Berlin cements its lead as Europe’s digital art capital

DIS-curated biennial and the inaugural show of Julia Stoschek’s satellite play to city’s strengths

Berlin is embracing digital-savvy (and digital-skeptic) artists with two major exhibitions this month. The back-to-back openings of World on a Wire at the Julia Stoschek Collection and the ninth Berlin Biennale: the Present in Drag, are no coincidence in a city teeming with tech startups.   

World on a Wire, the inaugural exhibition of the Berlin satellite of the Julia Stoschek Collection, takes its name from the 1973 sci-fi film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The show features 38 works—mostly videos made between 2015 and 2016—by 20 artists, many of whom are also exhibiting at the Berlin Biennale. The temporary satellite of the Düsseldorf-based video art collection spans two floors of the former Czech cultural centre in Berlin. A preserved wood-paneled theater from the 1960s is the backdrop for a giant projection of Ian Cheng’s “live simulation” computer game, which is based on an algorithm that could (in theory) run forever. Other highlights include two films by Wu Tsang and Jon Rafman’s Betamale Trilogy. At the opening press conference, Klaus Biesenbach, the director of New York’s MoMA PS1 and the co-founder of the Berlin Biennial described the satellite as “a museum-quality space” and “a fantastic contribution to Berlin”. 

Ian Cheng, Emissary Forks at Perfection (2015). (Image: courtesy of the artist and Pillar Corrias, London)

Similarly, the Berlin Biennale, organised by the artist collective Dis, marks a new golden age for video art. Many of the exhibits are HD-video installations complete with their own lavish environments. But some of the more recognisable names in digital and video art are presenting works that offer a rather pessimistic view of reality; the internet and digital technology is treated as insidious and sinister. “The present is unknowable, unpredictable and incomprehensible,” Dis writes in its curatorial statement. The works span the whole spectrum of digital media, from the film essay, to the music video, virtual reality, mockumentary, video game, and advertising, with aesthetics that range from the excessive and disturbing to the sophisticated and coolly elegant.

But the exhibition expands beyond the non-functional, with a juice bar by Debora Delmar Corp, guided workout sessions by Nik Kosmas, a live musical by Ei Arakawa, and an original music soundtrack made in collaboration between artists and musicians. Back online, the biennial’s digital platform, Fear of Content, updates daily with theoretical essays, artist interviews and digital projects. Among them is an online exhibition organised by the New Scenario collective titled Body Holes, where 44 artists have created tiny artworks and “installed” them in people’s mouths, ears, noses, and private parts.

The Akademie der Künste’s large glass building is the biennial’s central venue. Other venues include the ESMT European School of Management and Technology, the recently opened Feuerle Collection, and the KW Institute for Contemporary Art—the biennial’s host.