Philipp Mueller: 120 bpm

Relive the Swiss techno scene of the 90s in a new book published by Edition Patrick Frey

As the world continues to grapple with the pandemic, more so do we yearn for moments from the past, nightlife being one of them. Here in the UK, we had a blissful and somewhat wary few months reliving the sweaty, body-to-body movements only found in the dark and bassy depths of a club. But the potential for these nights to be put on hold, yet again, still looms. So for now, the easier days of dancing can be experienced in a more 2D (yet still utterly dynamic) form through the pages of Philipp Mueller’s latest book, 120 bpm – a comprehensive documentation of the rise of the Swiss techno scene in the 90s.

Published by Edition Patrick Frey, the Swiss photographer looks at the magnanimous impact that Switzerland’s techno scene has had on clubs, dance music and nightlife over the years. Rebellious and free, we see the dawn of Zürich’s street parades and the synonymous underground raves and parties, housed amongst warehouses or private venues. The flash-lit shots of party-goers are paired with archival clippings from rave magazines and fanzines, giving the book an almost allegorical feel and one that can stand the test of time. The book’s name, too, is given a musical stamp of approval as it denotes the average number of beats per minute on a club track, luring you in to the succinct and heart-racing photo sequences found within. Below, I chat to Philipp to find out more.

What inspired you to start working on a project about the Swiss techno scene?

I wasn’t part of a rave scene to begin with, and it didn’t start as a project. What you can discover in the photographs, which grow through the years, is that I was involved in the nightlife scene in Zürich, and that I got hired by independent magazines to cover parties, fashion shows and of course rave and techno events.

First, I have to tell you that all the material for this book was in my archive for a very long time. I almost forgot about it until I rediscovered it, picture by picture. This means I looked at them as if was seeing them for the first time. 

I pulled a presentation in a PDF together and started to show it to my friends in London, Paris and Zürich. I was testing if those photographs were of any interest for people outside of Switzerland. My friends were surprised of the vibrant scene in Zürich, they thought I took the pictures in London or Paris. They were even more surprised when I told them that the photographs are over 20 years’ old. My agent encouraged my to send it to Editions Patrick Frey, and I was pleased the publisher wanted to work together on this book.

Talk me through your photography featured in the book, what did you seek to include?

My photography always reflects on the zeitgeist of society. Therefore, the book shows my perspective of the 90s; it was a free time where everyone could express themselves. It includes photographs of my friends, models, drag queens, musicians, rave kids and other creatures of the night. 

You’ve also incorporated a mix of clippings from magazines and fanzines, what does this add to the narrative and structure of the work?

Those magazines were my first clients. They didn’t pay me, but the freedom in creativity was priceless. They are like a time capsule, representing what was going on in society and culture at this time. They formed the very foundation of my work until today.

Can you pick out a couple of favourite images and talk me through them?

The cover with the girl sticking her tongue out is my first choice. It has an iconic and rebellious touch. Then, a little further back in the book, there’s the gay couple shot (the guy with short hair and the guy/drag queen with long black hair). Love is love – that is it what it means. And there are so many more.

Any particular message you’re trying to convey in the work?

It was never meant to be a memory lane book. I hope I will inspire people to live free, be creative and tolerant.

What’s next for you?

I have 30 years’ worth of photography work from new wave and punk, shot in Paris and London, as well as parties, fashion and celebrities. Some stuff has never seen the light of day, such as Hugh Hefner’s birthday party in Paris and John Galliano’s legendary cardboard fashion for Dior, shot backstage to be precise. Maybe there will be another book….

All photography courtesy of the photographer

120 bpm is published by Edition Patrick Frey and available here

Aiko

Florian Hetz’s diaristic photo book looks at memory, loss and the “circle of life”

Art has long been practiced for its remedial qualities. When Berlin-based Florian Hetz – a former costume designer for dance and opera – discovered he had severe encephalitis, his life was “put on hold” as his memory started to deteriorate. “In order to fight the memory loss,” he tells me, “I started to take diary photos.” Florian had never dreamt of becoming a photographer, but as time went on and he continued to capture moments from daily life, he started to look at the world a little differently – and with a more photographic viewpoint. 

“The brain inflammation made me quit my career and forced me to take care of myself,” he continues. “For years, I paid my rent by working during the weekends in a famous Berlin club as a bar manager. Ironically, I never cared for techno and night life, which made me really good at my job.” At the end of 2015, Florian purchased his first camera from a friend and that’s when his photographic pursuits started to take the lead, resulting in his first set of exhibitions held the year proceeding. Soon after he was approached by a publishing house to release his debut book The Matter of Absence; the same year he left his job at Berghain and went-full time in photography.

Four years down the line and Florian was handed yet another set of challenges. Coupled with the fallout from the pandemic – which he partially enjoyed as an introvert – his exhibitions were cancelled and, sadly, his father died of cancer. “Very early into the year, it was clear that 2020 wasn’t going to be a normal year, so I went back to taking diary photos again. I never wrote a diary, but the photos work for me in the same way. They immediately bring me back to a particular moment in time.” The outcome of which is his latest photo book entitled Aiko, which initially took off as a means of dealing with the passing of his father. “We had a tough relationship when I grew up,” adds Florian, “but over the last 10 years, we developed a really good one that was based on mutual respect.” It’s important to note that this book, however, is far from a discussion of death, and instead navigates the theme of cyclicality – “the circle of life” – through images taken during a tremulous year. Documented in characteristic diaristic manner of the artist, the work is segmented into seasons; it begins in winter and ends in autumn.

Aiko pays tribute to the little things that we tend to overlook: light reflections on a rainy street, or the first ray of sun after a long winter, or the texture of a plant,” he says. Daily observations of Berlin take a dominant stance throughout this tome, which are coupled with pictures from his trips to Montreal, Vienna, Oslo and Bavaria – 70% of the work is conceived in diary form. Then, sometimes, Florian would meet a stranger and capture them in an intimately soft and relaxed setting, fuelled by a meeting beforehand in order to make them feel comfortable. “During the shoot I basically observe the sitter,” he adds, “I don’t want them to pose and, ideally, I want them to forget all their selfie faces and Instagram poses. I’m quite clear with my directions, but generally I prefer less to more.”

Throughout this publication, Florian shows us – the audience – how photography can be utilised as an archival tool. Somewhat like a souvenir, photography has the power to preserve. Within Aiko, there are countless memories and histories to be unearthed; like a double page spread where, on the left, there’s a pill box and on the right, a photo of a piece of old, sprouting red cabbage on a window sill. “Both photos stand for life and resilience,” he explains. “The medication is a one-week ration of HIV medication and the meds enable people today to live with the virus and have a totally normal life. Through the medication, the viral load won’t be detectable, which means you won’t be able to transmit the virus.” Another picture which Florian is particularly fond of is the image of his father, taken with his reflection in the mirror. “This is the last photo I took of my dad. It’s a very intimate moment, where my mum is changing his pyjamas. Next to that is a photo of my dad and me, when I was two years old. I placed the photo on the bed of my dad after he had passed.”

Aiko is perhaps Florian’s most personal project to date. From the quiet moments to the more posed, the work – staged yet equally candid – provides an insight into his life, revealing his inner self as a person and a photographer. “For many people that know my work, it will be a bit of a surprise,” he states, having mostly published studio works before now. “I hope they will see that these photos are part of my professional identity, as well as my identity as a very private person, and see it as an invitation into my life and the way that I look at things.”

All photography courtesy of the artist 

Aiko by Florian Hetz is published by Paper Affairs Publishers

Tomás Saraceno: More-Than-Human

Port travels to Berlin to preview the latest in Saraceno’s hybrid web series, a complex, social, interconnected dance between humans and spiders

“Life is not just about matter and how it immediately interacts with itself but also how that matter interacts in interconnected systems that include organisms in their separately perceiving worlds – worlds that are necessarily incomplete, even for scientists and philosophers who, like their objects of study, form only a tiny part of the giant perhaps infinite universe they observe” 

(Dorian Sagan, A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans, with a Theory of Meaning, 1934)

In the East of Berlin, a short stroll from where the historic wall still stands, the spirit of the Bauhaus is alive and well. Two former industrial factories built in 1916 for the colour film firm AGFA are now occupied by artists, philosophers, designers, anthropologists, architects, biologists, art historians, glassblowers, astrophysicists – the list goes on – who make up the innovative Studio Tomás Saraceno.

“Tomás works best in exchange with others” notes artist counsellor Martin Heller. Like the varied people the Argentinian artist surrounds himself with, Tomás actively resists categorisation and fervently embraces inter-disciplinary creativity and problem solving. Over a bitter coffee, he exclaims that when he goes to an art gallery he often wants to ask for a student ticket as he’s a constant learner, a perpetual student. Principally concerned with sustainability and how humans inhabit their environment, he has collaborated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Max Planck Institute and had his sculptures presented during the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP21, having broken world records by achieving the longest and most sustainable certified flight ever registered.

Tomás Saraceno, courtesy Alfred Weidinger

Port was recently given a tour of the sprawling, graffiti covered studio thanks to the Rolls-Royce Art Programme, who will be shortly previewing a work by Tomás titled ‘Hybrid Dark solitary semi-social Cluster BD–15 3966 built by: a duet of Nephila edulis – six weeks, a quintet of Cyrtophora citricola – eight weeks, rotated 180°;’. The artwork does exactly what it says on the tin, or rather, within the carbon fibre frame. Forming part of his ‘Hybrid webs’ series, the intricate, suspended galaxy on show is the result of semi-social spiders weaving their webs in a hung cube, building on each other’s work to create an incredibly complex and delicate structure. The preview furthers Rolls-Royce’s recent collaboration with the artist, which saw them act as benefactor for his recent solo exhibition, On Air, at Palais de Tokyo in 2018. It also marks a continued commitment to new work from the Art Programme, who have in recent years supported a number of high-profile artists, such as Isaac Julien, Asad Raza and Yang Fudong.

Wandering through the working spiders room on the second floor of the studio, Tomás refers to them individually in hushed, reverent tones, admiring the golden, sometimes iridescent threads that resemble cosmic constellations and half-deployed parachutes. A web, he explains, is so much more than a home or a trap to a spider. With most web-building arachnids being deaf and blind, their proteinaceous silk can be more accurately thought of as a cognitive extension of themselves, an organic means to experience life and judge space through vibration and tension. Out of roughly 32,000 species, only 24 types of spiders exhibit social behavior. The tiny artists embellishing and bridging each other’s work explores not only interdependency and harmony between animals, but also how humans can better co-exist with them. In 2014, ‘arachnid concerts’ or ‘spider jam sessions’ were created together with the head of music and theatre arts at MIT, Evan Ziporyn, who had his bass clarinet played out in spider-friendly vibrations and vice-versa with a participating spider hooked up to a laser vibrometer. The unusual interaction was a way to relearn and rethink interspecies communication, and for Tomás, an important demonstration of how an artistic process can often be more porous and enriching then straight scientific tools and data.

Courtesy the artist; Andersen’s, Copenhagen; Ruth Benzacar, Buenos Aires; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York/Los Angeles; Pinksummer contemporary art, Genoa; Esther Schipper, Berlin. Photography © Studio Tomás Saraceno, 2018

This fascination first began from when Tomás, as a child, lived in Italy. Occupying a centuries-old house filled with cobwebs and their inhabitants, he would often find himself musing whether “the spiders were living in my house, or was I living in the spiders’ house?”. Years later, he went a step further and started to explore the parallels between spider webs and the structure of space time, since the Earth itself is set within a web-like structural dimension. The Studio eventually ended up creating a machine that could scan, digitise, and measure a three-dimensional spider web. A historic first-time scan of a Black Widow spider’s web was first presented at the Bonniers Konsthall in Sweden in 2010, together with a physical installation that presented the web on a 1.17 scale spanning 400 cubic meters and composed of 8000 black strings with 23,000 individually tied knots. Visitors were encouraged to view themselves actively becoming a community in a shared habitat, immersed in an interconnected, woven tangle.  

Courtesy the artist; Andersen’s, Copenhagen; Ruth Benzacar, Buenos Aires; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York/Los Angeles; Pinksummer contemporary art, Genoa; Esther Schipper, Berlin. Photography © Studio Tomás Saraceno, 2018

The Studio recently stated that “In an era of ecological upheaval, there is a perceived imperative for anthropocentric worlds to re-attune to other species and more-than-human ways of inhabiting our shared planet. These artistic and scientific enquiries can enable new hybrid encounters and relationships, involving multiple entities: from spiders to humans, from gravitational waves to particles of dust.” This call to action, to create a “more-than-human way” of sharing our limited space, has never seemed more pressing at a time when temperatures, sea levels and divisive walls are rising. Despite the accelerated upheaval of our natural world Tomás says he remains an optimist, believing that if we can learn from the spider’s in his stunning ‘Hybrid webs’ series, we can achieve a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

The House of Rolls-Royce will preview new work by Tomás Saraceno at the 89th Geneva International Motor Show, March 2019

Werner Büttner: Humour in Darkness

Port speaks to artist Werner Büttner about growing up in East Germany, the experience of moving to West Berlin just before the wall fell, and his new show at the Marlborough Gallery

Viel Raum für allerlei Glück , 2017 © Werner Büttner, Courtesy Marlborough Fine Art

Provocative art tends to take a post-modern form, whether that be film, installation or performance art. In transgressing the boundaries of traditional media, it signals its subversive tendencies. But for Werner Büttner, once a member of Germany’s Junge Wilde or ‘wild youth’, figurative painting holds far greater expressive potential in all its narrative lucidity and metaphorical inference.

Büttner relishes each brushstroke, applying the paint in layers until he has built a thick crust. Every inch feels powerful and deliberate, yet Büttner insists he has no emotional relationship to paint, “I try to enslave it [only] to end up in splendid arbitrariness.” The images themselves are astutely observational with a dark, comic edge. “Humour is the only appropriate reaction I have found facing what’s now 64 years of the ‘condition humaine’.”

At his latest London show, Plenty of Room for all Sorts of Happiness at the Marlborough Gallery, works from Büttner’s early years fill the downstairs gallery, with more recent painting hung on the upper level. “I liked the possibility of walking around one floor and seeing works by an author in his thirties and then seeing the same author in his sixties on a different floor,” Büttner says of the strict division. Creepy and caustic, surreal but incisive, the early works are tonally dark in every sense. In the Vineyard, a painting from 1981, readily evokes a desolate graveyard with a monstrous, ghostly, almost illegible figure emerging from a wild gale that ravages the landscape.

Ein geschundener Gaul [A Flogged Horse], 2016 © Werner Büttner, Courtesy Marlborough Fine Art

His contemporary paintings are lively and less perverse – a bright pastel pink brings ambiguous meaning to A Flogged Horse (2016), while the streaks of orange in Holding Loop in the Void (2015) are positively kaleidoscopic. In Büttner’s recent work, his social commentary of the 1980s is as present as ever but he more freely dabbles in the ridiculous and the mundane. He admits that “the guy who did the paintings on the ground floor seems a bit more mournful and upset than the guy upstairs… I like my most recent work best.”

Born in 1954 in Jena, East Germany, Büttner spent the first seven years of his life living under the Soviet-controlled German Democratic Republic until his mother took him to Munich, just before the construction of the Berlin Wall. Büttner’s childhood is addressed in On Thrones and Entanglement, an unusually solemn self-portrait in which Jena is foregrounded by a young boy on a pony. The painting’s title refers to Martin Heidegger’s theory of ‘throwness’, the idea that we are thrown into existence without our consent and must attempt to exercise autonomy over our lives.

Danke Frankreich (für Monsieur Monet und Hhle Lascaux) , 2017, © Werner Büttner, Courtesy Marlborough Fine Art

Once thrown into the world, as Büttner says, “you are immediately entangled in many calamities… in a landscape and a language, in a climate and social order, in a political and economical system… all this limits somewhat your freedom to design your own fate”. Appearing to ride away from the town that is neatly bordered off into the background, the painting depicts an alternate existence that was left behind, at the last moment, but whose legacy endures. For Büttner, living under the regime was formative but his escape was liberating in more senses than one – “the delight of having two opposing systems made me flee all systems, made me distrustful, sceptical and melancholic.”

By the late 1970s, Büttner was employed as a social worker at the Berlin-Tegel Prison, despite having studied Law at university. He broke onto the art scene in 1979 when he took part in Elend, a group exhibition in the Büro, a loft space set up by Martin Kippenberger and inspired by Warhol’s Factory. He went on to appear in a string of fringe shows with other members of the Junge Wilde. Belonging to the avant-garde community was extremely seductive – Büttner joined after a chance meeting with Albert Oehlen, the flatmate of a one night stand.

Diet – Geißel der Postmoderne , 2017 © Werner Büttner, Courtesy Marlborough Fine Art

In romanticised recollections he describes the shared “hunger to be heard, the same heavenly pubs, the urge for attractive and digestible company”. Ultimately however, he saw the group’s activity as “foolish dalliance” rather than a guiding force in his art: “I was more influenced by dead colleagues like Magritte, de Chico, Ensor or Goya.” As Büttner became increasingly recognised, the inevitable forces of establishment took over and within a decade he was appointed Professor of Painting at the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg. It marked the start of a new phase for Büttner, with the groups he belonged to disbanding.

When pressed on his motivations he offers only a cryptic hint: “My laughter is self-sufficient; in other words, extremely clever. By this you avoid the silly longing for applause.” Plenty of Room for All Sorts of Happiness reveals that, three decades later, the irony of his youth endures.

Plenty of Room for all Sorts of Happiness runs at Marlborough Gallery, 6 Albemarle Street, London until 23 June 2018.

Mario Testino on Newton and Nudity

The prolific photographer reveals an intimate side to his work in a bold exhibition of photographs at the Helmut Newton Foundation

The human body is an inexhaustible subject in photography. By blurring boundaries between fashion, eroticism and art, Mario Testino has unravelled the politics and symbolism of the body throughout his work. In an exhibition conceived for the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin and its catalogue by the same name, Undressed, the photographer explores nakedness through 50 images from his archive. 

Testino, much like Newton before him, offers an empowering perspective on the body, and where Newton established a confident image of femininity, Testino challenges masculine paradigms. The playful, unfettered atmosphere of his studio is captured through effervescent portraits of anonymous, androgynous men as well as supermodels such as Kate Moss and Amber Valletta, which even at their most daring, never slip into the vulgar. Including previously unseen photographs, Undressed reveals a more intimate side to the photographer’s work and in the process, he too lays himself bare.

What kind of impact did Helmut Newton have on you as a young photographer? 

He had pretty kinky ideas that could well have been seen as vulgar or too pornographic, but because they were presented so stylishly in Vogue it was considered elevated work. Seeing this taught me that, whatever you do, if you do it well and elegantly it can live on its own.

In Ways of Seeing, John Berger makes a clear distinction between nudity and nakedness. As a photographer, how do you negotiate that tension?

To me nudity is the way people are made and nakedness entails a certain provocation. I think both are valid in their own way. Why not provoke when you can?

Does nudity still have the power to shock? If so, where does that fit in with your photographs?

I think that it is definitely less shocking today, although it is still provocative. I find it interesting that male nudity seems to shock more than female nudity. Is it because we are more used to seeing women naked than men? Or perhaps it comes from men being more shy with their bodies? I don’t know.

What was the catalyst for Undressed and how did you approach the selection process?

The show marks a significant point in time for me. The majority of the works in Undressed come from the ’90s, which was a transformative moment in my career. It was a point where I was identifying the new people coming into the industry and photographing them naked. I think in some odd way the nudes I did then undressed me too, of my limits and preconceived ideas about image-making. They influenced and informed the way I did my fashion photographs.

Has hindsight changed the way you feel about any of these photographs? Did anything surprise you? 

It is great to come back to these images after a long period. I realise I have changed a lot since the ’90s, when most of these works were shot. I think back then I was very precise and today I am a lot more open. But I needed that precision to discover the Mario Testino of today.

Ultimately, what would you like people to take away from both the exhibition and the book?

I feel these photographs show a strength in these people, despite being naked. Not everyone feels like that and I would love to feel that people took away some of that essence in themselves. They should be proud of how they are made and gain strength from nakedness, instead of insecurity.

Mario Testino: Undressed is on show at the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin until 19 November. The accompanying catalogue, published by Taschen, is out now

American Desert Dreams

Photographers Nancy Baron and Pamela Littky explore the familiar and the strange in their studies of Palm Springs and Death Valley

When Nancy Baron and Pamela Littky first met at Paris Photo Los Angeles in 2014, a shared love for photography and similar artistic sensibility cemented their friendship. They had both produced books focused on the American desert, and when the opportunity to collaborate on an joint exhibition recently came up, the pair were excited about the idea. ‘In early January the Kehrer Galerie in Berlin approached us with the idea of showing together,’ says Baron. ‘Nancy and I both thought it would be an interesting juxtaposition,’ adds Littky. 

Their individual interests in the American desert came about in contrasting ways. While Baron had a fascination with the place she calls home – Palm Springs – Littky wanted to discover somewhere unfamiliar. ‘Years ago I was driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas,’ says Littky. ‘On the drive, a giant water tanker piqued my interest. It said: “Welcome to Baker, CA: Gateway to Death Valley.” To me, it felt so ominous and macabre. I decided I wanted to get out and explore it.’ After several trips out to Baker, California, she started to research the ‘Gateway to Death Valley’. It was then that she discovered there was another town on the other side of Death Valley that shared the same name. ‘The towns bookended this part of the Mojave desert so I knew I had to see what was on the other side.’

Baron’s interest in desert life, on the other hand, came directly from her own experience. After 11 years as a part-time resident, Palm Springs still intrigues her. ‘Regardless of the different lifestyles found in Palm Springs and Death Valley, they are – each in their own way – brilliant examples of the American Dream and its different interpretations. The American desert has a freeing vibe and welcomes non-conformists living on or off the grid.’ 

American Desert Dreams is on show at the Kehrer Galerie in Berlin until May 6