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The international festival Berlin Atonal devoted to contemporary electronic avant-garde music and audio-visual live performances presents between August 22 and 26 around a hundred live shows plus DJ sets, at its usual cathedral-like venue, Kraftwerk, the vast concrete former powerplant located in Mitte.
Kraftwerk is an amazing venue with first-class sound of which the festival takes good note programming experimental and avant-garde music intersecting with mainstream electronic dance music and a mix of genres: from dark electronica to noise/drone and ambient. Atonal also unites different generations of musicians, from legendary masters to young up-and-coming talents.
The festival has a solid and coherent narrative, thus the actual sixth edition, as every year, presents site-specific artistic installations that complete and enrich the festival rooted music schedule. Located throughout the three floors, when our ears are fatigued of sounds, moods and frequencies liberated of tonal hierarchies and musical dissonances, one can wander among the art installations giving life to various areas of the powerplant.
The visual program is completed with site-specific panoramic projection screen, entitled Projektionsfläche, which screens in loop different films every day.
Beyond stages and screens, eight audio-visual installations are placed across the three floors of Kraftwerk: ground, mezzanine, and first floor where they are continuously exhibited during the five days of the festival. Here we have arranged the list of artworks according to the natural circulation from the entrance to the building and up.
Etiolation by Mary Lennox
This year most visible and exquisitely arranged work is a gigantic organic intervention made of an iron structure similar to a crane where four gigantic bamboo trees are placed. Etiolation (2018) intersects vertically the entire height of the building. It can be seen in the bottom floor, middle floor and top floor. For the installation the artist has turned the attention to the fathomless Kraftwerk space, using organic materials to play with the venue’s raw, machined finish and oversized scale.
Mary Lennox is the avant-garde Berlin-based florist that has been gathering an international attention with its unorthodox approach to plant choice, unconventional arrangements and unusual settings.
The Belt by Michael Tan + Privacy
Entering the atrium of columns lighted in red for the occasion, we first find The Belt (2018). The piece is an audio-visual diorama, in the centre, there is a functioning gaming PC. An exaggerated water cooling system spreads far beyond the confines of its typical housing, creating a sculptural form constructed from everyday PC components. The computer powers an array of small LCD screens and a sound system, delivering a hyper-construct of gaming counter-culture, customised PC hardware and computer-driven club music. The Belt explores the aesthetic, cultural and economic comparisons between East and West through modern gaming, club culture, and tech-industry design principles.
Berlin-based visual artist Michael Tan focuses his practice on creating digital works, 3D rendered and real-time images for video, animation and installation. Using computer hardware and software, procedural and traditional animation, he aims to create audio-visual experiences which explore social and political issues and their relationship to popular culture. The sound and music for the piece are from also Berlin-based producer Dylan Warn aka Privacy who also contributed to set up the hardware.
Radiant by HC Gilje
In the stairwell towards the Keller, there is a laser and phosphorescent paint installation redundantly entitled Radiant (2018) by Norwegian artist HC Gilje. A white laser beam moves over a large surface and draws lines and curves which are only visible for a very short moment before they disappear, except that the light leaves traces. The surface is covered with phosphorescent pigment which captures light and then emits a green shimmer which slowly fades out. The simple forms projected in bursts of light from the white laser are layered onto a constantly evolving web of green shimmering lines.
LSD: Dream Emulator by Osamu Sato
Heading to OHM, prior to the entrance to the dancing room, we find the PlayStation game LSD: Dream Emulator created by Japanese digital artist Osamu Sato dated back in 1998 where he produced and composed the music. In LSD, the player explores surreal environments without any objective. The player can only move and touch objects that will warp them to another setting. The game’s settings are based on a dream diary kept by Hiroko Nishikawa for over a decade. LSD quickly fell into obscurity, but in years since has experienced a resurgence in popularity on the internet due to its eccentricity being an engaging point of discussion for humour blogs. In retrospect, critics have praised its whimsical qualities called it one of the most unnerving, experimental, and unpredictable video games of all time.
Osamu Sato (1960, Kyoto, Japan) is a digital artist, photographer, and composer. A highly reclusive figure who has achieved cult status for his work spanning multiple genres. Although LSD: Dream Emulator was only released in Japan with no commercial success, this work later became his most recognizable one outside of Japan. According to the organization, this is the first time this game is presented in an exhibition context and arrives at Atonal with the blessing of Sato himself on the 20th anniversary of the creation of the game.
Power of One #Surface by Shohei Fujimoto
Up to the stairs, at the very back of the middle floor, it is located the captivating laser installation Power of One #Surface (2018) made of laser projectors, semi-opaque rotating mirrors, engines and a reflecting liquid surface by Tokyo based artist Shohei Fujimoto. The piece evolves every time is presented, for this new version in Atonal he includes the liquid surface where intensely focused rays of light are reflected. Two identical installations are set up in a vertically symmetrical fashion. The work capitalizes on the nature of the mirror between the two installations, with the right and left sides being reflections of each other. The image emitted toward the fixed mirror highlights the tangled quality of substanceless space, where mirrors create a cycle of multiplication and disappearance, and its behaviour changes according to the position of the viewer. The piece incorporates the compression and dilation of time as if the past and future were coming and going, crossing each other’s paths.
Shohei Fujimoto is a Japanese media artist who explores perception and space through the minimal and precise use of controlled light from laser projectors. It is the first time Fujimoto’s work is exhibited in Germany.
VAR by Materiel Matano
Also at the mezzanine, there are two sets of a multi-screen installation named VAR (2018). The piece by Materiel Matano —already in the past edition of Atonal— unfolds in a different way on each of the five evenings of the festival, as it conducts its own investigation, allowing patterns and coincidences to play out across the different screens. Long form footage builds up, with each new media recontextualizing every other. The screens themselves are arranged as in a control room, lending to the whole the sense of voyeurism inherent to a system that is recording itself, along with the self-consciousness of being watched over.
Reverse Osmosis by Mika Oki
New in this edition is the location of installations on the first floor where massive screen projection and Main Stage are located. Looking at the stage, on the right hand, ones find Reverse Osmosis (2017), a work playing with perception and spatiality created by French-Japanese visual and sound artist Mika Oki. Reverse Osmosis is a purification process by which a solvent passes through a porous membrane. In other words, it is about our need to construct alternate versions of the world, gateways to other mental spaces. An imaginary frontier and an immaterial looking glass for children trying to catch the smoke by closing their hands on it. The extraordinary piece was presented in Brussels in 2017 which has been adapted to cope with the powerplant space.
Mika Oki lives and works in Brussels, and has a background in sculpture as well as electro-acoustic music.
Fear Not My knell, For The Second Is Not Last by Laxlan Petras
And finally, on the left side of the Main Stage, there is a weird enough sculptural object, an earthen bell-core named Fear Not My Knell, For The Second Is Not Last (2018) by Frankfurt-based artist Laxhlan Petra. The object has been cast according to traditional methods and following the instructions for bell forming popularised by a counterculture existing in small foundries producing the bell in the place of the church. The form’s exterior surface reveals the hazardous detailed impression of another bell’s forming blade, but on a different skeleton, creating a primordial-artefact, mountain-like appearance.
Every day of the festival, a custom built eight-metre long panoramic screen located in the ground floor features visual art. Each day of the five-day programme is devoted to a specific artist, selected from a wide variety of backgrounds and featuring long-form and generative works.
Deep Dive by Driessens & Verstappen
Canonical Dutch media artists Erwin Driessens and Maria Verstappen present their interactive Deep Dive programme which allows viewers to ‘endlessly’ zoom into pictures that are constantly ‘redefined’ in realtime at every level of magnification.
Hidden Factual by Ricardo Carioba
São Paulo-based artist Ricardo Carioba shows Hidden Factual, an abstract exploration of stimulus and perception. Carioba uses photography, sound pieces, videos and immersive installations, to deal with essential questions of the senses and the perception of what surrounds us. He is interested in the fundamentals of what triggers our attention and the relation between these processes and our own self-conceptions.
Dirtscraper by Peter Burr
Dirtscraper is a game that takes the audience through various levels of the world including industry, and commerce, as you are led through a post-apocalyptic style world with the protagonist, Aria, a janitor and caretaker working within the labyrinth. The work simulates an underground structure whose inhabitants move through spaces shaped by economies and class hierarchies — from mining zones to areas blazing with advertisements to luxury terraces adorned with sculpture. Another interesting feature is that the protagonist, Aria, has been described as a cyborg woman with trans guts, which shows the relationship between a queer or trans body is in the world today.
Dirtscraper ‘smart architecture’ is overseen by artificial intelligence, spatial and social designers that observe, learn, and make changes to the system. As the building decays, the different artificial intelligence entities start to compete and eventually destroy each other. The piece is about the ways society use gaming as an extension for the ways that we take control and power over through different mechanisms.
Peter Burr is a digital and new media artist based in New York. His works gain inspiration from video game design, especially animation. Dirtscraper was created by Burr and Oakland based video-game designer Porpentine. The amazing work was presented last year at VCU ICA Virginia (USA) and has been adapted for the specifications of the festival.
SUM by Thomas Mohr
SUM by Amsterdam-based artist Thomas Mohr is made off 531.441 pictures taken in 30 years, between 1985 and 2015. A stream of memories coming and going, appearing and disappearing through a process of composing, de-composing, re-composing, migrating or transferring. The piece contains big events in the world and also the most private experiences. From 9/11, Hiroshima, political, social, economic, cultural conditions and art to father, mother, family, coffee time, and being between here and there.
Lonely Voices by Zhao Liang
The program is completed with Chinese filmmaker Zhao Liang travelled to northern Ukraine to film his commission entitled Lonely Voices.
The old control room, Schaltzentrale, hosts improvisation sessions by various artists in a space that still has the old power consoles and has been filled with huge modular synthesizers. This year SchneidersLaden returns to host the programme, running each night of the festival concurrently with the concerts on the Main Stage.
This little room offers a unique platform for intimate and surprising musical experiments, every day there are a set of musicians, featuring among others: Robert Lippok, Daniel Miller, Mark Verbos, Lady Starlight, Merlin Ettore, Octachoron, ZV_K, 2244 & COP, Mirages, Jessica Kert, Jako Jako, Benjamin Flesser, Palais d’Amour, Tom Körting and Feld but also spontaneous collaborations are welcome.
Atonal can be visited at Kraftwerk Berlin, Köpenicker Str. 70, 22-26 August 2018
Text and photographs: María Muñoz