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Christopher Bauder Talks Us Through the Rave Experiences That Influenced the New ‘DARK MATTER’ Exhibition

"It's a manifestation of what Berlin means to us and to me in terms of the creative possibilities that it offers."

Located in the outer edges of East Berlin, Rummelsburg is a neighborhood with a strong industrial history. In recent years, the area around Köpenicker Chaussee has developed into a creative hub wedged between power plants and factories. This is the home of DARK MATTER, a new multimedia exhibition appropriately housed in a recovered factory building.

DARK MATTER spans the 15 years of technical innovation and visionary works by WHITEvoid, a creative studio launched by pioneering light artist Christopher Bauder. Bauder’s impressive body of work includes the Lichtgrenze installation, commissioned in 2014 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall,  SKALAR, the acclaimed installation produced in collaboration with techno veteran Kangding Ray, as well as DEEP WEB, created in partnership with musician Robert Henke, the latter two having attracted more than 160,000 visitors across  Berlin, Zurich, Amsterdam and Mexico. For the first time,  DARK MATTER will present beloved works like GRID, a light piece usually on display at the Hakkasan nightclub in Las Vegas, and CIRCULAR, one of Bauder’s more personal classic pieces, as well as new pieces like INVERSE, a brand-new installation specifically created for the exhibition space.
After months of uncertainty, Berlin’s current low incidence rate of Covid-19 and the corresponding lifting of certain restrictions by the Berlin Senate, DARK MATTER is finally open from June 4th, with tickets on offer until the 20th of June. To celebrate the occasion, we caught up with Bauder to find out more about how DARK MATTER came together and what visitors can expect of the show.

Electronic Beats: Hi, Christopher. How are you? 

Christopher Bauder: I’m good. 

EB:  Well, it’s nice to talk to you again. It certainly feels like it’s been a lifetime since our call back in February. Let’s catch up briefly about how your year has been. I’m sure you have a lot to tell me about.

Christopher Bauder: Well, it’s been a difficult year because we almost work exclusively in the event industry, as you know. But we’re super happy to finally be able to open DARK MATTER, of course, to finally show it to our city.

EB: Can you tell us about some pieces and also about the general themes of the exhibition?

Christopher Bauder: The name DARK MATTER is already part of the program. The building’s outside is black, and it’s black inside, too. That is very unusual because these are old industrial buildings, but they’re just pitch black inside and outside. We kept the original structure of the buildings, but we wanted to create a neutral space, so every room can be charged with a different kind of energy. 

As far as the pieces go, it’s basically a best-of of our history. It’s my personal history as a light artist and also, of course, the history of my companies, WHITEvoid and KINETIC LIGHTS. So these pieces are the best of projects from almost 20 years of work in this field. There’s my very first interactive piece, the TONE LADDER, for example, which is on display again after, I don’t know, 15 years of storage.

And then we have adaptations of some pieces. For example, the POLYGON PLAYGROUND, my first interactive projection mapping piece from 2007, which we have updated with the possibilities of modern generative real-time environments. We have totally different graphical possibilities of what we can project and how we can interact with it, so we’re bringing that to a new level. There’s also the BONFIRE installation, which is a very meditative room where you basically just sit around a gigantic fire made from LEDs. LIQUID SKY is a kind of variation on the product we once created for Philips. That’s one of the last pieces, and it’s in the mirrored room, presented in the same way as in 2012 in an exhibition in Paris where the whole room had mirrors on all sides. So you have this endless feeling of being underwater and looking up at the surface of a sea or a starry sky or something like that.

 

EB: That’s so exciting! And obviously sound plays a huge role in DARK MATTER as well. You even have a special sound system incorporated in the show, so talk us through that.

Christopher Bauder: The sound system is very different from a typical speaker setup, on a technical level. It’s not a couple of big loudspeakers. It’s thousands of very small loudspeakers and actuators. I think it’s about two thousand individual speakers in one room and our software can manipulate the latencies between the speakers and allows them to position the sound in space in relation to where you are in the room. With this sound system, we have a really full and broad range of sound. We collaborated with Kling Klang Klong, a studio that took care of the sound composition of POLYGON PLAYGROUND, and they had a connection to the HOLOPLOT sound system. It’s a very fortunate coincidence that they’re also in Berlin, and they were looking for an opportunity to show off their sound system. So it’s a fortunate partnership for both of us.

EB: Christopher, some of the rooms in DARK MATTER, like GRID, connect your work in nightlife. GRID was actually on display at the Hakkasan club in Last Vegas. How does being part of the club scene inspire your work?

Christopher Bauder: Both [my collaborator] Robert Henke and I came out of Berlin’s clubbing underground, going to parties and enjoying the visuals. Robert, as you know, basically created today’s Berlin underground or experimental sound with Ableton, where he is one of the two founding fathers. Most of the rooms in DARK MATTER represent my roots, as well as the future of where this can go. I mean, Berlin clubs are very understated, you know, like not too many flashing lights and very reduced. And it’s not about the lighting. It’s not about the music. It’s about the sound and the dancers and all those things, which I love.

But I’m also a bit of a visual geek. And of course, I like the opulence of having a strong projection system. One club that I really enjoyed was Maria am Ostbahnhof, for example, when it still existed. At one point, lights were almost equal partners to the sound and the DJ, and then they kind of fell back and kind of disappeared into obscurity. And I kind of like to bring that back. And of course, at DARK MATTER, we have flashy lighting here and a massive sound system, but I’ve wanted to put the visuals and the sound kind of on the same level. Because if you look at modern DJ shows or electronic music live shows, it’s a massive visual live show. But no one is talking about the people who make this happen.

Light is still not recognized as an art form on its own, as it should be. And this is also something that we want to kind of manifest in that space. The quality that exists today between the person who produces the sound and the person creating the visuals is on the same level.

Light is still not recognized as an art form on its own.

EB: Let’s dive into some of your experiences with Berlin’s club scene when you first arrived, how did you perceive the city at the time?

Christopher Bauder: When I first time I came to Berlin in the mid-90s, I was here to work as a props assistant on film and TV productions. I got to experience that year’s Love Parade, and I remember being totally drawn in by the combination of vibrant colors, both from the music and the visuals. For me, the club experience was always about the haze, the lights, and the lasers. What I also loved about Berlin was the industrial style of the buildings and the venues where clubbing was happening, the raw potential of it all.

The music we’d hear at clubs felt like from the future. And when I was accepted at the University of the Arts here in Berlin, I started designing with digital media and I wanted to contribute to the club scene by creating veejaying software to mix videos because nothing existed at that time. You had to write your own tools. I was very fascinated by the growing possibilities of video projections at that time, like projection mapping. My imagination was it would be in between the dancers and it would be kind of one big immersive experience of sound and visuals and light and everything as one unit. I didn’t like this separation. And then I started VJing in some clubs and some festivals. When I built TONLEITER, one of the oldest pieces on display at DARK MATTER,  I went on tour with it through clubs for about three years.

At these club nights, we’d always be one of the crazy acts that performed that night. So basically I came up in this club environment and since I was studying in art school in Berlin in the midst of techno and club scene developments, of course, every night one of your classmates was either organizing one of those parties or doing the visuals or was DJing, or something. Every night we went somewhere to experience one of those audio-visual experiences. So that was basically my upbringing.

At art school, I learned about how to program things and met the people I needed to kind of familiarize myself with the tools and the scene. But the club environment is where we really learned what forms the basis of what I’m doing today. That’s where my inspiration comes from, even to this day.

EB: I mean, in that regard, do you sometimes ever step back and think how lucky you are to have been part of this iconic era?

Christopher Bauder: I’m not a particularly nostalgic person, not at all. I mean, Berlin and the 90s is part of my personal history, but I would never say that any of it was better than any of what’s happening today. There are totally new possibilities with virtual formats. And now you have VR clubbing, which is moving forward based on a tradition I was lucky enough to see the beginnings of. But I like that the club scene is still developing and moving forward and evolving. And I’m not sentimental about clubs closing. It’s a necessary process of something new to be able to come up, other people doing new things, trying new directions, finding new areas of Berlin where underground can happen. I mean, when I came to the city, the underground area was still Mitte, can you imagine? No one can imagine it anymore.

EB: Now it’s like Rummelsburg or Schöneweide.

Christopher Bauder: Exactly, now it’s actually moving in the direction of where we’re sitting now or in other areas of the outskirts. And I like that it moves through the city and it kind of develops some areas, and then it’s forgotten again, and it pops up somewhere else. I think the amount of creative force and expression and what people are trying and what’s possible are exactly the same. I just don’t know all of it anymore. When I was studying, of course, you were front and center, and you knew everything that was going on. But I still think younger generations have the exact same possibilities in Berlin, it’s just in other spots and other ways. Berlin is so big and influences from all over the world are so vast. When I came here, it was mostly people from West Germany coming and kind of making East Berlin their own. And then people from all over Europe came and then people from the US came. And it’s an endless stream of fresh blood coming from all over the world. I think the creative force here is as strong as it was in the late 90s when I came.

EB: That’s really cool to hear.

Christopher Bauder:  DARK MATTER is a manifestation of what Berlin means to us and to me in terms of the possibilities that it offers. I mean, this is also an old abandoned production facility. They were doing styrofoam packaging here before we set up our space. The oldest building is from the fifties or sixties, the newest one from the 90s. So it kind of also is a representation of Berlin. And it’s in the middle of the industrial area of Lichtenberg with the power plant right next to it. Our left-side neighbor is Sisyphos, a very well-known Berlin club. We’re in a perfect spot here, location-wise.

EB: Yeah, exactly. So how can people visit the exhibition, if they are in town?

Christopher Bauder:  You can book a time slot between June 4th, our opening date, and June 20th on our website. The exhibition is arranged as a one-way system, and the tour of the premises lasts roughly 45 minutes.

This interview has been edited for clarity. 

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Published June 04, 2021. Words by Caroline Whiteley.