The architects behind the Internationales Congress Centrum (ICC) could never have imagined that Tino Sehgal’s troupe of chittering dancers would one day be providing a lifeline to a building that’s been unused since 2014. But the Berliner Festspiele’s ten-day exhibition project, ‘The Sun Machine is Coming Down’, has transformed this great landmark of postwar German architecture into a hectic experience of art, dance, performance and film.
The building’s exterior has the appearance of a free-standing spaceship. But despite the efforts of the curators, its inside looks more like a grubby 1970s airport – all faded carpets and out-of-service escalators. That’s a good thing. Tino Sehgal’s piece, This Joy, with its flailing fingers and contorting shoulders of its performers, is all the better for being held in the fairly dismal setting of a small, low-ceilinged conference hall.
There are some big names, such as Cyprien Gaillard, attached to this exhibition, and once you give up on trying to get your head around the programme, it’s hard not to escape the feeling that you’re missing out on a performance taking place somewhere else. Joining one of the moderately sized queues seems the best bet. With that strategy, you’ll find yourself immersed in all sorts of strange scenarios, like Russian artist Joulia Strauss’ orchestrated discussion on algorithms – not particularly engrossing but good to be involved.
Considering the speed at which empty spaces in Berlin get repurposed into cultural art spaces, it’s remarkable the ICC has escaped for so long. Thomas Oberender, the project’s initiator, has packed this asbestos riddled building with experimental dialogues and encounters with the building’s architecture.
On the ground floor, there are permanently accessible artworks, including Markus Selg’s glass vitrines teeming with archaic and future realities and sound installations by Richard Janssen. These are well done and curious, but they’re overshadowed by the more energetic events going on around it. They include Darragh McLoughlin and Andrea Salustri’s The Exhibition Project, which shows a series of circus performers energetically balancing on balls or ladders for hours on end. After a while, their practiced skilfulness is forgotten, leaving just the sweat covered intensity of their tired bodies.
On the top floor, the Julia Stoschek Collection has taken over one of the halls to show a collection of films made between 1978 and 2018 on an enormous screen. Barbara Hammer’s Sanctus and its human skeletons drinking and applying lipstick is a delightfully human film, set to sonorous music. But with the films playing in a constant loop, what you see depends on luck.
In the adjacent hall, Alexis Taylor of the UK band Hot Chip is performing from his newly released solo album. With angled seating, the hall feels more like a location for a motivational speaker than an introspective 40-something with a drum machine.
At the beginning, three hours seemed plenty of time to see everything, but after two-and-a-half, having seen much less than intended, it was late and time to go home. Walking out, you pass a video work titled Tuesday by Jonas Brinkers, tucked behind a thick concrete pillar. Showing an encounter between a person and a hesitant cat, the film proceeds like a choreographed dance, with the cat’s eyes glowing from the light of the camera. The inexpressible nature of the scene provides an oddly low-key highlight to what is an admirably ambitious takeover.
The Sun Machine is Coming Down, ICC. Oct 7-17.