Jakob Kudsk Steensen – Berl-Berl

By Nic Boivin (King’s College London)

Berl-Berl transports you to the natural landscape of Berlin from one of its most urban spaces: the Berghain nightclub. Jakob Kudsk Steensen carefully reconstructs the wetlands where Berlin now stands digitally, and projects them onto screens that are placed on two levels of dance floor. Using the game engine Unreal, he combines data from his photographic studies in Berlin-Brandenburg, sound recordings from the archives of the natural history museum, and mythological elements of the wetland and its history. The result is a digital environment where art is combined with both modern science and technology.

Berl-Berl is an opportunity to return to Heidegger’s The Origin of the Work of Art. It allows us to experience what it might mean for an artwork to reveal a world: it pushes beyond mere representation and tells us of the ancient terrain of Berlin and the relationship people had to it. For instance, the music played over the projections on occasion resembles the ancient Slavic songs used to navigate the terrain at night. We can thereby catch a glimpse of what it must have meant to live in and travel through these wetlands.

Whilst the artwork reveals the ancient wetlands, the Berghain building itself reveals a contemporary, modern world: the architecture and structure of the hall is a testament of Berlin’s alternative subculture and clubbing scene. This contrast can be considered either distracting or helpful – but as the LAS art foundation writes:

“The swamp and the club are not so different – both are places of metamorphosis. Just as our ancestors navigated nature through song, one might go to Berghain to practice new forms of traversing the present, new forms of transformations.”

We are thereby shown two worlds that occupy the same space but at different times, with two very different examples of people standing in a relation to their environment, that nevertheless share a common structure. This invites us to reflect not just on the past, but also the present and future of Berlin and its inhabitants.

Berl­-Berl is thus an exhibition where the curation by Emma Enderby is just as vital as the exhibited artwork itself. I can only recommend going to anyone who happens to pass by Berlin before it ends on 26 September 2021.

Nicolas Boivin (b. 1998) is from Basel, Switzerland and lives in London. He holds a BA in analytic philosophy from KCL and currently pursues his postgraduate studies in political economy at LSE. Alongside his studies he maintains a keen interest in art, art theory and aesthetics.