The Fifth Wall

By Hito Steyerl

The artist Hito Steyerl wrote this text on behalf of HAU Hebbel am Ufer on the occasion of the relaunch of the digital stage HAU4 in November 2021.

The 5th wall opens onto a sea of pixels.
The 5th wall is elsehere
The 5th wall is a window into a corporate desert
The 5th wall is unnow

Pandemia has pushed many people into another dimension of time space –  a next level of screen-based extraction. People were shocked to find the walls shutting them in had become means of communication. Their enclosures were laced with cables leading into a maze of plugs, wires and radio connections. A space of strings, proprietary infrastructure and code, separating humans and filtering communication.  Fenced off by access codes, log-ins and mandatory isolation pandemia  left people little choice but to perform on corporate stages, and in the process become readable and transparent to them.

The 5th wall encloses no theatre of cruelty but a theatre of extraction
The 5th wall does not reveal a spectator but hides an user
The 5th wall does not spark a V-effect but a VR feeling
The 5th wall swaps the souffleuse booth with a monopolist platform
In front of the 5th wall everyone is a stage.

The 4th wall is historically defined as an invisible, imagined wall: a theater convention that separates actors from spectators. The 4th wall is transparent from one side only. While viewers can see through it actors pretend they do not. The fourth wall used to designate the invisible border between reality and fiction. Addressing the audience across it became known as “breaking” the 4th wall.

The 5th walls choreographies are bioelectric
Not biomechanical
There are no actors but agents
On a spectrum between particle and biochemical organization
It showcases swarms and squads
instead of stars and extras.

The 5th wall is a multifunctional space shared with digital gig workers that form ornaments of production, viewed from satellite trackers. Workers herded by text message sound signals and driven on by constant feedback loops and exploitative optimization.

The 5th wall is not part of the factory
But of the Uberlieferando meta-kingdom come
It takes its cues from always-too-late economies
With zero hours, minimal wages
By default at the wrong times in wrong places.

The 5th wall is exmersive,
Non-settler colonial and made of toxic relations
Always already alienated
Even belienated
It muffles all screams

The 5th stage takes place in the dimension of digital extraction and colonization. It happens within the primitive accumulation going on within digital space. It happens in the wake of profitable populism and clickstraction – in enemy territory.

If you look at me through the 5th wall
Our eyelines will miss
But my credit card will connect
All feelings are real
all motions simulated
All e-motions e-monitored

The 5th wall is just one layer of a corporate metaverse under construction. In which payments and passions will be connected by ASMR clicks. They congeal into digital commodities, orphaned rotating 3d models with artfully applied bullet holes in the shape of brand logos. The metaverse metastasizes around the collapse of common infrastructures and common grounds.

The sign on the 5th wall
Is the brand of its OS
It might display a flamboyant light show of social dynamics and forces
Or a broken link
Or cryptocollectibles
Or nothing humanly intelligible whatsoever

To break the 5th wall is thus to break through corporate occupation. To build, design and maintain an infrastructure that is open source and belongs to the commons. Right now, the primary tasks of digital theatre are that act of construction and groundwork, the building of backstage, the performance of commoning. Digital theater can be performed with fingers instead of chunks of data. It can bypass data Leviathans by tunneling to hold hands across screens.

Image: NewfrontEars