of a more ‘liquid intelligence’ that
enables the reading and decoding of multiple
layers of meta-data and context that come
encrypted within the image. Thus, a defining
quality is the liquidity of digital images, because
they have left their former fixed states
painted on canvas or → recorded on film,
and are instead encoded as immaterial binary
information, thereby becoming inserted into
processes of digital distribution, compression,
and mutation.
Hence, at this historic moment, the isolated
‘image-as-such’ no longer exists; in
this moment, the now predominantly screenbased
digital image ecologies will soon generate,
mutate, archive, and put in → circulation
more images in one year, than the total of
all image production since mankind began
to use forms of visual → representation
If previous centuries have been ages of the
iconic, the now is a moment of intericonicity.
Images that are fed into these visual regimes
are characterized by new constellations
and articulations of temporality, processuality,
ubiquity, and simultaneity.
Here, the → representational function
of ‘world as image’ has turned into a scenario
of ‘image as world’, and images — along
with their collateral reality effects — become
‘reanimated’ as ‘zombie-type’ social actors
influencing subjectivities, behaviours, and social
interactions: for example, strategic scenarios
of individual or corporate attentionand
reputation-management that work with
visibility, as in the viral → circulation of images,
but also in the negative dimension of invisibility,
as in their ‘proscribed’ non-existence
through deletion services.
can be defined as the basic structure or
features of a system or organization. As technical
infrastructure or hardware → peripherals,
it refers to the means of production that
are necessary in order to → record, produce,
distribute, and consume artefacts such as
data, → images, and films. Within the standard
narratives on processes of digitization —
often leaning with more than a slant towards
technological determinism — these infrastructures
inevitably become cheaper and
more easily accessible for larger groups
of people than ever before, helping to bring
about the hybrid of consumer and producer:
the prosumer. As part of this, the communication
and media infrastructures, such as
networks and human-machine interfaces
— as well as the signs, images and codes that
they → circulate — also widen their spheres
of influence, in terms of frequency and constancy,
in a system of cognitive → capitalism
centred on the accumulation of immaterial
As a result, these new digital infrastructures
have reconfigured the relations between
→ light, image, medium, and matter in
→ revolutionary
ways, enabling the multiplexed
interconnectivity of images and mutating
their metabolism of composition, decomposition,
and recomposition in → recursive
feedback loops. Digital images and other
data traces, just like analogue images, are
captured, computed, transmitted, aggregated,
duplicated, combined, manipulated,
and recombined.
The main difference can be found
in the exponential proliferation, circulation,
and acceleration of these processes,
as well as in the yet underdeveloped social conventions
and ethics for new → collectivities
and → tools of production and consumption.
Furthermore, on both sides of production
and consumption, we are facing novel nonhuman
entities that produce, process, and
consume images and ‘datify’ their metadata
information in the machine-to-machine
communication of automated pattern
and face recognition enabled through the
algorithms of machine vision.
can be defined as radiant energy that makes
things visible, affording illumination and
thermal comfort. In physics, the complete
spectrum of electromagnetic radiation is
called light, but the spectrum visible to human
sight ranges in wavelength from about 400
to 700 nanometres. Light propagates at
a speed of 299,792,458 metres per second
in a state of vacuum. Different theories
consider light to be a corpuscular particle,
a wave, or a quantum phenomenon combining
both models. The light of the sun can be described not
only as a basic source of all terrestrial life
forms, but also as a visceral sensation. Later
in human history, light also became a manmade
agent of illumination, in the form of fire
or electric light. At present, in the application
of laser target marker technology — also
cynically termed ‘the light of god’ — light
has become an integral part of modern weapon
systems, too. But for us earthlings, light has very
recently also become essential as a medium
in more mundane technological and economic
respects. The technological sublime
of super-fast phenomena, like those of highfrequency
or algorithmic trading within
the latest types of financial and cognitive
→ capitalism, clearly demonstrate the expansive
and generative nature of both light
and capital. At the same time, these technologies
— in large part the results of research
done within the military-industrial complex —
have activated various horizons of both
utopian and dystopian character. All these
phenomena have only become possible
through data being metamorphosed and
encrypted as light photons or microwaves,
enabling a highly accelerated travel and
→ circulation via the networked material
→ infrastructure of the Internet, including
alternative realms such as the Darknet.
To enable this techno-social revolution,
older types of electric cable or wire had
to be substituted with optical fibre networks
made from highly purified silica glass
with low light-loss properties or, more recently,
made from photonic-crystal fibres.
Thus today, optical fibre cables serve
as high-bandwidth communication ‘light
pipes’, transmitting binary data by ‘pumping’
light signals in milliseconds from one corner
of the globe to another. In the form of
transatlantic submarine cables or communication
satellites, they connect → periphery
and centre and make up the physical backbone
of the global Internet → infrastructure.
But light is also the raw material for
the production of → images, and their transmission,
distribution, and consumption all
depend on light as a generative or infrastructural
element — be it through the camerabased
recording of the physical world,
or through the generative creation of virtual
images with no indexical connection what-
soever. Within digital media, this can happen
without a chemically fixed film-based
carrier-medium, but all of these steps still
depend on light energy — illuminating
a screen or as image projection.
Medium Human or
Human Medium
is used here to point to attempts of describing
humans as → tools of their own making, or
in the words of Stefan Rieger, as ‘medium of
mediums’;1 thus as self-generating or automanufacturing
mediums — such as in practopoietic
or enactivist theories — that thereby
also manage to describe alienation not
as a purely psychological phenomenon, but
also as a material one. In the words of Andr.
Leroi-Gourhan: ‘… mankind becomes the
instrument of a techno-economic advancement,
whom it lends its ideas and hands. And
it this way that human society in the first
instance consumes humans — in all its forms
of violence or of labour.’2 This process leads
to the increasing domination and adaptation
of the natural world by human beings.
Medium Human or
Human Medium
is used here to point to attempts of describing
humans as → tools of their own making, or
in the words of Stefan Rieger, as ‘medium of
mediums’;1 thus as self-generating or automanufacturing
mediums — such as in practopoietic
or enactivist theories — that thereby
also manage to describe alienation not
as a purely psychological phenomenon, but
also as a material one. In the words of Andr.
Leroi-Gourhan: ‘… mankind becomes the
instrument of a techno-economic advancement,
whom it lends its ideas and hands. And
it this way that human society in the first
instance consumes humans — in all its forms
of violence or of labour.’2 This process leads
to the increasing domination and adaptation
of the natural world by human beings.
Medium Human or
Human Medium
is used here to point to attempts of describing
humans as → tools of their own making, or
in the words of Stefan Rieger, as ‘medium of
mediums’;1 thus as self-generating or automanufacturing
mediums — such as in practopoietic
or enactivist theories — that thereby
also manage to describe alienation not
as a purely psychological phenomenon, but
also as a material one. In the words of Andr.
Leroi-Gourhan: ‘… mankind becomes the
instrument of a techno-economic advancement,
whom it lends its ideas and hands. And
it this way that human society in the first
instance consumes humans — in all its forms
of violence or of labour.’2 This process leads
to the increasing domination and adaptation
of the natural world by human beings.

Willumeit, Lars. Factory Tools. Dictionary for the German Pavilion on FABRIK. German Pavillion, 56th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, Die Buchhandlung Walther König, 2015. (pp. 202-212)

as presentedhere, is nothing that
should be understood externally, but based
on feedback loops of adaptive self-modulation
and performativity by human agents with
their unique potential to develop in and
through fictional scenarios. This model thereby
goes beyond the classic bifurcation
of entities (human or non-human) and their
observers — i. e., their subject-object relations
based on the still dominant ontologies and
epistemologies within discourses of body-mind
dualism in modernity. Performativity then
refers to a situation where the status of word
and thing (or environment) becomes blurred,
in that a given situation is not only represented
by a speech act or another symbolic
form of activity, but is, at least to a large
part, constituted and / or transformed by it.
These performative acts always have to
be thought of as embodied acts that establish
co-presences, specific spatio-temporal
rhythms, and plots based on the interaction
with the specifics of site and location.
describes a movement, potential, or need for
mobility, with the intended or unintended
consequences of → circulating and liquefying
certain aspects of identity and everyday
being, along the way through the emblematic
non-places of transnational transition like
airports or highway rest stops. In this way,
both migration and tourism are both types of
mobility that can be seen as movements to
escape certain conditions and articulations of
→ capitalism, albeit moving in contrary directions.
Both tourism and human trafficking are
billion-dollar industries and present extreme
articulations of global capitalist production
logic and → infrastructures. The prototypical
tourist of leisure flees the disciplinary time
regime of the everyday workplace, by temporarily
moving to liminal spatial settings on
the → periphery of the global economic system,
whereas the prototypical rural economic
migrant or war refugee seeks opportunities
that take him towards urban centres, away
from the often dire or life-threatening living
conditions on the periphery. This only to
land in one of the globally distributed ‘arrival
cities’ — for example, Venice — which are
themselves divided into central and peripheral
zones. Here, the migrant has to attempt to
form new professional and personal
identities, under liminal and often clandestine
conditions within highly mobile and precarious types
of informal economy, and with the status
of a largely rightless and illegal non-citizen.
This lack of political → representation,
in combination with stereotypical media → images
and representations of the migrant, aggravates
and complicates effective acts of selfrep-
resentation and → cooperative selforganization
in acting up and protesting the status quo.
Occupation or
can refer to economic roles taken outside of
household activity as a consequence of
→ capitalist stratification processes within
human labour markets, to a period of time
during which a place or position or nation is
occupied, but also to other acts of possession
and/or of protest. In recent contexts, the
term ‘occupy’ has become synonymous with
worldwide, socio-political, grassroots movements
employing both offline and online
strategies of civic disobedience, mass protest,
and intervention. These movements came
into the media limelight with their protests
against social and economic inequality in the
context of the World Financial Crisis of
2008 — under the slogan, ‘We are the 99%’.
Their primary goals are to create a social
→ revolution that aims at a fairer redistribution
of wealth, and to make the economic and
political relations in all societies less hierarchical
vertically and more evenly distributed
horizontally. Like other new social movements
— such as the Mexican Zapatistas, the
Spanish Indignados, or the Arab Spring movements
— that fight for civil rights and global
justice, they organize their activists in structures
of decentralized collectivity based on
consensus-driven principles of solidarity,
→ cooperation, and empowered participatory
democracy. As new types of collectivities,
they attempt to go beyond → representation
and identity politics to propose pragmatic,
micro-political alternatives of the everyday —
reorganizing their work, subsistence, and
social life.
as opposed to the centre, describes from the
perspective of world systems theory the
subaltern counterpart in processes of neo- imperialist economic globalization. These relations between the core countries of the
‘first world’ at the ‘centre’ and the ‘less developed’
countries of the ‘majority world’ in
precarious liminality are in large part based
on geopolitical articulations of differing
developmental speeds within neo-liberal
regimes of capitalism, and their concomitant
asymmetric relations of power, dependency,
and structural violence.
Some of these complex articulations
work out as intended, while others cause
collateral → boomerang effects that can be
observed in the → recursive feedback relations
between virtual reality — founded on the
processing and consumption of information
as screen-based → light emissions — versus
the virtualization of reality in the physical
world. An example of this is the transformation
of labour power traditionally enacted
by workers in → factories or other sites of
economic production in the ‘developed
Here, with the onset of virtual types of
→ capitalist surplus value production
— as in online financial trading platforms
— physical human labour is increasingly being transferred
to either the factories in ‘special economic
zones’ in the → ‘periphery’ of the ‘less developed world’, or delegated to staterun
‘occupational’ employment programmes,
where unemployed individuals → re-enact
physical labour activities for a wage, outside
of regular economic market structures.
can be understood as an act or a situation of
refusal in that spectators are brought near
the presence of enigmatic ‘living images’ that
are performed, for example on a rooftop,
but without their gazes being offered direct
access to them, so it is a presence without
presence. This way, these → images cannot be
co-opted as spectacles in consumptive gaze
acts by potential spectators.
This creates a paradoxical situation
in which presence and intervention can be
sensed, but hardly seen. A clandestine
→ factory site in the → light creates a peripheral
shadow economy of skilled → tool
manufacture and trained adaptation of these
bodily extensions, within a hidden and inaccessible
‘space of appearance’. Although
well lit, the → infrastructure of its material
and mercantile → circulation — in terms
of ‘raw material’ inputs and ‘artefactual’
outputs — remains oblique and yet potentially
accessible to a public through the informal
channels of a distributed economic network.
refers to something that is unstable, dependent
on chance, and exposed to danger and
risk. Precarity is a central trait of the present
historical moment — connecting the volatility
of markets, images, time, infrastructure,
peace, modernity, democracy, socio-cultural
and financial types of capital and their resulting
subjectivities, as well as their potentials
for political agency.
With the accelerated decline of industrial
→ factory production and the onset of a
highly abstracted, digitized, → privatized, and
financialized type of speculative → capitalism,
the decline of the lower middle classes in
the ‘developed world’ sets in accordingly, destabilizing
identities that were founded
on former identifications with their job and
social position.
With many states slowly retreating from
their function as providers of social security,
the predominant work available becomes precarious
employment, which is typically characterized
by under-regulation, insecurity, and
underpayment. The resulting temporary
contractual work agreements have in many
countries become a norm, which for certain
lines of business — e. g., construction and
nursing — of the formal sector are essential
to their survival, aided by the existence
of large shadow economies in the informal
sector, manned by migrant labourers and
This establishes a zone of strategic
confusion between corporatist, nationalist,
or fundamentalist appropriations, versus
emancipatory appropriations of this historical
situation. Here, the precarity of living conditions
for an expanding social strata of
the global population creates — in complex
and → recursive articulations between the
increasing flows of refugees and → migrants
and the concomitant circulation of ‘migrant
→ images’ 3 — a political climate of fear,
antagonism, and various forms of radicalization
and fundamentalism. But the impact of this constellation
on the self-exploitive living conditions also
creates potentials for resistance and
→ occupation through the organization of
new political → collectives, subversively
using the freedom and self-determination
allowed by the privatized, deregulated
working conditions against the system
means to ‘make private’ as opposed to ‘public’,
and in economics refers to the surrender
of state control and ownership in the process
of enterprise denationalization.
Privatization is often a direct or collateral
consequence of the structural adjustment
policies that are an integral part of credit regimes
given out by the International Monetary
Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and / or are part
of austerity measures taken up by governments
in order to reduce their budget deficits.
In times of global recession — like the one
that began in 2008 — this often means spending
cuts in social welfare programmes and
the selling off of state-owned enterprises,
in order to generate funds and reduce financial
liability as well as social responsibility.
The neo-liberal → capitalist ideology behind
these policies can also be seen as a form
of internalized neo-imperialism.
Privatization often results in the liquidation
of otherwise intact companies, in order
to ‘liquefy’, ‘creatively destroy’, and capitalize
their material values, such as the means of
production or their intellectual and immobile
The common strategy of property development
results in a new, gentrified, neoliberal
spatiality, which is determined in part
by globalized geopolitical factors, as well as
by the ‘flexible’ ideological subjectivity of
self-interested entrepreneurship that is being
exported to the Global South. The effects of
these local measures in part also influence
the relocation- and → migration patterns that
we are seeing on an unprecedented global
and historic scale, thereby pushing large parts
of the population into → precarious patterns
of a fully ‘privatized’ informal economy.
Recursive /
describes a quality of phenomena that recur.
In the context of computer science, recursion
refers to programming that is recursive;
here, a recursive routine is one that is part
of a function, algorithm, or a set sequence of
instructions forming part of a larger comput-
er programme. A recursive delete is a specific
form of deleting data in a way that not only
deletes the tree-like directory structure
organizing the information at the meta-level,
but also the data points themselves in a
step-by-step routine. Recursion also characterizes
processes of adaptation, optimization,
recalculation, and recalibration of a phenomenon
or data set. Recursive phenomena
always bring with them the danger of generating
an infinite, self-referential loop that
keeps turning on itself, thereby causing system
crash through memory overflow.
means to repeat, reproduce, or reconstruct
the actions of an event by acting or performing
them again. In jural terms, it also refers
to the act of reinstating a law. In the realm of
the cultural industries, re-enactment as
both format and concept — originally at home
in the in the performative arts (e. g., sampling),
or in popular culture (e. g., war reenactments)
— has also become a popular
topos in contemporary art since the 2000s.
This second life of an event or a historical
narrative often also enacts a cognitive
redoing, thereby both relying on memories
and → recursively modifying those of the
participants acting out, as well as those of
the audience. Along this interpersonal
process of ‘transference’ and ‘interference’,
the constructed
nature of history, as well
as the not yet fully understood or undigested
of an event, become exposed.
—as an activity, a right, and an artefact —
can be understood as a social practice in
contexts of power relations for the proposal
and → circulation of meaning through the
uses of language and/or images as their
medium. Marginalized and underprivileged
groups need to enter battles over the
redistribution of power and the means of
representation and self-representation,
in order to gain the agency to define and
construct their image and self-image in acts
of social, political, and cultural participation.
As acts of → intervention,
they always contain
a performative and participative element,
because all acts of representation — be they
‘speech acts’ or ‘→ image acts’ — are always
also acts of performing and staging the
self or a → collectivity in order to gain social,
cultural, and/or political currency.
If the worker as citizen was an emblematic
figure of the late nineteenth to the
mid twentieth century and the worker photography
movement was one of the means of
visual representation in aid of the battle over
representation, the sans-papiers → migrant
or refugee as the ‘non-citizen’ of the global
→ periphery is the emblematic figure of
the late twentieth and early twenty-first century.
Like the worker, the migrant lives in
→ precarious conditions and can only become
represented and empowered politically as
well as in rights discourses through collective
practices of active self-representation. The
‘image’ of the migrant is largely determined
by the media images of migrants that migrate
and → circulate, and it is these images
that actively shape and catalyse policies and
practices in relation to migrants, and that
→ recursively inscribe themselves back into
the individual and the body politic, as well
as into the physical environment as border
regimes. As a political strategy, visual (self-)
representation can only become successful
if the images produced go beyond one-way
communication. They have to become participatory
forms of remediation for sharing,
handling, and transforming experience,
thereby producing truths that not only can
be seen, but also imagined.
Reverse Engineered
envisions and describes possible strategies
of documenting underreported issues,
and creating visible agoras of contention for
otherwise not represented perspectives
that actively create counter-circulation in the
media. These types of reporting and documentation
potentially produce participative
→ images that help to liquefy existing hegemonic
images, affective economies, stereotypes,
and journalistic tropes of objectivity
and authenticity, which serve commercial
regimes of attention- and / or reputation-management
by mass media and social media
channels, and their incumbent exercise of an
increasingly accelerated and opportunistic
type of agenda setting. This type of ‘aesthetic
journalism’ (Alfredo Cramerotti) attempts
to reverse common flows of communication
in unexpected narrational forms, and
to enable processes of reverse osmosis in
the filter membranes of a globally networked
media infrastructure. By using the recent
potentials of accessibility to media-production
resources and → infrastructures
that opérate outside of the conventions
and aesthetics of the professional
media industries, subaltern
visions are empowered and → circulated,
managing to provide participatory
images of self- and counter-→ representation. This
type of image, whether as self-representation
or from an external position of complicity
and advocacy, proposes a starting point for
agency and change by not only inverting
the standard journalistic gaze and workflow,
but also by creating a world map that is
upside down; it affects the denormalization
and relocalization of often reified, ahistorical,
and naturalizing perceptions of inequality
within global orders presenting themselves
as without alternative.
most commonly understood in the political
sense, is defined as any sudden, usually violent
change in a society’s government. This
change can either be triggered from above,
as in a coup d’.tat, or from below, as in
the revolts or rebellions of the ‘Arab Spring’.
In the context of → capitalist systems, it is
used to denote the transformation of a given
social structure resulting in a shift of control
over the means of production from one
social class to another. Debates revolving
around the inevitability and progressive character
of revolutionary changes often mix
up its different senses as: 1) political movement,
2) political moment, or 3) processes of
social transformation.
For our present age, Peter Sloterdijk4
recently diagnosed an accelerated state
of permanent revolution through technology,
creating transnational, synchronized lifeworlds
that challenge and reconfigure the
basal elements constituting human sociality
— such as economic and judicial relations,
as well as descent and belief systems. As
with all revolutionary scenarios, this one also
contains both utopian and dystopian horizons:
utopian in seeing the potential for new
human → collectivities and socialities based
on alternative economies of sharing, cooperation,
and a → heterotopian open-sourced
information commons; and dystopian with
the potential for total surveillance and control
of individual lives through corporate
or state regimes of data mining and policing,
with an ensuing loss of individual freedom.
can be defined as things used to apply manual
force to an object or material and in an extended
sense also to abstract things effecting
a purpose or also a powered machine used
for a similar purpose. In human evolution, the freedom of the
hand enabled by the upright walk and erect
posture of homo sapiens allowed for the creation
of tools, resulting from processes of
exteriorization and acting as artificial human
organs. According to Andr. Leroi-Gourhan,
the use of tools also marks the shift from
a physiological aesthetic to a functional aesthetic
that allowed for the establishment
of greater ‘social bodies’ or → collectivities.5
If the human hand and tools are connected
and establish a domain of material culture
and technology, face and language are, too,
in that they allow for a domain of sym-
bolic communication, both intertwined and
articulating themselves in endless material
and symbolic constellations of production
and consumption.
Thus, if the hand, in the parallel
‘anthropo-technical’ and technological processes
of co-becoming of homo sapiens
and material culture was — as the ur-tool —
a rather crude means for the adaptation
to the natural world and the handling of its
raw materials, it later became the skilled
servant of human imaginaries of production
based on planning, cooperation, and design.
These parallel processes also account for
the fuzziness between contexts of function
and ritual, between use values and symbolic
values, in which the human body
performs as the medium of its own becoming,
as a human medium or → medium human.
With the onset of the era of the Anthropocene
and its post-natural condition, as
well as within the increasingly dematerializing
→ capitalist economies of the present, the
above ‘neuro-motoric’ dispositive of manipulation
is about to be deeply reconfigured once
more. And yet, tools like the → boomerang,
meant here as a functioning artefact and not
as a tourist souvenir, even today still have
to be produced and adapted by the rhythmic
labour of manipulation and the protrusion
by a human hand. These adaptations are based
on manual skill and observation of sitespecific
environmental conditions — e. g., wind
and temperature. In order to be successful,
these bodily techniques need to be practised
and internalized as a type of embodied knowledge.
Both the manual manipulation work
on the wooden material of the boomerang
and its gyrating throwing routine, often require
a long training phase with rhythmic repetitions,
which establish a coordination that
increasingly fine-tunes the coordination
of hand and head, of movement and cognition,
until the intended mental circular
return trajectory of the boomerang coincides
with the actual path taken.
1 Stefan Rieger, Die Individualität der Medien: Eine
Geschichte der Wissenschaften von Menschen (Frankfurt
am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2000), 17.
2 Andr. Leroi-Gourhan, Hand und Wort: Die Evolution
von Technik, Sprache und Kunst (Frankfurt am Main:
Suhrkamp Verlag, 1988 [1964]), 236.
3 T. J. Demos, The Migrant Image: The Art and Politics
of Documentary during Gobal Crisis (Durham / London:
Duke University Press, 2013).
4 Based on Peter Sloterdijk’s comments in NZZ Standpunkte
– Zerbricht unsere Gesellschaft? First broadcast on
April 14, 2013.
5 Andr. Leroi-Gourhan, Hand und Wort: Die Evolution
von Technik, Sprache und Kunst (Frankfurt am Main:
Suhrkamp Verlag, 1988 [1964]), 36, 38.