“You need to be two to see an image.”


                 -Jean-Luc Godard

What You Get Is What You See is a forum about the way we spectate.

Filmmakers, artists and writers share their personal observations as viewers, readers, watchers, listeners and audience members. It is a critical space where reception is scrutinized and disentangled, where viewership is exposed as an everyday political act.
This series gives us the opportunity to review the traditional binaries attached to spectatorship: individual/collective, author/spectator, active/passive, life/art, real/fake and discuss the relevance of these terminologies today. This feels critically important as we increasingly rely on digital data and mediated experiences, as we navigate a society that has totally integrated and embraced the spectacular.

Focusing more on the process than the result, the program also highlights the role of spectatorship in creative practice.

Mathilde Walker-Billaud, Curator of What You Get Is What You See

Mathilde Walker-Billaud trained and worked as an art editor in Paris. She was a Program Officer for the Book Office at the French Embassy and for Villa Gillet in the USA. She is now an independent curator and cultural producer based in New York, City.

Video Clips from the Series

What You Get Is What You See: Season 3

Ant Hampton: Hello: I’m Sorry to Disturb You

Jace Clayton: When God Is in the Room

Nora Chipaumire: Colonial

Kenyatta Cheese: Two Turntables, An Image Macro, and a Bear Named Mr. Truffles

David Levine: Down and Out In San Francisco and Antartica

There is a Gaze Thrust Upon Me

Potato Gardens Band: Decolonizing the Archive

Fine Lines: Truth, Desire, & Displacement

The Landscape is an Event

Past Presenters

Fine Lines: Truth, Desire, & Displacement

with Alex Strada and Ilana Harris-Babou

Through works such as Fine LinesRed Sourcebook, and What Truths Are Worth Telling?, Ilana Harris-Babou and Alex Strada investigate the ways labor (particularly female labor) is both masked and romanticized in a shifting urban landscape. As the architecture of the city transforms, certain modes of creation are hidden to make way for aesthetic cohesion and increasing property values. Sharing both complete and in process work, the artists explore the nature of truth, and the role of fantasy in asserting agency over gentrification.

In her practice, Krista Belle Stewart underlines the missing gaps and disjunctures between the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples and their representations in media (photography, film, audio). For this screening and presentation, Stewart looks back at her experimentations with documentation materials depicting her family. Here she presents her Indigenous politics of representation through and against colonial archives, and proposes an artistic method for reclaiming the knowledge of her community.

There is a Gaze Thrust Upon Me

with Joiri Minaya

In this installment of the series, Minaya will present her research on tropical pattern design and its roots in exploration, exploitation and labor, and how this history continues through rampant capitalist tourism in the tropics. In this multidisciplinary event, the artist shifts the gaze from a historic colonial one to a contemporary perspective of a woman of color.

The Landscape is an Event

with Caitlin Berrigan & Courtney Stephens 

Caitlin Berrigan and Courtney Stephens take us into the deep time of physics and geology. Both artists investigate how human events and emotions reverberate through the environment and landscapes. They transpose observational codes and instruments in the realm of lived experience to reflect on power, memory and trauma. As they infiltrate the“objective” gaze, they propose alternative epistemologies of seeing and sensing. Their films operate as a disorienting and feminist techno-scientific fiction, an embodied and materialist meditation on patriarchal violence and history.

The Following Scenes will be Deleted

with Radha May and Elisa Giardina Papa

Radha May presents, for the first time in New York, When The Towel Drops – a performance on the cinema censorship of female pleasure and sexuality. The artists unveil scenes that were removed from publicly viewed cinema in Italy during the 1950’s and 1960’s, and that have been, until now, kept hidden from sight in the Italian National Cinema Archive. With scenes from films such as Brink of Life by Ingmar Bergman and La Notte by Michelangelo Antonioni, Radha May enacts a collective reading of the official justifications that motivated the acts of censorship.

The performance is followed by a presentation on the legal shifts and peculiarities that distinguish cinema censorship from current new media content moderation. The artists will look at shared conventions of in/visibility that determine what is seen and what is not. They will explore the transition of censorship from a state enforced ideological agenda to a set of corporate social media policies.

South Africa: crossing the river without a bridge is a work-in-progress based on the tapes from Rosler’s time in South Africa a few months after Nelson Mandela’s release in 1990, in which she taught at the University and worked with community groups. She has been working with the resulting footage periodically, about once a decade, ever since. In its relentless movement through spaces and conversations, it presents a multi-dimensional portrait of housing injustice in action.

Martha Rosler’s work focuses on the public sphere and landscapes of everyday life, especially as they affect women. Her early feminist videos Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975) and Vital Statistics of a Citizen, Simpy Obtained (1977) are now considered classics. Her works addressing housing, homelessness, and urban processes, including the role of artists in gentrification, have been staged in many cities and countries since 1989, most recently in Manhattan in 2015. Rosler lives and works in Brooklyn.

Terra Femme

with Courtney Stephens

Filmmaker Courtney Stephens presents a selection of 16mm “home travelogues”: amateur films shot by Americans abroad in the 1920s-40s, with a focus on footage by women. These films, intended to be screened for the friends and family of their makers, occupy a space between home movie and accidental ethnography, and reveal the Western gaze at a time of transition. They present a new type of traveler, no longer a (generally male) seeker of conquests or literary renown. The new traveler might be a divorcee on a tour of biblical gardens or a widow on a chartered cruise to the North Pole.

Through these early female filmmaker’s eyes, we get a glimpse of a newly mobile type of woman, conveying her point of view by how and where she looks; and by looking through others back at herself. These optical autobiographies are as gorgeous as they are challenging, raising questions not only about the travelers’ gaze and the politics of images at a distance; as they represent some of the earliest images of foreign lands to enter the American living room.

The Body at Work

with Pilvi Takala

Using her own body and presence as a research tool, Artist Pilvi Takala places herself in awkward, uncomfortable but constructive places to investigate social situations and human behavior.

In this screening-presentation, she will look at the creative process behind her narrative videos that emerge from her experiments with others. From a community of poker players in Thailand, a corporation office in the Finland to a boarding school and a text message service in the US, we will follow her infiltration and disguised activities in work settings, witnessing how small but subtle infractions can disrupt people’s sense of purpose and seriously threat social order.

Empathy in the Archives

with Irene Lusztig

What does it mean to listen or look deeply and critically across time? How can empathy help us move towards a collaborative model for placing ourselves in conversation with history–different from the stance of a passive spectator or even of an analytical historian? Filmmaker and archival researcher Irene Lusztig leads this personal tour through fifteen years of looking at, reflecting on, and making film work out of archival materials. She will share the viewing pleasures, poetics, ethics, responsibilities and the freedoms of being an artist in the archives. From Romanian propaganda films to 80s television and from medical training films to 70s feminist documentaries and material archives, Lusztig will explore what it means to be an empathetic witness to historical images and other ephemera, ultimately proposing a feminist politics of archival spectatorship.

Irene Lusztig is a filmmaker, visual artist, archival researcher, and amateur seamstress. Her film and video work mines old images and technologies for new meanings in order to reframe, recuperate, and reanimate forgotten and neglected histories. Often beginning with rigorous research in archives, her work brings historical materials into conversation with the present day, inviting the viewer to explore historical spaces as a way of contemplating larger questions of politics, ideology, and the production of personal, collective, and national memories.  Born in England to Romanian parents, Irene grew up in Boston and has lived in France, Italy, Romania, China, and Russia. She received her BA in filmmaking and Chinese studies from Harvard and completed her MFA in film and video at Bard College. Her debut feature film, Reconstruction (2001) was recognized with a Boston Society of Film Critics Discovery award and won best documentary at the New England Film Festival. Her most recent feature-length film is The Motherhood Archives (2013), a feature length archival essay charting the history of the maternal education film from 1919 to the present. She is now working on Yours in Sisterhood, a performative, participatory documentary project based on archived letters sent to the editor of Ms. Magazine, 1972-1980.

Progress Vs. Regress

with Melanie Bonajo

Melanie Bonajo digs into our internet enthusiasm and watching obsessions, highlighting the funny but grotesque dramatization of nature and reality.

In this screening / presentation, she will look at spectatorship through two her recents projects: Progress vs Regress, a film about the way elderly people experience and think about our ultra-mediated social relationships, and Matrix Botanica, a publication about how amateur animal photography online changed our idea of Nature.

Towards a Politics of Listening

with Lawrence Abu Hamdan

Since 2010 Lawrence Abu Hamdan has been dedicated to understanding the role of voice in law and the changing nature of testimony in the face of new regimes of border control, algorithmic technologies, medical sciences, and modes of surveillance. His projects have taken the form of audiovisual installations, performances, graphic works, photography, Islamicsermons, cassette tape compositions, texts, forensic audio analysis, advocacy, expert testimony and even potato chip packets. For the 2016 season of “What You Get Is What You See“, Abu Hamdan will present a body of work that attempts to define a politics of listening, that moves away from classic notions of advocacy and of giving people a voice. A politics of listening that does not simply seek to amplify voices but attempt to redefine what constitutes speech itself.

The City Has Eyes

with Geoff Manaugh

The first part of this talk will attempt to look at security professionals, at those who look for a living—to watch the watchers—and to understand urban security as a different kind of spectatorship, with its own narrative expectations and interpretive cinematography. Whether this involves staring for hours at a time at multiple video feeds or simply reorienting CCTV cameras to watch—and thus protect—their own cars parked outside the office, guards are the very definition of urban spectatorship, literally looking at how the metropolis is used or inhabited.

The second part of this talk will look the other way, so to speak, at those who seek not to be looked at, who wish to remain invisible and anonymous: how burglars, vandals, and everyday criminals see the city, as an arena of crimes both real and imagined.

The point is to reveal the city as a stadium of looking: on the lookout for criminals hiding in the shadows, and looking out for police waiting around the next corner.

Geoff Manaugh is a freelance writer and curator based in New York. His work has appeared in The New York Times, New Scientist, Popular Science, Domus, newyorker.com, and many other publications, including multiple books, exhibition catalogs, and artist monographs. He is most widely known as the author of BLDGBLOG (http://bldgblog.blogspot.com/), a long-running online catalog of architectural and spatial ideas, across various scales and genres. His newest book, investigating the relationship between burglary and architecture, is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux in October 2015.

A spectator of spectators, Kenyatta Cheese will show how Internet meme and pop culture communities actively defy the traditional narrative of spectator passivity and reveal an experience that is communal, participatory, and emotional.

Kenyatta will argue that the audience has always desired participation and that this desire was only rendered passive in order to fit the needs of large scale, industrialized commerce. He then suggests that we change the discourse around the creative process towards a model of networked participation that embraces varying levels of effort and expertise.

Kenyatta Cheese is a professional internet enthusiast best known for co-creating the web series and internet meme database Know Your Meme. He built interesting things at Rocketboom, Unmediated, the Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology, Screensaversgroup, and Manhattan Neighborhood Network. Nowadays he is Creative Director at Everybody at Once, a consultancy dedicated to audience development for media, entertainment, and sports.

Hello: I’m Sorry to Disturb You

with Ant Hampton

In a presentation which pulls together fragments of documentation video, photography, text and audio, Ant Hampton evokes his experiences of performances which involved ‘meeting’ other people. What constitutes an encounter? Can it even co-exist with the role of spectator? Weaving a path through some vivid experiences of work by, among others, Vivi Tellas, Stefan Kaegi, Mammalian Diving Reflex and Edit Kaldor, Hampton will start by asking, what do we mean by ‘live documentary,’ how do artists’ approaches differ, where are its limits and what can it do that screened documentaries cannot?

Down and Out in San Francisco and Antarctica

with David Levine

In this presentation, David Levine will discuss how a 2004 trip to Berlin’s Volksbuehne led him to conspiracy theories about the transformation of performance into spectatorship, spectatorship into surveillance, and surveillance into transcendence.

David Levine is an artist living in New York and Berlin. His work incorporates video, photography, performance, and theater, and has been seen at MoMA, Mass MOCA, and KW Institute for Contemporary Art (Berlin). His work has been featured in Artforum, Frieze, and the New York Times, and his writing has appeared in Parkett, Mousse, and Cabinet. He recently directed an opera about the pop group Milli Vanilli.

When God is in the Room

with Jace Clayton DJ/rupture

What’s so special about experiencing sound in a packed club? Why does music sound better when God is in the room? How did supercomputers listening to geology improve pop music? Jace Clayton (aka DJ /rupture) will explore these questions and more. From personal stories of after-hours dancing in Boston and Jamaica to a discussion of Koranic recitation in Egypt. Listening audiences considered from the body, the earth below, and the heavens above. Jace Clayton will play music, show videos and images.

JACE CLAYTON, also known as DJ /rupture, is an artist whose recent projects include Sufi Plug Ins and The Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner.


with Nora Chipaumire

“As a dance maker from a particular class, history and culture, I am tempted to say that I am never a spectator. I am tempted to say I am always participating never spectating. Personal implication and responsibility are as much a driving philosophical and moral engine for me, as is innovating an aesthetic that refuses to ignore race, gender, class (amongst other things).”

In this presentation, dance performer and choreographer Nora Chipaumire will examine her post-colonial / neocolonial / diasporic gaze, sharing her experiences of works by Steve McQueen, Teju Cole, NoViolet Bulawayo, Robert Mapplethorpe and more. She will tell us how the practices of these artists resonate in her own vision, voice and body. Nora Chipaumire will show slides, videos, improvise movements and read literature.

Nora Chipaumire is a dance performer and a choreographer who has been challenging and embracing stereotypes of Africa and the black performing body, art, and aesthetics. She has studied dance in many parts of the world including Africa (Senegal, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa), Cuba, Jamaica and the U.S. Recent works include Rite Riot (2013), a 75 minute solo rendering of The Rite of Spring; Miriam (2012); The Last Heifer (2012), Parallels; Visible (2011); Kimya (2011); I Ka Nye (You Look Good) (2010); Silence/Dreams (2010); and lions will roar, swans will fly, angels will wrestle heaven, rains will break: gukurahundi (2009).


with Luc Sante

Before there was an Internet, or even television, there was the tabloid. It was a newspaper, but it was also a personal-size billboard. You could walk through the city and catch the news just by looking at what people were reading, and–well before the 24-hour news cycle–you could track events through the day by the successive editions that hit the stands. Luc Sante will talk about the history of tabloids, the poetry of the Railroad Gothic typeface, the many permutations of the half-sheet, the pleasures and dangers of public hysteria, the heritage of the punk-rock handbill, the silent shout and the urban central nervous system, among other things. He will show slides.

Luc Sante first encountered the tabloid as a pedestrian walking by the newsstands in New York City. Showing his personal archives of images from tabloids and other materials, and beginning with memories from his childhood in the 60’s, he will share his own perception of this culture. He will also tell us how the tabloid has been used in movies and pop art and its place in the news ecosystem of today.

Luc Sante is the author of Low Life, Evidence, The Factory of Facts, Kill All Your Darlings, and Folk Photography. He has translated Félix Fénéon’s Novels in Three Lines. He is a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and teaches writing and the history of photography at Bard College. The Other Paris will be published next year.



“Mathilde Walker-Billaud’s ongoing performance-lecture-media series at UnionDocs in Williamsburg, explores the concept of spectatorship in all its permutations, configurations, and manifestations.”


“There is no spectatorship without a dialogue, without circulation and exchanges between the performer and the public, creator and audience.”

Art F City, This Week’s Must See Events online

“It’s a pretty timely discussion given how many artists today are looking to the past and found footage for material.”

Maria Popova, Founder of Brain Pickings

“Superb series on spectatorship”

Hyperallergic, A Screening of Martha Rosler’s Documentary on Housing Injustice in South Africa

“Rosler will be on hand at Thursday’s screening at UnionDocs to discuss her work, her experiences while filming in South Africa in 1990, and how much has changed (or hasn’t) in the years since.”