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Echoes of an era – ‘Techno, Berlin und die große Freiheit’

The exhibition Tresor 31: Techno, Berlin und die große Freiheit in Berlin explored personal stories that shaped techno culture as an artistic and social movement.

by Ayca OkayPublished on : Nov 14, 2022

The legendary night club Tresor in Berlin hosted a personalised audio-led exhibition experience in Kraftwerk titled Techno, Berlin und die große Freiheit (Techno, Berlin and the Great Freedom) in July and August 2022; it was co-curated by Adriano Roselli and Sven Von Thulen. It took the narrative from the techno culture's undulant history, which was born out of the journey of West Berlin's compelling socio-economic and political conditions when becoming a worldwide hub of free expression. The monumental building in the heart of Berlin, which served as a former power station in the city's industrial history, reverberated to the rhythm of techno music once again to commemorate the early 90s cutting-edge cultural explosion through archival objects, photography, sculptures, and videos.

Kraftwerk's gigantic building was built approximately at the same time as the Berlin Wall. Part of the venue re-opened as the legendary nightclub Tresor to host various gigs on a weekly basis. Unlike taking its roots from the nightlife, the Techno, Berlin und die große Freiheit exhibition examined the history of techno culture and interaction between the youth of that time during the daylight.

Multiple Paintings, 1980-2000, David Boysen | Echoes of an era | STIRworld
Multiple Paintings, 1980-2000, David Boysen Image: Courtesy of David Boysen

It is a fact that contemporary art's "Year Zero" started with the demolition of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which created external circumstances to the social, cultural, and economic life of the citizens of all of Germany. A physically tenuous concrete which is also very thick in the way of politics - Berlin Wall ideologically divided Germany for 28 years. Because of the level of welfare in West Berlin, too many young people tried to cross to the West part from DDR's communist potency.

According to the research, over 140 people, including children, were killed while trespassing on the wall to achieve better living conditions. After passing the gloomy air behind, Berlin was re-united with the demolition of the wall and rebuilt itself from a wasteland to the free spirit cosmopolitan city we know today. Abandoned properties left by DDR became new locations for a movement of creativity, freedom, and experimentation in art, music, and culture field.

Teslaism, 2022 Single-channel video projection, Bahar Noorizadeh | Echoes of an era | STIRworld
Teslaism, 2022 Single-channel video projection, Bahar Noorizadeh Image: Courtesy of Bahar Noorizadeh

As a part of the field I mentioned above, Tresor is considered one of the milestones of techno culture. It opened 31 years ago on Leipziger Straße 127 in the former vault of the Wertheim bank, reborn from its ashes with the strong bass rhythm and the dynamics of nightlife. By conceptualising techno culture, the art exhibition Techno, Berlin und die große Freiheit was experienced by the audience with headsets. Proceeding into the monumental building surrounded by a discounted feeling and trying to chase the sunlight gliding from the building's ceiling, instincts became the real guide of the audience to avoid the trespassing feeling.

As an audiophile, curating this type of exhibition is appetising to me, almost like a lifelong memory proliferated by a techno passion. The harmony of deep techno beats and indistinct voices of the recorded toilet chit-chat transforms into fully authentic and immersive experience. Of course, designing an exhibition in this audio landscape could be hard to accomplish. Still, the sound artists Odysseas Constantinou and Rowan Ben Jackson built a sonic atmosphere and installed the sensors efficiently, making the audience traceable when they are experiencing the works of sound art.

The Sun Has No Shadow, 2022, Tresor Tapes, 2022, Two-channel video projections, Rebecca Salvadori | Echoes of an era | STIRworld
The Sun Has No Shadow, 2022, Tresor Tapes, 2022, Two-channel video projections, Rebecca Salvadori Image: Courtesy of Rebecca Salvadori; Commissioned by Tresor Berlin

An imperceptible breeze welcomed the audience on the ground floor when exploring video art of David Boyson, which gave references to award winner record label owner and a "night owl”, so to speak - David Boyson's legacy intertwined with Berlin's nightlife and techno culture. Commissioned as a combination of Tresor Tapes and Rebecca Salvadori's documentary practice, The Sun Has No Shadow went deeper into electronic music communities giving an overarching sense of the London context. This appears by looking at the intimacy between the people taking part; different meta-narratives portrayed under a very subjective and intimate frame, blending peripheral nocturnal landscapes, shots of people dancing, and moments of collective catharsis with more universal reflections such as matters of general existence and vision of life. Salvadori's ten years of documentation practice gave voice to the video.

"It has been an important experience to see these two film works exist together... Something that made me happy was the connection between the two clubs, Tresor Berlin and Fold London... I have always been interested in everything that happens around a film, what a film can generate after it exists. As if it was a stone thrown into the water and producing waves and rings," Salvadori explains.

Stomping Ground, 2022, Anne de Vries, Sand carving by Bouke Atema, Interactive soundscape by Rowan Ben Jackson and Odysseas Constantinou| Echoes of an era | STIRworld
Stomping Ground, 2022, Anne de Vries, Sand carving by Bouke Atema, Interactive soundscape by Rowan Ben Jackson and Odysseas Constantinou Image: Commissioned by Tresor Berlin

Salvadori's video is followed by one of the iconic video pieces of Arthur Jaffa's work titled Apex (winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale in 2019), which I saw before during one of my visits to Copenhagen in the Collection of Louisiana Museum. Apex articulates Kraftwerk's uncanny atmosphere perfectly because the inappropriate images criticising the harm to Black Community are backed by an inciting soundtrack of Robin Hood's Minus, initially released in 1994 on Tresor Records. Furthermore, the second floor was curated almost as an apocalyptic museum; the entire overflew with archival material from the history of Tresor, including several schemes for projects that were never realised: a Techno tower planned for Potsdamer Platz, Tresor Beijing, or a mock-up of a design that would have seen Tresor relocate to Hallesches Ufer.

Another gripping video titled Teslaism was again commissioned by Tresor to Bahar Noorizadeh. The video is based on a musical racing game featuring Elon Musk, his self-driving car/lover, and life coach as they drive towards a shareholder meeting in a post-gamified Berlin landscape. The work takes the newly built Gigafactory in Berlin as a prism to describe the emergence of Teslaism (succeeding Post-Fordism) as a novel system of production and consumption predicated on advanced storytelling, financial world building, and imagineering “the look of the future”.

Installation view: Apex, 2013, Single-channel video projection, Arthur Jafa | Echoes of an era | STIRworld
Installation view: Apex, 2013, Single-channel video projection, Arthur Jafa Image: Courtesy of Julia Stoschek Collection

Heading straight to the top, on the upper floor, artist Anne de Vries traced the possibilities of the materials interlocked with the memory of Tresor. The techno club's legend started with sand and dust and some curious foresighted young people's craving for techno music. And there it was; what's left from Tresor's memory, projected with a site-specific installation titled Stomping Ground. The contemporary art was built of sand on a 1:1 scale, consolidating sounds of the U-Bahn, Berliners, and the city's vibrancy. It is an optional way to read the conceptual narrative of the installation over archeologist Ian Hodder's Entanglement Theory, which puts the relationship between objects and humans forward in the contemporary archeology field. According to Hodder, humans, and objects have intertwined since the beginning of history. The human race attributed various meanings to things, such, as a stone can be a tool for creation; on the contrary, a thrown rock can be a weapon. In this case, sand symbolises urban transformation and ruins of the most influential and vibrant era of techno culture.

Berlin - a city raised from its ashes carrying the legacy of techno culture that proficiently converted physical and mental damage to one of the most creative hubs of free expression. Techno, Berlin und die große Freiheit so to speak…

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