Published on 10.05.2023
Sven und Clara Sauer
Curators Talk with Sven and Clara Sauer. What they have in common is the development of contemporary exhibition formats that incorporate and illuminate new technologies and make a lasting impression on visitors.
In their exhibition “Machines vs. Human Art”, visitors were able to form their own impression of the quality of AI art today. Each guest could decide for themselves by whom the artworks were presumably created. Human or machine? The focus of their exhibitions at POP KUDAMM is to give visitors access to these themes in a provocative way through audio-visual installations. The visitors of the exhibition “Tulip Mania” found themselves in a pink, misty hall under a rectangle of screens, on cushions, accompanied by a decelerating, suspenseful sound installation. Based on the first documented speculative bubble of mankind: the tulip fever. How do you create perception that stays and, at best, leaves no one out? In the installation “Marionette”, one stepped through the entrance door into the darkness. Walked into a sky of upside-down, flashing tents, accompanied by a melancholic sound and the light of flickering screens. An audio guide led one through the informative and sometimes disturbing content of the videos. An exhibition dealing with Deep Fake Technology. Politicians who put things in their mouths without it being recognisable to the viewer. Heads of VIPs that are imperceptibly exchanged with those of porn actors. All this has become reality. Deep fake reality. All the more reason to understand the necessity and contemporary nature of these exhibitions.
“When do experiences of works of art become fixed in our minds? The Sauer`s pursue this question in their currently created art experience “Himmel unter Berlin”. In an old industrial building, a turbine factory, international artists are shown with installations never seen before. The visitors lose themselves in a dark reinforced concrete labyrinth the size of a football pitch. Through narrow catacombs, past ancient pumps and pipes, between cogwheels and the lifelines of steam engines weighing tons, works are shown that can be seen for the first time and generate a unique experience.
Pop Kudamm:You have done several exhibitions on the theme of artificial intelligence. This year, you curated the exhibition "Marionette" on the theme of Deep fake. What is exciting for you about the artistic engagement with AI?
Clara & Sven:As we are all experiencing right now, AI will be part of our everyday lives in the future. The developments are rapid, impressive but also intimidating. Meanwhile, artificial intelligences are also finding their application in art. This is interesting, because not long ago it was said that human creativity would be the last bastion that could not be taken over by AIs. But current developments disprove that. Apparently, it is the creative industry that must be the first to face this new transformation. Whether text, music or visual art. All three fields are currently being tested by AIs. This own misperception that we as creatives are safe from AIs was worth reporting and developing exhibitions about.
This is precisely where the exciting debate lies: what free creativity really means, where the source of creative work lies and who ultimately controls the creative process - human or machine? This consternation creates an access through which people deal with such important issues.
Pop Kudamm:You used to work a lot in the film industry. How did your fascination for intensive exhibition concepts come about?
Sven:At the beginning of 2014, I had a conversation with a stranger at an art event, which first annoyed me... and subsequently led to what I am doing today. In the course of that conversation, I told the person that I was a little unhappy that the unusual exhibition concepts and spaces of Berlin's 2000s seemed to be disappearing. I don't know what branch my interlocutor was from. But he reacted quite stroppy to my comment with the saying: "Yeah, just do it better!" And ended our conversation by leaving the location.
Motivated by this unfriendly encounter, six months later I came up with the first concept for a series of exhibitions that contained all the unusual approaches that I myself wanted to see in exhibitions. The production was called 360 minutes art and was subsequently shown all over the world for four years. Among others, in Seoul/South Korea or Warsaw/Poland.
We asked ourselves during the development: How would an evening be memorable for us? What would this exhibition have to look like? That is how we are still developing it today...
Pop Kudamm:As an art director in the field of film, you are now also a curator of unusual exhibition formats. How did it come about that you turned to curating art exhibitions?
Clara:I grew up with art from an early age. My mother is a visual artist and my father is a music and sound master in theatre. So I grew up seeing a lot of exhibitions and going to galleries and theatres. After working in contemporary dance for many years, I eventually turned more to film. But similar to Sven, I quickly realised that the film world was too anonymous and unfree for me. Even then, Sven was working on exhibition concepts. Together we developed our first exhibition THE DARK ROOMS with Jeroen Cremers in 2015. We had been very frustrated by visiting the Gallery Weekend, as a large part of the visitors were only busy taking photos of themselves instead of seeing the art. We asked ourselves if we could use a simple trick to bring the focus of the visitors back to the art? So we came up with an exhibition where no selfies are possible. We turned off the lights. When we move around in the darkness and only the art is partially illuminated, we ourselves become invisible. It's no longer about seeing and being seen - but we only concentrate on the work. THE DARK ROOMS was unexpectedly very successful. Apparently we had hit the zeitgeist. Since then we have focused on creating such intense art experiences.
Pop Kudamm:What was one of the issues that moved you most during the research and production for the exhibition "Marionette" on the theme of Deep Fake?
Clara & Sven:We were very amazed at all the things we came across during our research. The values "deep fakes" basically already imply the dark side of this technology. At least I don't know of any positive connection with fake/falsification. But the research has shown that there are incredibly great and positive applications of this technology. Like Deep Fakes as a protection mechanism that documentary filmmaker Ryan Laney used to protect the LGBTQ+ community in Chechnya from torture, hate and violence. It's a brilliant idea to change the faces but keep the gestures so as not to destroy the audience's emotional empathy with the protagonists. This is already a great example of how such technologies can be used in a positive way.
Pop Kudamm:Is the inclusion of technologies a difficult case for artistic engagement?
Clara & Sven:We all notice that our perception has changed extremely due to the technologies that constantly surround us. Everything is getting faster. People used to spend hours looking at an oil painting and discussing it. I myself would be interested to know if this is still the case with younger generations? We know the numbers on Instagram and TikTok behaviour. An average of 12 Instagram pictures per second. Do the same people pause for a moment when they stand in front of a work in a museum? No one has been able to answer this question for me. However, we do know the figures on the age groups of visitors to museums - and these show a dramatic decline in younger guests. Our exhibitions are therefore formats that tend to be aimed at precisely this, younger generation. At least that's what we thought. The stagings always take place on all our levels of perception: Light, sound, environment - everything is included. That's why we focus a lot on audiovisual installations in our concepts. We are fascinated by the effect such works have and how they open up access to topics that people might otherwise not have dealt with. We are all the more surprised that in the last two years more and more guests from all age groups have been visiting the exhibition. Technological topics are no longer the domain of the young. Questions about our turbulent times seem to reach everyone.
Pop Kudamm:How do deep fakes affect media trust, what do you think?
Clara & Sven:We still like to rely on the moving image as the final authority of truth. But this trust is crumbling right now. A 2019 study by the Pew Research Center shows that trust in news has dropped massively and therefore less news is being consumed. This is partly because it takes a lot of effort to check every single news item...which is why many people prefer to avoid looking into the news right away. There is even a term for it: "reality apathy" - the almost complete disinterest in what is happening outside one's own bubble. In the end, we will have to live with deepfakes. Our defence to prevent the worst will be education: Societies and schools will make children fit to deal with deep fakes. And to quote the last two sentences from our exhibition: "Verification expert Wardle appeals to the users of the internet in her New York Times video: "We should take responsibility ourselves. If you are not one hundred percent sure that something is authentic: please don't share it."
“Heaven under Berlin” Photos by Carsten Beier
Pop Kudamm:If the budget didn't matter, what would you like to do for an exhibition?
Sven:I would like to transform a huge industrial area with our team into a walk-in production that swallows up its visitors for over eight hours. We currently manage to keep visitors in our exhibitions for between 1.5 - 3 hours on average. What would happen if they spent a whole day in this staged area? What does it do to our minds?
Pop Kudamm:You have already created three exhibitions at POP KUDAMM. What special features does the temporary cultural venue in City West reflect for you?
Clara & Sven:For us, the POP KUDAMM is a place for experimentation. The special architecture is unique in Berlin. The silver containers react to light and sound. Very different from white rooms. And we were encouraged to think provocatively. This gave rise to themes and content that public institutions would never have allowed. The audience of the Kudamm was another interesting test for us to see if such contentious exhibitions work in this place. It worked. We reached many thousands of people. That's really great.
Pop Kudamm:What future projects can we see from you in the near future?
Clara & Sven:Our next big project is Himmel unter Berlin Vol. 2. For the first time in over 100 years, the underground corridors of one of the largest steam engine factories in Europe will be opened. Together with our team and 12 artists we will transform it into a walk-in art world. Imagine you are in a secret bar. Atmospheric music surrounds you, you are served a drink. A person guides you to a hidden door in an old cupboard. Behind the door, a journey into the minds of 12 artists awaits you. You walk through narrow catacombs, past ancient pumps and pipes. Between the old cooling basins you can see expansive installations of light and sound. And the location is secret. Our guests are only told 48 hours before the visit.
Clara Sauer has been curating immersive exhibitions in Berlin since 2016, which attract a lot of media attention. Before that, she worked as a photographer and as an art director in the field of film, and she also regulates PR and basically the communication of her projects. Her focus lies in the development of unseen and intensive exhibition concepts that enable visitors to have a new encounter with art while questioning the conventional presentation form of the white cube. She was involved in Yoko Ono’s “Half A Wind Show” and “Sky Piece to Jesus Christ” at the Schirn, among others.
Sven Sauer studied communication design with a focus on film at the RheinMain Hochschule in Wiesbaden and became known for his work in international film productions such as “Melancholia” by Lars von Trier, “Super8” by J.J. Abrams and “Oblivion” by Joseph Kosinski. The works Sven Sauer has worked on have won numerous awards, including three Emmy Awards for “Outstanding Special and Visual Effects” with the HBO production “Game of Thrones” and an Oscar for “Best Visual Achievement” in Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo Cabret”.He is part of the “Visual Effects Society” and the “German Film Academy”. In 2012 he founded the artist collective “Sa-Po” with his artist partner Igor Posavec. Between 2010 and 2013, in addition to his work for films and series, he repeatedly created stage designs at the “Hessisches Staatstheater Wiesbaden”. Since 2013, Sven Sauer has been living and working as a matte painter in Berlin.