2016 to 2021
From 2016 to 2021, the Berliner Festspiele’s programme series Immersion, under the artistic directorship of Thomas Oberender and with changing curatorial teams, presented the work of artists who transcended the conventional oppositions between work and viewer, stage and auditorium, object and observer. The programme series also aimed to articulate and establish “immersion” as a key term for a different understanding of the world – representing both a new genre and an ancient principle of connectedness.
Its point of departure was the new work forms in theatre and visual arts that changed the format of performances and exhibitions and consequently created new challenges for cultural institutions. The programme series understood immersion as a term for an aesthetic effect that describes experiences where art “gets under our skin”, the moment when we are touched and absorbed because we forget the medium and live within the interior of the work itself – laughing and crying with the characters, forgetting the book in our hands or the screen in front of our eyes. In addition, the programme series also regarded immersion as a genre, a term that has evolved in the digital age to describe both analogue and digital works that blur boundaries and conceal their frameworks in which the public find themselves “at the centre of things”. In these work forms, the place of a classical narrative is taken by a participatory situation that includes the audience and of which they are aware. Immersive formats construct worlds of their own, in which the relationship between the work and its audience is reconceived and based on feedback. We called this way of working – manufacturing symbiotic systems between various agencies that may be social actors but also machines, other species and plants – world-building. This always revolved around work on the format: we produced new forms of symposia, performances and exhibitions all of which took the form of Gesamtkunstwerken, uniting several different art forms, media, actors and infrastructures.
The first phase of the programme focused on artists whose work was characterised by a spatialisation of the time-based art of theatre (e.g. “Nationaltheater Reinickendorf” by Vegard Vinge and Ida Müller or “RHIZOMAT” by Mona el Gammal), together with VR films (“ RHIZOMAT VR” and “ Mutter und Sohn = Realität trifft Kunst (Z.U.K.U.N.F.T. der Unendlichkeit)” by Jonathan Meese and his mother Brigitte Meese). During the second phase of programming the emphasis lay on the production of exhibition concepts marked by the temporalisation of what was otherwise a space-based exhibition format (“Philippe Parreno”, Ed Atkins: “Old Food”, Omer Fast: “Talking is not Always the Solution” and “Welt ohne Außen”). The same thinking also underpinned our interest in fulldome works that animated planetariums as the galleries of the future – where the artist image fills the entire field of vision and, unlike in VR productions, immersion in the aesthetic world is a collective experience (“The New Infinity”). These works led us to concepts for hybrid events positioned between camps and festivals, using a structure of parallel modules to generate both artistic and social spaces that created new experiential worlds by combining aesthetic and political processes (“Down to Earth” and “The Sun Machine Is Coming Down”). A key feature of our series was that we consistently interpreted the idea of immersion in its broadest sense and applied it as a perspective on topics and innovations that went beyond the fields of new media and contemporary art to include science, politics and ecology. The programme series therefore also explored holistic concepts of knowledge (“Limits of Knowing”), the experience of breaking down borders during German reunification (“Palast der Republik”) and climate change – because to us the climate seems to be the most extensive immersive system of all, that no one can view from the outside (“Down to Earth”). In 2021 the idea also led to an immersive showcase for the programme series as part of “The Sun Machine Is Coming Down” and to Tomás Saraceno’s web portal “Nggàm dù” for spider diviners from Somié in Cameroon.
The Living Exhibition
The predominance of white cube, still the prevalent display model in contemporary art, can be traced back to the Enlightenment ideas that isolated things and removed them from their context. The series of exhibitions presented in this book are conceived of as ‘living exhibitions’ that break with this convention, suggesting that the strict separation between exhibit and viewer in the museum could be dissolved in favour an emphasis on interconnection and process. In lieu of seeing of exhibitions as a kind of vessel for content, filled by a changing assortment of objects and themes, the exhibitions featured here play with the format itself, focusing on time-based concepts that promote new kinds of encounters and a new, systemic worldview. As a result, the exhibitions may change daily – indeed, at any time – and take on a life of their own.
Edited by Thomas Oberender, Paul Rabe
With texts by Ed Atkins, Inke Arns, Omer Fast, Dorothea von Hantelmann, Maria Muhle, Philippe Parreno, Rimini Protokoll, Tomás Saraceno, Tino Sehgal, Susanne Witzgall u. a.
Available in the webshop
Down to Earth. Entwürfe für eine Kultur der Nachhaltigkeit
“Down to Earth” brings together 14 visions of a culture of sustainability from the arts, from activist contexts and from science and politics that are committed to radical ecological change: away from western thinking that isolates, extracts and exploits elements of life and towards structures that operate holistically and respectfully.
Edited by Thomas Oberender
With texts by Frédérique Aït-Touati, Dorothea von Hantelmann, Bruno Latour, Hermann E. Ott, Tino Sehgal, Joulia Strauss, Andreas Weber and others
Available in the webshop
Impressions from “Down to Earth”
From 13 August to 13 September 2020, the climate, art and discourse project “Down to Earth” explored how the agenda of a shift in climate policy affects our own “operating system”. We would like to thank all participating artists, experts, visitors, colleagues, partners and interested followers for an exceptional summer project.