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  • Dark Matter’s Christopher Bauder on light, sound and curating the perfect experience


Dark Matter’s Christopher Bauder on light, sound and curating the perfect experience

Two years since the opening of Berlin’s hugely popular Dark Matter, we sat down with artist and founder Christopher Bauder to talk expectations, challenges and technical difficulties.

Photo: Josue Casasola

As a light and media artist, Christopher Bauder seems to be constantly pushing the boundaries of his practice just as much as the size of his works. Since opening the now hugely-popular multimedia installation Dark Matter two years ago, Bauder is now eager to expand the exhibition into something even brighter and bigger.

How did the idea for Dark Matter come about? Was it an idea that you had for a long time?

Dark Matter came as an idea when we were asked by a client in Finland to do a light art exhibition in an old castle. This castle had multiple rooms and they were completely empty.

In the end, the project didn’t happen, but we asked ourselves: Why do we not just do something like that ourselves? We already had a whole light festival in storage. So we started to look for a suitable location in Berlin, and that took another two years or so. We started building Dark Matter right when Corona happened, so one and a half years later, when Corona was over, we were ready.

In the installation LIQUID SKY, hundreds of lights are mirrored to create what feels like an endless horizon. Photo: Ralph Larmann.

What were the expectations that you had when you first launched? And how have the last two years matched up to that?

I don’t even know what expectations we had when we opened it. We always just had this idea to show the art to as many people as possible, but we didn’t really know how that would work over time. It just so happened that from the day we opened, it’s been almost sold out every day until today. It’s very popular and we have had more than 450,000 visitors in two years.

I’m really happy to see that it worked that well because you’re always unsure about these things. We like what we do, and we wanted to show that to others, but we were not sure on what scale it would work in the end.

A larger-than-life audiovisual sculpture, GRID seems like it’s hovering just above the audience. Photo: WHITEvoid

Looking back at the past two years, do you have any specific highlights that you would like to share?

Well, when we opened, the space wasn’t finished. We have a large area behind the building, and we wanted to do something special there and have an outdoor area. Only more recently have we been doing a large outdoor light installation there. These additions and extra events are always special. One highlight was when we did a fashion show with friends of mine who have a label, but we’ve also done concerts, DJ nights and parties. All these kinds of special events tied together are part of our overall idea of what Dark Matter should be – not only an exhibition, but also a space that’s alive, and that develops and that changes over time.

What were some of the main challenges that you had experienced when setting up Dark Matter and what challenges do you face today?

There were many challenges. When we started, the main one was Corona because we had to shut everything down, regroup and just think about how we could build such a thing with all the restrictions.

POLYGON PLAYGROUND translates a computer-generated object into real space. Photo: Ralph Larmann

I think we found a really good solution, but the next challenge was when we opened. There were still restrictions on how many people could be in each room and what kind of ventilation you needed. Although originally the idea was for people to go into any room at any time, we had to arrange a one-way system where visitors would go in at one point with a time slot and then have one hour to go through the whole exhibition, so people wouldn’t stack up too much in certain rooms.

We all come from a background as Berlin party kids in the underground scene.

There were other challenges of course. All the pieces in the exhibition are mechanical and electronic, and require a lot of computer networking and so on. To make something like this run for one day or a couple of days, or even a week or a month, that’s easy. But to do that over a very long period of time requires constant maintenance. You always need to give the visitor a perfect experience, and you can never shut down a whole room, for example. That’s a challenge that we manage really well as a team. That probably also makes us stand out from other exhibitions that are not managing to keep things up to a high standard for these extended periods of time.

What we do is a big team effort. I design my light art pieces, but I’m actually more of a director who manages the overall outcome and makes sure the vision is executed. There are a lot of people behind this – programmers, engineers, event planners – who make these things happen.

Over a hundred suspended black spheres move together with perfect synchronisation in INVERSE. Photo: WHITEvoid.

In total, we’re about 50 people. There’s White Void, the design studio, and then we have Kinetic Lights, where we manufacture all the motors and everything that moves that you see in Dark Matter. Then there’s Dark Matter itself which also needs a team to run it on a daily basis. So it’s quite a team.

As a project based in Berlin, do you think that Berlin as a city has an influence on the reception of Dark Matter? 

We all come from a background as Berlin party kids in the underground scene. That was happening mostly in industrial and abandoned buildings, which has inspired us in the look and feel of our location. The space is an old industrial building that had a manufacturing plant inside it. We left the building in that style and just painted it black inside and out, and adopted this Berlin industrial techno style because that’s the background that we come from. Some of the music also takes reference from electronic music. In that sense I think it’s very much Berlin. But I think it would also work anywhere.

Looking forward, do you have any plans for the future development of Dark Matter?

We’re planning to extend the space, build additional rooms and maybe build a larger hall on the empty plot next door. Normally, my light pieces are much bigger than the spaces we have there, so we are showing smaller pieces. It would be great to have a bigger part of the location that we could also change more frequently, and where we could hold special events.

A three-dimensional cloud of suspended lights, TENSOR brings together cinematic sound design and mesmerising visuals. Photo: Eric Bauermeister

What can visitors look forward to at Dark Matter right now?

At the moment we have the outdoor exhibition Tensor, which is an outdoor addition that complements the Dark Matter indoor exhibition. Tensor is an art piece by me and Akiko Haruna, who is a musician from London. We created a one-hour audiovisual show, and it runs continuously over the night. There we have a collection of special events and there is a live act or a DJ playing, so there’s usually a great atmosphere.

  • The installation TENSOR will be shown as part of Dark Matter’s SOMMERLIGHTS, Thursday to Sunday through September 2nd. Click here to find out more.