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Fast and forward film art

This city is a serious hub for video art – and December is spoiling fans of the medium with a whole festival and two not-to-be-missed solo exhibitions. The Videoart at Midnight Festival is on Dec 12-16 at various venues.

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Ed Atkins. Video Art at Midnight.

This city is a serious hub for video art – and December is spoiling fans of the medium with a whole festival and two not-to-be-missed solo exhibitions.

Berlin is the chosen playing field of video artists from around the world – big international names such as Albanian Anri Sala, German-born Hito Steyerl and Canadian Jeremy Shaw are all based in this city. They have also all shown at the monthly late night Videoart at Midnight (VAM) screenings hosted by Mitte’s Babylon cinema: since 2008, curator and art dealer Olaf Stuber and collector and software developer Ivo Wessel have been inviting artists to present their work there on the big screen. This December, the four-day Videoart at Midnight Festival celebrates the platform’s 10-year anniversary and the 100th midnight screening – and as usual, admission is free.

The VAM Festival features four exhibitions across Berlin and a symposium (Dec 12-14) with scholars and artists at Hamburger Bahnhof and Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (n.b.k.) who will explore the importance and future of the medium. The main event, however, will be the film and video programme at Babylon (Dec 14-16). Festival director Stuber is excited: “Our 100th screening will be Ed Atkins, and then we will hopefully continue with another 10 years.” Stuber’s personal highlight is “that all 100 artists we’ve been presenting over the years are joining the festival’s opening and everyone, without exception, has submitted a video for the festival.” He promises a busy weekend with about 20 premieres: “It’s going to be an incredible celebration of video and film!”

One of VAM’s 100 guests is Agnieszka Polska, who received last year’s Preis der Nationalgalerie. If you want to see more than her contribution to the fest, head to Hamburger Bahnhof and take in her multi-channel video installation The Demon’s Brain in the Historic Hall. Here Polska combines animation and filmed sequences set in 15th century Poland. On four large screens she tells the fictional story of the illiterate messenger delivering mail to Mikołaj Serafi n, the historic administrator of Poland’s salt mines. The messenger finds himself alone in a forest and, in a hallucinatory vision, faces a demon referencing Christian theological ideas and early forms of capitalism within the Polish feudal system. The artist’s alluring, visually-rich universe of works confronts today’s concerns of resource consumption, environmental damage and capitalism. Visitors are sure to leave amazed and puzzled.

Equally concerned with the revelations of the legacy of human behaviour, but not yet among the VAM veterans is Berlin-based Swiss video artist Julian Charriere, student of Olafur Eliasson and recipient of this year’s GASAG prize. In his exhibition As We Used to Float at Berlinische Galerie he takes visitors underwater in the Pacific Ocean to reveal the site’s hidden disturbing past, the US nuclear weapons tests at Bikini Atoll between 1946 and 1958. It is a stunning and detailed portrait of a place now permanently uninhabitable and contaminated. For another video, Charriere has filmed a drowned warship in a single camera shot which reflects the maximum time a diver can spend under water. This immersive video installation is both a physical experience and a necessary reminder of humanity’s responsibility for the planet.

This month’s VAM festival and video exhibitions shine a light on a prolific medium and its relevance in addressing a vast array of subjects. They present a unique opportunity to explore the breadth of Berlin video art that shouldn’t be missed!

Videoart at Midnight Festival Dec 12-16, exhibitions and talks through Mar 11 various venues | The Demon’s Brain Through Mar 3 Hamburger Bahnhof, Mitte | As We Used to Float Through Apr 8 Berlinische Galerie, Mitte