Meet the Berlin artists trawling Europe's biggest electronics show for inspiration
Daniel Keller at ABC courtesy of Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin
“4K or go home!” laughs Canadian artist Kate Samsom. Dazed is with Sansom and fellow artists Britta Thie and Daniel Keller at IFA, Europe’s largest consumer electronics show.
She’s referring to the dominance of enthusiastic marketing and products highlighting their Ultra-HD resolution specs. The show is seductive: ceilings gilded with LED heavens; walls skinned with crystal sharp screens and floors massed by plastic, metal and warm bodies.
There are Roombas and phablets, plasma screens, networked household appliances, smart-phones, smart-watches, smart-fridges and smart-everything else. For a group of tech-engaged professionals and artists, IFA is one of the surprisingly few treffpunkts in Berlin where their conceptual drives converge and overlap.
While the artists here acknowledge the power of their laptop-wielding start-up counterparts, direct engagement between the two scenes is rare
Daniel Keller has lived here for over eight years as one half of artist duo Aids-3D. His practice engages with “a multitude of issues at the intersection of art, technology, economics and social activism.” Soundcloud founder Alexander Ljung also cites the “intersection of art and technology” as one of the decisive factors in establishing his company in Berlin (he’s from Sweden).
The capital is a young incubator for many tech start-ups, largely made up of European transplant workers like Ljung. Sometimes referred to as ‘Silicon Allee’, the entrepreneurial influx has been attributed to the lack of traditional structures found in London or Paris and the city’s location as a natural gateway between more mature Western economies and an ample supply of Eastern European nerd-talent.
Google (who have offices in the city) alone has invested over €1 million into The Factory, a new office hub that will act as a nexus for the city’s tech entrepreneurs and investors. And yet, while the artists here acknowledge the power of their laptop-wielding start-up counterparts, direct engagement between the two scenes is rare.
One exception is Simon Denny. The New Zealand born artist is currently working towards a show in January at Galerie Buchholz which will addresses the “tech ecosystem” in Berlin. His research has led him to engage with several initiatives and attend their events: pitches, networking conferences, ‘hackathons’ and ‘Seedcamps’. His interest stems from a continual pursuit to identify and represent networked relationships; the interconnections between “communities of things” and composite elements or groups.
Denny is hopeful any disparity between the city’s tech camp and artist community will subside but recognises that “very generally, the type of art that tends to attract [the tech community] is probably a different type of art than most of my peers make”, citing a preference towards “street art or something similar” which is also popular in Berlin. Indeed, one of the richest artists in the world is street artist David Choe, who received approximately 4.5 million shares of Facebook stock (now worth over $200 million) for the mural he made for the interior of the company headquarters.
I often think about the emotional connection you have with an interface, you wanna touch it or grab it or be more close to it, develop this physical relationship
German artist Britta Thie also points to divergent attitudes towards integration. “Both come for the cheap rent and cultural variety, but I feel like start-ups are harvesting time here with a view to move on eventually. Artists seem to unfold their creative potential better here, they settle. There are personalities from both scenes and maybe they meet at Soho House or a sponsored dinner or wherever but their interactions are superficial or strategic; it’s never about a genuine shared interest in German culture.”
Thie’s work addresses emotional mediation within object relationships, as illustrated in her project Sweat on Retina; “I often think about the emotional connection you have with an interface, you wanna touch it or grab it or be more close to it, develop this physical relationship”.
Of this year's IFA, she says “You walked in and it was this overwhelming moving image tunnel – nothing was still, everything was animated and intense. The first TV my parents had was a Sony and it’s weird how branding can have such an impact on how you relate to culture. Every film or advert or show was mediated by that Sony screen. Displays are so much more real and attractive and animated now - they pull you in.”
Simon attended last year's IFA and was also impressed by LG’s curved OLED screens: “Major shifts in hardware design always excite me. And I would love to go to CES [Consumer Electronics show, Nevada] in January. I love to attend tech fairs and events. I also really want to go to the upcoming Techcrunch Disrupt Berlin in late October. This will be a huge event, I think, for the ecosystem here”.
Another convergent event for this cross-section of individuals is DLD or ‘Digital Life Design’; an annual conference held in Munich to foster cross-pollination and discussion between business, creative and social leaders, opinion formers and influencers. Denny – whose installation All you need is data: the DLD 2012 Conference REDUX rerun is a deconstructionist edit of insights from 2012’s incarnation – is effusive about DLD’s interest in the kind of art he and his peers produce.
Denny’s friend and sometime collaborator Daniel Keller has also been inspired by his experiences as an attendee and speaker at DLD: a casual interest in seasteading (stateless communities that will float on platforms in international waters) was piqued after meeting venture capitalist and Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel at the conference. Ongoing research has culminated in sculptural iterations of what will eventually be presented as a video piece and collaborative book for the Sternberg Press Solutions series.
“My interest in seasteading and TED corresponds with all these consequences of the reigning Californian ideology on global society," he explains. "The language of these tech conferences is always super affirmative, there’s no self-awareness”. A shared interest in digital economies with Simon Denny is driving a collaborative TEDx event to be held in Liechtenstein this winter as “a vehicle for more nuanced critical feedback”.
Thie, Keller and Denny are part of a raft of young artists whose critical enthusiasm for cross-field innovation has led them to produce and show cutting-edge materials from carbon nanotubes to 3D-prints and technical equipment ready-mades.
But, as Denny puts it, “I also have to say I am not only kind of in awe of all this stuff. There are parts of these worlds which I am less celebratory towards, and the projects I make are usually not received as straight-forward celebration. But meeting and working with people from these contexts is what really excites me – when I am able to interface something through one system that also reads in another.”