Made in Berlin


MADE is one of those improbable places that actually exist, and I’m glad it does. An art-funding project geared towards collaboration, MADE provides artists with what it modestly describes as its “toolbox”: a 4500-square-foot space in Berlin designed by the architect Alexis Dornier, with an adaptable layout and customized lighting system, in which to do something unexpected.

Underwritten by Absolut Vodka (which worked with Warhol’s Factory in the 80s), MADE invites artists to collaborate on a project, ideally to come up with a new approach to each of their practices. Founded in 2010 by artist Tadi Rock and her partner Nico Zeh, the team spent one year researching the ideal studio space with artists from various disciplines. The result is an artist’s fever dream that offers the studio space and funds to realize projects deemed too wayward for other venues. Zeh summarizes it as, “this is the best we could think of. We hope you (the artists) feel inspired and do something great here.”

The only provision is that each artist needs to go out of his or her comfort zone. “We want to do something that hasn’t been done before. We don’t have any final concepts when we start a project; it’s all about the idea. I just want to dive into this direction and whatever comes out is the right result,” Zeh says. “If the idea is powerful, and we’re able to add certain partners that also share this same passion for this idea, no one really knows where it’s going to take us. You don’t have to worry about the result. It’ll be beautiful anyway.”


Past projects include performances of a robot programmed to sculpt objects, the shape determined by the notes played on an accompanying violin; a choreographed work by the poet Ebon Heath, presented with Talib Kweli; and a visual dialogue with Yohji Yamamoto (the exhibit stated, “This installation is not about fashion”). For Zeh, “The main purpose of us doing this is to be a place for inspiration.” Their most recent project is with the Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds and the German media artist Joachim Sauter. Both artists have a history of interdisciplinary collaboration.

Joachim Sauter is a media artist and designer. In 1988, he co-founded ART+COM to research digital technologies within the context of art and design. His work has been shown in the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and the Venice Biennale. Ólafur Arnalds began studying piano as a child and, as a teenager was a drummer for metal bands. He later turned to classical compositions and has toured with Sigur Rós. Arnalds’ most recent album, For Now I Am Winter, debuted at No. 1 on the American classical charts. I joined them at the MADE space to talk about their installation Symphonie Cinétique, in which five of Sauter’s kinetic sculptures are choreographed to Arnalds’ compositions.


Fiona Bowles: Can you tell me a little about the installation?

Ólafur Arnalds: It’s the first time that Joachim had them (the sculptures) together, and we thought it would be cool to make them all speak to each other. The music helped to initiate that conversation. I wrote a part to every piece, and the idea is that they work alone, but if you’re playing all of them together, they become like a symphony: that’s the woodwinds section and that’s the trombone section and that’s the violin section, or something like that. And together, they play.

Fiona: Joachim, how complex was choreographing the kinetic sculptures? I know that you’ve done choreography before with some of your other projects; is programming them to the music a technique you already had in place?

 Joachim Sauter: We have an editing tool that makes things quite easy. After getting the music, we arranged them (the sculptures) so they’re connected to the music. This was not such a big deal. It’s also essentially what you like to do; after making all this heavy stuff, then finally, the moment where you can choreograph . . . it’s what you’re working for, at the end. Seeing them with the music, it’s really much, much better.


Fiona: I know both of you work a lot with collaborations, and this space is quite special here in terms of how they approach these projects. How was this for you, translating your media into someone else’s language, and working towards a final outcome? What the tricky parts were, what were the easy parts were…

Ólafur: For me, the biggest difference between doing this and doing music for a record or a movie or whatever, is that this music is tailor-made for the room. It’s made to be played here, it’s made for this moment, with these pieces, and it’s not necessarily supposed to work anywhere outside this room. It’s to create this very moment in the performance or in the exhibition. It’s not created for anything else. We could talk about challenges, but I think it’s mostly opportunities. You can structure music in completely different ways. You can combine elements that you otherwise wouldn’t combine, because you have all this space to work with. It’s been a nice process that opened my eyes to a lot of new things that I wouldn’t do if I were just sitting down in my studio like usual.

Joachim: It’s the same with me. I like the phrase that it’s only opportunities. I’ve never seen them (the sculptures) together with music: this was a big surprise because the ones that are all out in the world, they all have their context. In Singapore at the airport (where one of his pieces is installed)  - what is this music called, that you get there?


Ólafur: Airport music? . . . Elevator music.

Joachim: It’s kind of elevator music. There’s always some kind of sound or music, but they’re not meant to be together. That’s the first time that they have sound together with them, and I’ve seen that it’s really much better. This was a big experience for me, to have this opportunity. It was also interesting seeing these pieces together. Usually they’re alone, either out in the world, or in the drawer, but now they’re coming to life. I’ve never seen them together, and I see that they’re really working together. They’re speaking to each other; there’s some kind of genes that are implemented through the father or whatever. This was also a very interesting experience.

Fiona: I had a similar experience recently; I had to condense my history into a statement of interests and it’s so nice sometimes to see a coherent narrative come from it. When, to be completely honest, I really didn’t think there was any. And then to have something come from it, it’s like, it’s not all chaos.

 Joachim: Yeah, exactly. Especially with these things. I don’t like the word harmony, but there’s a kind of harmony in their going together. They’re consonant with each other; not dissonant. But it could have been! Then the project would have been something different.

Ólafur: Then that would have been an opportunity to make them fight!

Fiona: I was living in New York before, and when I first got to Berlin people kept telling me, “Things don’t work the same way here as they do in New York,” and “There’s a different mindset here,” and that I walk too fast. I think there’s something to be said about context: I hear all the time, “This could only happen in Berlin,“ or “Berlin is in a very particular moment because of its history.” Do you think the city had a role in what’s going on here?

Ólafur: I’m not sure if necessarily Berlin, but I think definitely this space. This space gives opportunities to do our special thing. The spirit in which everybody is working here, and how everyone just wants ideas to be free, you know, no restraints. It’s a wonderful space to work in. I’m more affected by this room than the city.

Joachim: This couldn’t this happen in Munich or in Hamburg.  As a Berliner, the city is very, very influential. The city is under permanent process compared to other cities, because we had five different political regimes in the past century: we had the Prussian Monarchy, then we had the Weimar Republic then we had the Nazis, then we had the Communists, and then the Reunification. And everyone tried to destroy the legacy of the former ones, so it’s an ugly city architecturally. It’s all about process, it’s all about destroying and rebuilding, destroying and rebuilding . . . Working in new media as I’m doing, it’s also all about process; it’s a process-based medium. I think that my studio wouldn’t work anywhere else in the world. We founded the studio before the Wall came down, so being in that process was very influential to our work in general.

Fiona: How was it influential?

Joachim: Berlin had been an island of the innocent. We had the Wall around, and a lot of money was put into West Berlin to be kept as a part of the western world. Then suddenly the Wall fell, and two totally different mindsets came together. This was the most exciting thing that I’ve ever experienced in my life. Suddenly the city was twice as big; not only physically, but also mentally twice as big. You had all the East Berliners and the West Berliners coming together. There was suddenly a kind of pace you couldn’t imagine.

Fiona: Here I found things to be a lot more collaborative and open, and very, very tolerant.

Ólafur: I feel that too, actually. Here and also where I come from in Iceland. I come from a very similar art scene; it’s artists working together to create something that is bigger than us, instead of competing because you need to pay your rent.

Joachim: Doors are open here. Everyone, every circle is welcoming to you the first time, but then you have to prove yourself. But you get the chance.

Fiona: Ólafur, how has coming from Iceland influenced your art?  What’s it like?

 Ólafur: The art scene is very small, but it achieves big things. I think that’s especially due to its collaborative effort. In the music scene, everybody knows you’re not going to sell a lot of records, because it’s a small country. There’s not much of this mainstream commercialism because it’s pointless: an indie act sells just as many albums as a pop act. It’s just that small of a place. That makes people stop caring about what will sell things, and more caring about the creation that you’re making. Same with all the different genres mixing together; there’s not enough people for there to be space for a big punk scene, or a big classical scene. Together its just one scene, one mixture of people doing a lot different types of art. They all collaborate together, and it becomes this nice soup of mixed ideas, which in the end creates a very special space. I think that’s why many people talk about Iceland as a place where stuff happens that isn’t necessarily happening anywhere else.


Fiona: And how did everything come together in this project?

 Joachim: The overall goal that we want to achieve is the idea to create poetry. This is something that is in a kind of renaissance; this is what I observe. In a time where any kind of information can be accessed at any place in the world directly and easily, people have to desire again to go into poetry.  In poetry you use metaphor, you use totally different moments, to make things not only obviously clear but to decipher them in a poetic way, and this is what we try to do here.

Fiona: Maybe a reaction to the Age of Information? . . .”The Age of Intuition”.

Ólafur: I’m not sure if it’s a very conscious reaction to that, but in the end it is. It’s an unconscious reaction. We’re creating a moment of poetry, and peace and fascination with something where you can just be quiet and watch beautiful movements, which doesn’t happen a lot. Even galleries have become fast-paced. Here we want to create a moment. We’re not necessarily trying to create something that we can later re-create.  It’s just about this very moment and then people can cherish that.


Symphonie Cinétique opens July 6th at MADE, Alexanderstrasse 7, and runs through July 28. For more information:

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