A Look at Hito Steyerl's "In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective"

This piece takes us on a journey through advancements in our use of perspective from classic linear perspective through to the common areal perspectives of today’s drones and satellite imagery. Hito suggests that William Turner broke us out of our traditional linear perspective by taking into account the perspectives relevant to his works (climbing the mast of a ship to get the feel and tilted angle of viewing things from above while at sea for the slave ship, or hanging his head out of a moving train for Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway).


Hito moves on to speak of Theodor Adorno scoffing at “philosophy’s obsession with earth as origin” (Steyerl, 2011) and sums the whole thought experiment up in the following 3 paragraphs. First:

A fall toward objects without reservation, embracing a world of forces and matter, which lacks any original stability and sparks the sudden shock of the open: a freedom that is terrifying, utterly deterritorializing, and always already unknown. Falling means ruin and demise as well as love and abandon, passion and surrender, decline and catastrophe. Falling is corruption as well as liberation, a condition that turns people into things and vice versa.


At the core of this sentiment I feel as though a good way to visualize this is to think of how aerial and space photography separates us from the earth which we have been attached to for most of our lives and so it is a kind of leaving the womb, so we could either feel excited to get out and explore or afraid to leave our safe home with nothing to hold on to. The final statement makes us pause to contemplate “Falling is corruption as well as liberation, a condition that turns people into things and vice versa”. This makes me think of the film Falling Down with Michael Douglas (Joel Schumacher,1993). Michael Douglas’s character is fired but he doesn’t tell his family, this begins both his liberation and his decent into madness.  With injustices as targets and himself labeled as a terrorist, both he and his targets become things from his perspective but people from the publics perspective.

She continues with one sentence that stands alone as an entire paragraph:

It takes place in an opening we could endure or enjoy, embrace or suffer, or simply accept as reality.

Here she is saying that your mental perspective is the lens with which you choose to see anything and everything.

Finally, the perspective of free fall teaches us to consider a social and political dreamscape of radicalized class war from above, one that throws jaw-dropping social inequalities into sharp focus. But falling does not only mean falling apart, it can also mean a new certainty falling into place. Grappling with crumbling futures that propel us backwards onto an agonizing present, we may realize that the place we are falling toward is no longer grounded, nor is it stable. It promises no community, but a shifting formation.

Reading this really gives wonderful perspective to life in general and reinforces the need to embrace a path of excitement toward movement and change. True happiness lies in the ability to adapt. Here I will quote one of my favorite tunes (Eric Idle, 1983)

Whenever life gets you down, Mrs. Brown,
And things seem hard or tough,
And people are stupid, obnoxious or daft,

And you feel that you've had quite eno-o-o-o-o-ough,

Just remember that you're standing on a planet that's evolving
And revolving at 900 miles an hour.
It's orbiting at 19 miles a second, so it's reckoned,
The sun that is the source of all our power.
Now the sun, and you and me, and all the stars that we can see,
Are moving at a million miles a day,
In the outer spiral arm, at 40,000 miles an hour,
Of a galaxy we call the Milky Way.

Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars;
It's a hundred thousand light-years side to side;
It bulges in the middle sixteen thousand light-years thick,
But out by us it's just three thousand light-years wide.
We're thirty thousand light-years from Galactic Central Point,
We go 'round every two hundred million years;
And our galaxy itself is one of millions of billions
In this amazing and expanding universe.