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Berliner Festspiele’s New Art Exhibition Takes Us Inside The Retro-Futuristic Architecture Of ICC Berlin

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Name
Project
The Sun Machine Is Coming Down
Images
Clemens Poloczek
Words

For 10 days only, inside its colossal concrete and aluminum structure, the International Congress Centre Berlin (ICC) has been transformed into a unique experience of art, dance, performance, and film. IGNANT has captured the building’s reopening on the occasion of the praised art exhibition ‘The Sun Machine Is Coming Down’, which marks the 70th anniversary of Berlin’s promoter of cultural events and festivals, the Berliner Festspiele.

An astounding landmark of postwar German architecture, the International Congress Centre ranks among the biggest congress venues in the world. Resembling a free-standing spaceship, the building was the vision of architects Ralf Schüler and Ursulina Schüler-Witte. Constructed in the 1970s, it was considered to be a state-of-the-art vessel for innovation, change, and futuristic exploration. Where millions of visitors once congregated to advance technologies for decades, today sits a dormant colossal venue with indoors untouched and operations at a standstill since 2014.

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Image © Clemens Poloczek for IGNANT Production

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Image © Clemens Poloczek for IGNANT Production

For its 70th anniversary, the Berliner Festspiele has resuscitated the dormant architectural icon

For its 70th anniversary, local cultural events promoter Berliner Festspiele has resuscitated this architectural icon, bringing bodies, plants, sounds, and movement back into its halls and foyers with an exciting 10-day program of Berlin-based and international art positions—initiated by the company’s director Thomas Oberender and a team of curators. Taking advantage of the highly versatile complex (320 meters long, 80 meters wide, and 40 meters high) and its communicating lobbies and rooms, the project, dubbed ‘The Sun Machine Is Coming Down’, proposes an experimental use of the space through on-site showcases from different fields in dialog with the architecture, including performance, film, music, installation, and circus art.

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Image © Clemens Poloczek for IGNANT Production

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Image © Clemens Poloczek for IGNANT Production

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Image © Clemens Poloczek for IGNANT Production

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Named after the promising lyric from musician David Bowie’s 1969 song ‘Memory of a Free Festival’, the exhibition celebrates not only Bowie as a cultural game-changer and pioneer in the art of transformation (and a Berliner himself at that time), but also the spirit of freedom at festivals—so well captured in his song—which has seemed so remote in our current pandemic-afflicted times. Honoring the building’s original purpose and with discourses of cohabitation, knowledge, and social behavior uniting the different art positions, with ‘The Sun Machine is Coming Down’, the slumber of the ICC becomes the dream of another, better, world.

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Image © Clemens Poloczek for IGNANT Production

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Image © Clemens Poloczek for IGNANT Production

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Image © Clemens Poloczek for IGNANT Production

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Image © Eike Walkenhorst

The program is based on a principle of simultaneity, with a format of acoustically and visually overlapping positions across different foyers and rooms. Over a period of 3.5 hours, visitors are invited to take a journey through time, by freely exploring the scenic building and the comprehensive program; from the permanent installations and screenings played on loop to the daily and repeated temporary formats, announced or occurring spontaneously. The former include screenings of the Julia Stoschek Collection in the largest room, Hall 1, with films created between 1978 and 2018 and questioning the position of the body in social structures. In Hall 3, video works assembled by Thilo Fischer and David von Stein provide insights into the Berliner Festspiele’s 70-year history, bringing together news, conversations, and concerts; while in Hall 2, music curator Martin Hossbach explores how the ICC architecture interacts acoustically, with an expanded music program of concerts and lecture performances by international and local musicians.

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Across the lower foyers, the Berliner Festspiele has installed time-based yet permanently accessible artworks, including Markus Selg’s glass cabinets filled with future and archaic realities, sound installations by Richard Janssen, and guidance systems by light artist Frank Ohering, designed in the 1970s and reactivated for the exhibition—the most prominent being the giant light sculpture at the core of the ICC machine, dubbed ‘the brain’. In the upper foyers, Floating University Berlin offers a variety of talk formats on biodiverse forms of cohabitation while the ‘Spider Walks’ by Studio Tomás Saracene look at lives pushed to margins. Also discussing the connection of knowledge with new needs is Russian artist Joulia Strauss, through sculptures, installations, and discursive sèances.

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Image © Clemens Poloczek for IGNANT Production

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Image © Eike Walkenhorst

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In the middle foyers, the dialog between artificial and human intelligences is the focus of Monira Al Qadiri and Raed Yassin’s permanent installation, in which three kinetic busts tell of the artists’ bizarre experiences and dreams during the Covid-19 pandemic. Performer Ayaka Nakama also celebrates the boundary between the grotesque and the dreamlike, with a four-hour solo ‘Freeway Dance’ in a living botanic garden. Dance and circus art curated by circus icon Wolfgang Hoffman reinterpret spatiality, through counter gestures and performances that play with conditions that are constantly threatened by failure—flying, dreaming, emptiness, transformation, and illusion.

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Image © Eike Walkenhorst

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Image © Eike Walkenhorst

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Through these and more, the exhibition creates a bridge between local and international positions as well as a dialog between different fields of interest and reference, encouraging visitors to consider narratives and issues they may not have previously encountered. Making the ICC architecture the loudest voice in the room, the project also reinvigorates the relationship we have with our surroundings and broader contexts, while pointing to the potentials and limits of shaping our own future. Running from October 7 to 17, 2021, ‘The Sun Machine Is Coming Down’ is open daily from 4PM and 2PM on weekends. To see the full program and reserve your slot, click here.

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Image © Clemens Poloczek for IGNANT Production

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