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  • VEKTOR: Christopher Bauder returns to Kraftwerk


VEKTOR: Christopher Bauder returns to Kraftwerk

For the first time in five years, legendary light-artist Christopher Bauder is bringing his immersive installations back to Kraftwerk.

Christopher Bauder knows how to light up a room. The Stuttgart native has devoted more than two decades of his life to pixels and bytes, finding new ways to move light and sound through space for large-scale art installations across the world. His works are mesmerising displays of illumination and illusion, and Berliners often get to see them first. This is the case in February, when Bauder launches his latest show, VEKTOR, marking his return to an iconic space. It’s been five years since his last installation in the colossal former power plant Kraftwerk, and it’s something of a homecoming.

It’s much harder to impress a Berlin audience.

“I always call it my living room. It’s my favourite space in the world,” Bauder says of the building, which he refers to as “an industrial cathedral”. VEKTOR will be his third time at Kraftwerk – following SKALAR in 2018 and DEEP WEB in 2019 – but Bauder has far from exhausted his creative energy there. “This is still to me the most complete and fascinating industrial space that you can have for hosting one of your art pieces,” he says.“At some point, I was just like, no, I need to do it there again. I called them and I was like ‘Guys, what would you think if we do one more?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it. Definitely.’” The visual concept behind VEKTOR, like several of Bauder’s past shows, is inspired by mathematics. “I’m not good at math, but I’m fascinated by it – how can people wrap their heads around these things, speculating about things that are potentially there or not there?” he says.  “I like these speculative mathematical miracles, and I’m trying to do an artistic interpretation of those principles that I’m fascinated with.” The show will draw on the principles of vectors to create “almost architectural creations made out of light, that I can manipulate in real time”.

Rendering. Photo: WHITEvoid VEKTOR-Christopher-Bauder_72dpi_01-05

From inception to installation, VEKTOR has been years in the making. Bauder has an ‘if you build it, they will come’ approach to experiential art, inventing much of the technology required to bring his mesmerising visions to life himself. While he waited for synchronised laser technology to catch up to his concept, he and his team developed new heavy-lifter motorised winches, which will mobilise a network of 55 lasers during the show, and entirely new software to control it all. “I always like to do things that are bigger than I actually can manage somehow,” Bauder says. (It’s an understatement: Bauder once placed 8,000 illuminated balloons across the city for the 25th anniversary of Mauerfall and he’s currently working on a light show projected on two 400-metre skyscrapers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.) “I have this fascination with creating art that’s looking down on me. I like creating something that’s bigger than myself – not metaphorically but really physically bigger than myself. Because it gives you a different perspective on how you can create and what is your position as an artist.”

I always like to do things that are bigger than I actually can manage somehow

The new show will be a debut not just for the winch machinery but for Bauder himself, who wrote the show’s music and will perform it live. Normally he collaborates with musicians to produce the accompanying sound for his shows – including, notably, Ableton Live founder Robert Henke, whom Bauder calls “a genius in that scene” and “a god” – but this time, he’ll be in full control of the 30-plus speaker systems at play. The result will be Bauder’s first album, spatialised and performed live. “I wasn’t quite sure if I could actually do that, since I don’t know how to play keyboard and I don’t know too much about scales. I have a producer who helps me with the tools,” he explains. “I gave myself again a very high hurdle… I’m quite nervous about it, but also quite thrilled to be able to do it.”

Rendering. Photo: WHITEvoid VEKTOR-Christopher-Bauder_72dpi_01-05

The walls of Kraftwerk itself will also feature in the show’s sound. “I want to kind of activate the whole building – map it out visually and also with sound samples that I recorded in Kraftwerk,” Bauder explains. “We’re using them to create drum beats and make the whole building into a musical instrument.” He’s also partnered with the Fraunhofer Institut, who made an acoustic model of Kraftwerk (a building with “uncontrollable reverb”, Bauder says) and helped refine the show’s three-dimensional sound. “They are researching noises and how they work on humans. Why is it annoying if, I don’t know, you hear the toilet flush of your neighbour? And we’re trying to use those sound samples to make something new and artistic,” Bauder explains. “You will hear a lot of things in the show where you might be sure that you know what it is, but we made it from something totally different, or it’s even artificial.”  Bauder doesn’t actually need people to understand the massive technical undertaking his art represents.

Photo: Makar Artemev

“I studied visual communication in art school. So that means I like to talk through visuals and the work, and not with text and words and explanations. My art pieces are supposed to work without reading any text or having any explanation. That’s actually the goal,” he explains. “It’s experiential art, which means you pay for the experience, not for the art piece – it’s not collectible or made for a museum. It’s made for the moment, to experience it. And that’s the important thing – if you enjoy this experience it’s successful, without any preconception or explanation.” For Berliners, it’s a wild privilege that Bauder operates here; we have the first look at the technology and art that has been used as inspiration for clubs and events internationally. “Berliners are a really complicated audience, of course, and really educated. They have seen everything already,” Bauder says of his drive to create an unprecedented experience for people. “It’s much harder to impress a Berlin audience. So it’s actually even more rewarding if you manage, if you can kind of crack them and get through to them somehow.”

Rendering. Photo: WHITEvoid VEKTOR-Christopher-Bauder_72dpi_01-05

By all accounts, he does. Numbers vary, but the average time a museumgoer spends looking at an artwork is now around 10 seconds. At Bauder’s permanent exhibition space DARK MATTER, visitors usually spend between 60 and 90 minutes in the seven mesmerising rooms, his team says. “I’m always thinking about how long an installation can capture your attention,” Bauder says. “I think that’s a big compliment, that people in times of TikTok and fast social media – take a picture, go, next, next – how much time they actually spend. I think it’s a good rating for the depth or the quality of the piece.” With VEKTOR kicking off this year, we’re certainly ready to spend 2024 basking in Bauder’s light.

  • VEKTOR runs from 01.02 to 07.04 at KRAFTWERK Berlin (Köpenicker Str. 70, Kreuzberg), details.

Bauder’s return to KRAFTWERK is one of our 24 Reasons to Love Berlin in 2024, featured in issue 227 of Exberliner. For more reasons, grab a copy of the mag now!