Hito Steyerl

In Free Fall: Happy hypoxia. A second person perspective

Comrade, how have you been?
Where are you?
What happened?
And wtf was that?

Rabih Mroué: Cheers to our wishes, 2020, film still

Previously in this series: The ER team tries to figure out the strange phenomena of Covid-19 patients presenting with severe lack of oxygen yet no apparent distress. Dr. Blue remembers a study:

“In a simulated high-altitude parachute jump from 30,000 feet, nine volunteers from the Norwegian Special Operations Command underwent repeated blood gas testing while breathing air at different ambient pressures.”

After the simulated jump it turned out the commando’s oxygen saturation parameters were all over the place. Some had severely impaired and even life threatening blood oxygen saturations but functioned completely normally. Some didn’t. One fainted.

Flashback ends. The doctor concludes: Our patients present in a similar condition. How can they function even though they are not supposed to be conscious? We might as well call this condition: happy hypoxia.

My friend.
Are you there?
We got separated while falling.
Am I even still alive?
I got kicked off a plane. Or so I reconstruct from the paradoxical symptoms, which seem completely unlikely. I feel at altitude even though I am firmly on sea level. But now I even forgot my mission.

Rabih Mroué, Cheers to our wishes, 2020, film still

Previously in this series: Whereby the commando finds an old scroll after crash landing and tries to decipher its meaning.

“Imagine you are falling. But there is no ground.

Many contemporary philosophers have pointed out that the present moment is distinguished by a prevailing condition of groundlessness.

We cannot assume any stable ground on which to base metaphysical claims or foundational political myths. At best, we are faced with temporary, contingent, and partial attempts at grounding. But if there is no stable ground available for our social lives and philosophical aspirations, the consequence must be a permanent or at least intermittent state of free fall for subjects and objects alike. But why don’t we notice?

Paradoxically, while you are falling, you will probably feel as if you are floating – or not even moving at all. Falling is relational – if there is nothing to fall toward, you may not even be aware that you’re falling. If there is no ground, gravity might be low and you’ll feel weightless. Objects will stay suspended if you let go of them. Whole societies around you may be falling just as you are. And it may actually feel like perfect stasis – as if history and time have ended and you can’t even remember that time ever moved forward.

As you are falling, your sense of orientation may start to play additional tricks on you. The horizon quivers in a maze of collapsing lines and you may lose any sense of above and below, of before and after, of yourself and your boundaries. Pilots have even reported that free fall can trigger a feeling of confusion between the self and the aircraft. While falling, people may sense themselves as being things, while things may sense that they are people. Traditional modes of seeing and feeling are shattered. Any sense of balance is disrupted. Perspectives are twisted and multiplied.”

The commando rolls up the scroll again. He looks into the camera and says:

I fell. They fell. Lightheaded as fuck. Dizzy and disoriented. The map view was just a blurred insert from a past in which numbers accelerated towards autonomy. While falling the map gained depth – the geographical 2D overview map turned into a game map, a literal 3D model, maybe building up all around you procedurally. After all, falling into a map is a standard mode of entering a game world.

This is how I see:
A first person perspective (fpp) is what I see with my own eyes.

This is how they see:
A third person perspective (tpp) is how someone else sees someone falling.

What do you see, my friend?
How does the world look like through your eyes?

Rabih Mroué: Cheers to our wishes, 2020, film still

Previously in this series: Another pop-up from the past, left behind in an empty oxygen cylinder turns up on the map.

“Many of the aerial views, 3D nose-dives, Google Maps, and surveillance panoramas do not actually portray a stable ground. Instead, they create a supposition that it exists in the first place. Retroactively, this virtual ground creates a perspective of overview and surveillance for a distanced, superior spectator safely floating up in the air. Just as linear perspective established an imaginary stable observer and horizon, so does the perspective from above establish an imaginary floating observer and an imaginary stable ground.”

The doctor shrugs. This message refers to a time when 2D maps made sense. There is no road map for this specific situation; the new map is immersive and the doctor has been dropped right inside. She is part of the situation, even lost her doctor title during the fall. She fell through the plexi and lost her breath.

The terrain around her builds procedurally, but the person formerly known as doctor does not know the procedure. There are no data to even predict the past let alone the present. Her visor turns into an AR screen and flashes:

You are now part of the “happy hypoxia” squad and you need to first figure out your mission.

Within this map you may be navigating confusing and shifting situations, not least the one that the map itself keeps shifting. No one will believe your reports until they surface in the media weeks later. Like the “happy hypoxia” syndrome that was deemed improbable until it actually happened. When patients started describing it from an fpp, no one believed them – it was considered fiction. It took a tpp to become accepted as reality.

As far as anyone can tell you could drop dead 6 months from now, or suddenly acquire the ability to fly, see the future or cook stones into delicious meals. None of this is likely but then again, only a short time ago, your existence wasn’t considered likely either. You exist within a very thin slice of probability where fpps and tpps keep overlapping and diverging.

Start Shepard glissando.
It may have been called a zone of miracle at different points in history, the kind of miracle you pray will never ever happen. To navigate it you may have to use the tools Tarkovskys stalkers used to find their way: try to toss nuts and bolts tied with scraps of cloth, to verify that gravity is working as usual.

Rabih Mroué: Cheers to our wishes, 2020, film still

Previously on this series: the last episode was filmed in splitscreen: tpp and fpp.

A voice comes over the radio:
A gravitational wave hit the plane. It came from the future. Actually, two futures were fighting one another in a gigantic battle, causing space-time to ripple. One was the future that came from the past produced through a gigantic amount of big data crunching and risk management. States and corporations tried to control the future by prolonging past data, including its entrenched inequalities and monopolies, its fiefdoms and clans. The future projected was a futur anterieur, something that has passed before it even happened, the only future we used to know.

The other future wore a mask. It was impassive, dispassionate, almost disinterested. It had sprung from a small arm of the previous future and grown exponentially like a lichen that grows on a tree and starts to gradually replace it. They clashed like Godzilla vs Mothra.
The shock wave hit the plane and threw us off.

Whose voice was that?

Also in this episode:
The lack of montage. The endless real-time essential workers world of logistics and reproduction carrying deceased relatives on our backs towards teleoperated incinerators. I will hopefully see myself, looking for you, worried, then relieved as our eyes meet.

You will finally find them.
Dispersed and bewildered.

You will ask:

Comrade tell me about the times when you were happily trying to ambush Trevor in GTA Liberty City. The time you were an octopus in Minecraft and never got killed because you were useless. And now your days are spent being taken over non-stop, possessed by hectic people trying to prototype virtual art fairs. You will tell me how you were forced to be the NPC gallerina at the Virtual Art Basel entrance, repeating the same sentence over and over again: your name is not on the list.

You know: There is no list. There has never been a list. Even if there was there would have been another door behind the first one. The person would have washed up in front of a different npc gallerina repeating the same sentence. You hated your job, and you remember how you hated it when you had to do it IRL. You were dropped into this map with a sagging oxygen saturation and even while you recover, there are more people raining in from above, trying to claim stakes while still being confused and suffering from hypoxia.

And you, comrade, you have been dispatched to measure the temperature of museum audiences. You are telecontrolled by a theater actor who was left unemployed. Two months ago he didn’t even know the word furloughed. He has been furloughed because of the Castorf piece he was in. Lots of spitting and yelling. Had he been in the von Schirach one (“debate style”) he might have kept his job. His colleagues are forced to take tests to keep shooting TV series – like porn actors in times of HIV. The actor is nervous and yanks you around. He’s coughing and he doesn’t have a gamer’s thumb – yet. You really would like to keep your distance from him but unless you unlock the don’t-possess-me reward there is little you can do.

You comrade you’re used to an editor. But montage has become one of the victims of this condition. Little content is edited these days. It’s either the flatness of real-time or the iconicity of the meme. Montage will be about assembling different points of view into a weave – now every strand remains on parallel lines, every face on it’s own screen, uncut, unassembled, isolated. Montage will be organization and infrastructure, the labor of creating quality out of quantity, a debate out of mere voices, a composition out of notes, society out of specimens. Now, strands are left to run in parallel in a real-time observation that is indistinguishable from reality TV surveillance. While you are wearing a ridiculous commando skin.

And you, my friend Mike. How many incinerations were you filming from your teleoperations center, how many old-school android files did you send off to relatives mourning in front of screens? They saw your hands in frame pushing the deceased into the flames and are thanking you for your service.

You used to be the pilot, so tell me what happened? Why did we have to eject?

You say:

A gravitational wave hit the plane. It came from the future. But actually from two futures that were fighting one another in a gigantic battle, causing space-time to ripple. One was the future that came from the past produced through a humungous amount of big data crunching. A massive attempt to control the future by prolonging past data, including its entrenched inequalities and monopolies, its fiefs and clans. The other one wore a mask. It was impassive, dispassionate, almost disinterested. It had sprung from a small arm of the previous future and grown exponentially like lichen that grows on a tree and starts to strangle it.

Many of us were yearning for something new. There we go.

After a lot of historical blockage and repetition our squad has to learn how to navigate unknowns like a TV writer that has no clue where the plot will take her. You are sure the plot will not add up but there is no emergency exit. All you know are disjointed past episodes that keep popping up within empty oxygen containers.

We fell into the improbable, breathless and will remain lost unless we figure out how to operate the second person perspective. Maybe someone left controls behind somewhere within this map. If not we will need to montage them.

Previously on this series: the squad has built a preprint prototype for a second person perspective.

From a spp, we are trying to figure out an improbability that has suddenly become rather normal. commonplace.

About the artist

Hito Steyerl lives in Berlin.

Gradient based on live data: Berlin, . Temperature: 17.7°, Pressure: 1014.6, Humidity: 64.1. Air Quality Index (AQI): co 0.1, no2 3.7, o3 30.9, pm10 12, pm25 34.