Films, sculptures, archival objects, photographs and memories from the club and city history are shown on three floors of the imposing power plant. Tresor 31’s exhibition explores the personal stories that have reinforce techno culture since its inception as an artistic and social movement.
What made you open the TRESOR in 1991? I was running a small record label – Interfisch Records – with a partner. We were looking for a space where we could have our artists perform. There just wasn’t a club in Berlin yet. It was the right moment, the mood sounding the reunification was bombastic, there were no police or bureacracy, everybody was waiting for something NEW. Then we delivered: the old underground vault of a forgotten Jewish department store bank vault in the former border area, which mutated into Tresor, and from Michigan came Detroit techno. That was it: doors open, everyone in.
With three words each, how would you describe the three decades since opening TRESOR in relation to techno and club culture? 1990s: A spirit of optimism, wild years, everything was possible. Overnight, the city had doubled in area. There was a lot of free space. Everyday there was news about new venues, and this was before iPhones or emails. The fax machine was the bridge to the world and the Loveparade called the electronic music community to Berlin. 2000s: Berlin’s night culture grew to encompass over 100 clubs and electro bars, because of the crucial influence of the “no-curfew” law first made in 1949. The club scene continues to serve as an incubator for new micro-businesses: galleries, cafes, vegetarian restaurants and hostels. Night time economy becomes a serious economic force. Techno has changed the DNA of Berlin and the city is becoming a place of longing for millions of young people. However, the city of Berlin is unfortunately ignorant of night culture and sells the Tresor property to the highest bidders. Berghain opens in 2004 with a new concept regarding opening hours/program and pushes the techno movement to new heights. Berlin underpins its place as the capital of electronic music.
What was the most exciting development ever since? The emergence of a unique peaceful night culture and its influence on urban development.
Which role does the TRESOR play in today’s club culture? Tresor is the cradle of the movement and has set standards as a symbol for the peaceful departure of a generation into a new musical era. Tresor has exemplified the values of peaceful celebration, sharing and exchange and has carried these values into civil society.
What do you think is better today than in the wild 90s? Not much. The feeling at the time that anything is possible has disappeared, and with it the ease of breaking new ground and trying things out, the wild exploratory spirit is gone, and so is the free space. Today, while there is a perception of the city for this vibrant night culture, on the other hand, fierce competition has emerged among clubs, there is an oversupply of excellent programs. Well-curated clubs are perceived as cultural locations by the city government.
Is there a development in recent club culture that you find problematic? The pandemic has meant that the future for clubs – at least here in Germany – is unclear. Dancing with a mask will not work. At the same time rents and other costs are exploding and the amount of true experimental spaces are decreasing.
Looking at the relationship between and Berlin and club culture: How has club culture changed the city and its perception? And the other way around: How have other developments impacted Berlin’s club scene? The vibrant club scene has completely changed – and by this I mean improved – Berlin’s image in the external perception of young people. Berlin has been a young city for decades with a really unique but regular club program. Techno has attracted companies like Resident Advisor, Ableton, Native Instruments, SoundCloud and many others to Berlin. Nevertheless, it seems that city planners have not yet realized that techno culture brings many opportunities for the city of Berlin. Techno attracts young, fresh and creative minds with many new ideas to the city, from which new professional fields spring. And Berlin is the most likely place to find an interesting partner for these crazy ideas. This is where all the masterminds are. I hope that more of them will soon be pushing the buttons of urban planning.
The old Tresor, that you rebuilt in this artwork, unfortunately, had to close its doors in 2005. Did you get to party there, and if so, what is your memory like? I am not from Berlin, I grew up in The Hague in The Netherlands, which had it’s own early techno scenes that were somehow connected to the rest of the early techno scene worldwide. Even though I was too young to go to any of the parties, I was able to collect flyers and buy records. My favourite records were usually from Detroit but also from Tresor Records based in Berlin. Even though I was too far away and too young to actually go there, the record label and the stories about this place became something that had an impact on me, especially once I learned about the history of Wertheim and the giant Vault in the basement, this made it even more iconic and fascinating.
Can you describe the interconnectivity between the physical installation and the interactive sound experience of your artwork? When you walk around this landscape in and outside the Tresor building, you will hear a 4D sound simulation of what it could have sounded like. The sound designers Rowan Ben Jackson & Odysseas Constantinou’s detailed how the music would impact and resonate through the different architectural spaces. Besides this sound experience, we can also find several anecdotes and interviews that were recorded by the researcher and writer Sven von Thülen that can help you imagine in more detail what this place was like.
Is there a central message you want to express with this artwork or do you leave it more open for interpretation?Everyone will have their own experience with this. For those who have been there in the past, this might be the last chance to return. For those that have never been there, like myself, it might be the first time they can finally go there. It had a lot to do with the excitement of reconstructing a historical site based of a very limited amount of archived information; some old floor plans, some photographs and a very murky VHS video walkthrough.After I pieced it together, the sand carvers Bouke Atema and Jeroen Advocaat could finally start to carve the details in.
Where do you see the connection between art and nightlife?Wherever you are in the world, this can have very different implications. I have been interested in the connection between futuristic dance music and the often marginalized underground communities that would be able to create their own counter-culture. This sense of autonomy and freedom inspired me to several visual art and theory projects that deal with transformative potential. As much as I try to avoid sounding esoteric, I think of “futuristic” music, art, and culture as a form of magic that can break down barriers, introduce new ideas, and bring a hyper-individualistic experience back to an experience that is shared with others.
How did you come up with the exhibition’s title “Tresor 31: Techno, Berlin und die große Freiheit“
Techno, Berlin and Freiheit are three of the main topics of the exhibition. They are cornerstones for the Tresor story to unfold.
The title suggests that Berlin is a city where people can be fully free, especially in clubs. Would you say that this is the case?
Freiheit, as mentioned in the title, refers to the unique political and cultural situation after the fall of the Wall. The days of low economic pressure and the creative freedom this affords are long over unfortunately. Having said that, Berlin nightlife is quite liberal in terms of how people want to express themselves.
What was the guiding principal for inviting the artists and curating the exhibition? All of the artists we invited are artists who we really appreciate and who we know have a personal connection and appreciation for techno. Half of the works in the exhibition are existing artworks that provide historical context like Hito Steyerl’s ’The Empty Center’ that focuses on the development of Potsdamer Platz and the effects borders can have on society. The other works are commissions that give a contemporary perspective on the story of tresor and techno, they offer speculation and critique to counteract the unavoidable nostalgia that comes with the history of techno. Mark Prendergast’s work for example was filmed in a night at Kraftwerk only weeks before the exhibition while Bahar Noorizadeh’s piece critiques the future trajectory of techno in berlin by placing the viewer in the cowboy boots of a techno obsessed Elon Musk as he runs from his Gigafactory through the ruins of Tresor and the Siegessäule. (texts to artworks)
What was the biggest challenge you encountered while curating the exhibition?
Rebuilding the Leipziger Strasse club 1:1 from 150 tonnes of sand was very difficult. The artwork involved a large team of artists, sound engineers and researchers working in unison towards a moving objective. We had to use the kraftwerk crane to place the original tresor door into position and the compacting of the sand was backbreaking work. Not only were we trying to rebuild the Tresor accurately, an equal amount of work was put into recreating the original sonic environment. We had also 15 spoken interviews situated throughout the environment so there was a certain level of historical accuracy and responsibility to adhere to.
In your opinion, what do museums and clubs have in common?
For better or worse, it seems the museum and the club are becoming increasingly alike. Clubs in Germany are now legally recognised as ‘cultural institutions’ alongside museums, opera houses and theaters. At the same time, many museums are trying to shake their stodgy reputation by loosening up their programming to include projects that you could expect to see in clubs. Tresor 31: Techno, Berlin und die große Freiheit carries many elements of a museum exhibition as we feature hundreds of archival objects, texts and valuable artworks however it was never our intention to compete with institutional exhibitions and we like being easily distinguished from them.
Should electronic music be more present in museum institutions?
If you mean dance music, sure! Sven Väth to play live on the Pergamon Altar. It was an interesting exercise to create an exhibition that had to double as club space. It meant many of the artworks had to be rave proof. For example, Deforrest Brown Jr. and Haqq’s paintings were sandwiched behind 8 cm thick glass, strapped and bolted to concrete columns and we would often find half empty drinks balancing on them the next morning.
Where do you see the connection between art and nightlife? Wherever you are in the world, this can have very different implications. I have been interested in the connection between futuristic dance music and the often marginalized underground communities that would be able to create their own counter-culture. This sense of autonomy and freedom inspired me to several visual art and theory projects that deal with transformative potential. As much as I try to avoid sounding esoteric, I think of “futuristic” music, art, and culture as a form of magic that can break down barriers, introduce new ideas, and bring a hyper-individualistic experience back to an experience that is shared with others.
Participating artists: Andreas Gurksy / Anne de Vries / Antje Fels / Arthur Jafa / Bahar Noorizadeh/ Claire Williams / Danielle de Picciotto / DeForrest Brown, Jr. + Abdul Qadim Haqq / Elsa4toys / Hito Steyerl / Jenn Nkiru / Joe Namy / John Akomfrah / Marie Staggat / Mark Prendergast / Matthew Angelo Harrison / Otolith Group / Rebecca Salvadori/Helge Mundt/ Frankie Casillo
Interview Luis Hartmann