But the films’ politics are served up with appealing, accessible pop-culture aesthetics, sardonic humor and the odd four-letter word. Viewers have stood in long lines at venues like the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles or the German pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale to enter Ms. Steyerl’s installations, which present the films in environments that might look like a giant wave or the blue lines from the 1982 movie “Tron.” Visitors might leave pondering exploitation, dancing to a disco tune from the soundtrack, or both.
“In my films, accessibility is something I do on purpose,” said Ms. Steyerl (pronounced SHTYE-earl), speaking in measured English sentences in a cafe in the Kreuzberg district here. When not lecturing to packed audiences or teaching media art at this city’s University of Arts, she works from her home nearby. “I don’t want to make films that are so specialized that they’re only accessible to people with prior knowledge or histories or references.” The films always, she explained, have one layer that anyone can understand.
Ms. Steyerl’s influences range from Godard, New German Cinema and the work of the experimental filmmaker Harun Farocki, to martial arts flicks and Monty Python. References swing from Bruce Lee to the Frankfurt School philosopher Theodor W. Adorno. (Ms. Steyerl earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Vienna in 2003.)
“It’s hard to imagine aesthetics in contemporary art without her,” said Alexander Koch, co-owner of the gallery K.O.W., which shows Ms. Steyerl’s works here. “She has found a visual language that can combine so many cultures, especially digital ones.”
Beyond the films are Ms. Steyerl’s writings and her “lecture performances,” which are famously hypnotic. Delivered in a yoga teacher’s or Jedi master’s slow, soothing voice, her speeches weave disparate ideas together. “She’s a legend onstage,” Mr. Koch said. “She’s the one who made a lecture performance into an aesthetic event. They’re sometimes sublime. She transcends her material.”
And there’s something almost digital about reading her essays, many of which evolve from…