Berlin is built on reclaimed wetlands. These swamps are where Jakob Kudsk Steensen (b. 1987) found inspiration for an immersive audio-visual installation. Berl-Berl reconceptualises this endangered ecological system, set inside the brutalist concrete walls of Berlin’s most famed nightclub.
The basis of the work includes rigorous fieldwork documenting the swamplands – particularly in the Spreewald region of Berlin-Brandenburg – and items from the collection at Berlin’s Museum für Naturkunde. Kudsk Steensen created the piece in the gaming platform Unreal Engine, bridging the realms of scientific reality and virtual imagination. The artist constructed composite three-dimensional images using macro photogrammetry, a technique in which hundreds of photographs are taken of an object – a beetle, or a stalk of grass. Meanwhile, a soundscape, designed in collaboration with Matt McCorkle, blends vocals by Venezualan musician Arca with recordings of local wildlife. The exhibition takes its name from the word “berl” – the ancient local term for swamp, informed by the texts of Slavic mythology.
The work celebrates the rich variety of wetlands ecology, following a tree’s roots to the fungal system below ground, up to constellations in the night sky, before honing in on a single leaf. Meanwhile, LED screens, arranged across two floors, lead the viewer on a cyclical journey through ecosystems that thrive, decay, die and regenerate. Furthermore, mirrored floors exaggerate a sense of movement. As viewers, we are given the sense of being submerged in the changing landscape that is at once idyllic and barren. Though people are notably absent from Kudsk Steensen’s world, viewers are both literally and metaphorically here in the wetlands.
Halle am Berghain, Berlin. 10 July – 26 September
Words: Lily Pollock
1. Jakob Kudsk Steensen, Berl-Berl (2021). Live simulation (stills). Courtesy of the artist.
2. Jakob Kudsk Steensen, ‘Berl-Berl’ , Halle am Berghain, 2021. © Timo Ohler
3. Jakob Kudsk Steensen, Berl-Berl (2021). Live simulation (stills). Courtesy of the artist.
4. Jakob Kudsk Steensen, Berl-Berl (2021). Live simulation (stills). Courtesy of the artist.