…Part 2 of our exploration of The Dark Rooms, a one-night only exhibit of art… in the dark.
This week, Artipoeus brings you Part 2 of our interview with the creators of THE DARK ROOMS, a one-night-only exhibit of art… in the dark.
If you’ve been listening along with us over the past two years, you may remember that Artipoeus has a habit of descending into darkness every year around this time. Something about end of summer, the new school year, that transition time between seasons… I dunno. It’s all Greek to me.
So, it being that time of year, in our last episode we sat down with curator Clara Cremer to get a sneak peek of The Dark Rooms, a one night only art exhibit here in Berlin. But last night… we plunged into the dark, as The Dark Rooms opened at the Willner Brauerei. And we caught up with Clara, Sven Sauer, and Jerry Kowalski, the creators of The Dark Rooms, to get their impressions of the first ever exhibit of art, in the dark.
In the last episode, I mentioned that there was something very Wonka-like about the Dark Rooms: you had to have a special ticket, you could bring a family member or friend, and it was in an old brewery — which is like a candy factory for adults. And sure enough, the Willner Brauerei, built in the late 1800s, is brick chimneys and iron doors and everything covered in 80s style grafitti, bringing post-insustrial and the modern together just at the point where Charles Dickens and Tim Burton meet. There’s even an old iron gate that separates the complex from the street.
There was a line that was starting to snake down the street, a couple of unlucky souls offering lots of money for tickets, and we had to sign a liability release. We were sweetly waved inside with a cheery Viel Spass! by one of the many helpers on the giant organizational team.
We even had to go through a dark and disorienting tunnel to get to the working part of the brewery.
I brought my friends Maggie Austin — who you might remember from Young Americans & the Marlboro Man a couple of episodes ago, and Kristijan Radakovic, visiting from Paris.
Inside the brewery proper, the first room wasn’t as dark as I was expecting but it was just about as creepy as I thought it would be — the old brick, giant metal containers full of who knows what, iron tools and machinery rusted to the walls… and of course the windows all covered over with cloth or cardboard and duct tape.
Honestly the only thing creepier than a 19th century factory is a 19th century asylum. So a 19th century brewery lies somewhere between manufacturing and madness.
The next room plunged us into total darkness, making it hard to find each other because of course we were all wearing black, as one does.
Ralf Westerhof‘s installation floated in the dark – a constellation of warrior figures from different eras outlined in glow in the dark green, hearts and organs pulsing red out of the black at the rate of a resting heartbeat. You can’t tear yourself way, Maggie observed. They were as frightening and mesmerizing as the infamous Body Worlds exhibit, that strange freak show of butchery and biology of Gunther von Haagens’ plastinated bodies.
Westerhof’s bodies, however, are actually two-dimensional figures made of wire, basically a hanging mobile. But suspended in the pitch black, the darkness gives them another dimension — which, of course, is the point of the whole exhibit and sets the tone for what’s to come.
The rest of the ground floor takes you through the work of Jurgen Schwaemmle and his series Disposable Gods – 2-dimensional collage pieces of iconic imagery off the internet and transformed into giant tableaux, part poster art part shrine. Like demi-gods, they are both familiar and strange, like the Lucha Libra -masked face haloed by a giant golden brain, or the kabuki-like visage wearing a crown of syringes – reminding me of Puddles, the clown with the golden voice, if Puddles was suddenly vilified and forced to wear a crown of thorns in some twisted alternate universe. Poor Puddles!
The room is shared with the massive works of Hendrik Czakainski, huge topographical maps of cities and slums, painted in uniform blacks and charcoal grays. Hung away from the walls as if they are also suspended in the darkness, it seemed as if these slums and favelas were the actual fabric of the outer skin of the Death Star in the original Star Wars — the part that appears the most frightening, but that suffers the most collateral damage when attacked.
We followed the arrows up a flight of stairs and entered Level 1, and a room in semi-darkness, populated by the cardboard and paper sculpture of Jerry Kowalsky. A massive bald head in a patchwork of balsa and cardboard is presented on a pedestal. A fantastical boy in a helicopter hat rides a giant ostrich. A body leaps out of the darkness and up into… darkness again, leaving and returning to the darkness in almost the same moment. A pair of shoes standing near a couple of bombs anchor long paper stems that support a mouth, a nose, various features blown apart and forever caught in the moment of flying through the air in all directions. They are strange sculptures, with a carnival darkness to them, as though pieces of earlier, more primitive stories when fairy tales were darker insist themselves into the digital moment of now.
Just as curator Clara Cremer had said in the last interview, there was the artist himself, lurking in the darkness and observing the observers, observing his work.
In the next room, the work of Scandinavian duo Bjorn, that is, Bjorn Hegardt and Theo Agren, surprised me.
What I was appreciating about all of the work so far was the very organic, very human nature of every artist’s contribution, but Bjorn took it a step farther, using taxidermized animals and visual puns. A cat is forever preserved as leaping through the air, a trail of papers scattering behind. A squirrel is perched on a small pedastal… sitting in Lotus position, it’s mouth a faint smile — probably the same smile the chattering squirrel gave the dying Buddhist monk while his disciples begged him for the meaning of life. A boulder is trapped in a chair, which… if you’ve ever been to a French dinner party, you’d know how that feels. A turning apple floats above school books — a magic trick that I suspect involves magnets, and most certainly involves questions of authority and education. They’re funny and clever, and provide a little bit of light relief, moderating the tempo of the dark.
In the following room, the work of Sa-Po and Stoev are sobering… at first. Hung at slight angles around seating arrangements, which themselves are positioned under directional speakers, the very delicate and precise photo montages of Sa-Po (that is, Sven) sort of beam back at you, while the sound work of Stoev moderates your mood. The photos are layers of photography and photo cut outs, like paper light boxes with better technology, and painted by hand on top of that, giving them depth and story that they wouldn’t have if they were only one dimensional. A huge War of the Worlds-like creature — or a bionic bird — lands on top of an overhead photo of an island completely populated by pink flamingos. I thought they were naked humans at first, but Maggie and her better eyesight corrected me. The flamingos fly across all the photos in the series, while the sound work of Stoev keeps you calm as the landscapes morph and almost disappear in the migration.
By this time in the journey through The Dark Rooms, if you haven’t already lost your sense of time and place, you are about to. The final room on this level brings you to the eerie suspended forest of Wolfgang Flad. What look like hollowed out pods or pieces of driftwood fill the room, hung from the ceiling and turning slowly in the air, a deep creaking sound pervading everything. I really love these. They’re called Magic Tree — they’re not my idea of a magic tree, but more my idea of growth pods on an alien space ship. But this forest of husks transforms the space itself into something magical and otherworldly.
The final two floors are single works, in the old granary silos. The first is the sticky and glowing and nerve-like web of Julia Sossinska, which attaches itself to the floor and ceiling and every corner of a storage floor, the center of the web extending back into the darkness and weaved into another kind of tunnel, inviting you in. Only a few people are allowed to enter the room at a time, and so it’s quieter here, creating a kind of awe. But the work is awesome and breathtaking, the web sitting quietly as if alive and waiting, shadows cast from people walking on the grate floor above giving slight motion and breath to the peace. Whether it’s a portal to another place, a web that will lull to you sleep and slowly engulf you, or a trampoline of synapses to bounce around on, its tempting to crawl inside and let whatever is going to happen, happen.
The last floor is at the top of the silo itself, and it was thrilling to step foot into the very room Clara had so vividly described. Olaf Bastigkeit‘s “Arrangement, or Dance of Salome” is lit in the center of the circular room by three flourescents on the floor — an arrangement of veils and flowers and supports that create a kind of alter, an ethereal installation that infuses the entire room — encircled by iron and anonymous old machinery — with a deep calm that transports you, floating as you are above all the other works and the world below, like being in a glass elevator that is finally set free.
You’ve gotten so used to the suspended atmosphere of The Dark Rooms, that getting pushed out back into regular life seems unreal. You exit from the 2nd floor, and you suddenly find yourself on a small balcony overlooking a sea of reveling humanity. The Brewery’s beer garden is still in use today, and it’s teeming with Berliners out on one of the last of the warm summer nights. But what draws the eye — and ear — after all that darkness is this one sectioned off area of white: it’s a wedding, and a live band serenades the wedding guests, and everything is dressed in white: the wedding guests,the tablecloths, the white candles glowing bright, the glasses being raised to a long and happy life.
You can follow The Dark Rooms online and find out where they’ll be exhibiting next. Visit www.thedarkrooms.de.
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That’s all for Artipoeus this week. I’m Susie Kahlich. See you around town!
Brought to you by Susie Kahlich