Sven Marquardt, the gatekeeper to techno club Berghain (pronounced Berg-hine) in Berlin, remembers a time when clubbing was to be experienced, not photographed, catalogued and curated online.
“Back then it was unusual to take photos of venues, it was not a time of smartphones, people went where they did to live experience,” says the burly German, who had been a bouncer at East Berlin’s hotspots since the 1990s.
Marquardt applies the same rules to his art too, clearly separating his work as a photographer and bouncer.
“Many people think my photos are of people in the Berghain, but it’s actually of people of Berlin in general. Most of the photos aren’t even taken near the Berghain,” he reveals, during a recent Q&A session, at his exhibition at 2 Hang Kasturi in Kuala Lumpur.
His works are part of the Club Berlin exhibition, which he launched on Jan 13, at 2 Hang Kasturi. The exhibition, presented by the Goethe-Institut Malaysia and Detour Asia, aims to highlight Berlin club and techno culture.
Even in the dimly-lit space, Marquardt sunglasses stayed rooted on, with him occasionally adjusting the shades and running his hands through a tight man-bun.
Marquardt, who is not just tattoos and muscles, had been honing his craft in photography longer than he’s been turning away miscreants in clubs.
As a punk-spirited individual, he emphasises creative freedom even on commercial photography projects.
He willing to walk away if he got in a situation with art directors breathing down his neck. This, combined with the occasional slipshod paymaster, was partially why Marquardt ended up being a bouncer to pay for his clubbing lifestyle.
His eye for character in photography served him equally well there, giving him a good instinct on who to let in and who to send out.
Over the years, Marquardt has cultivated a certain celebrity for being the Cerberus to club Berghain, leading to him being frequently accosted by people looking to cosy up and get easy entry to the notoriously elite club.
“People think it’s normal to just come up and take a selfie with me. Sure they can, but I don’t know if they’ll get into the club next time,” he says with a chuckle.
Even in Petaling Street, he was noticed by a group of German tourists that loudlycalled out “Hey, he looks like the bouncer from Berghain!”. That’s assuming he was a dead ringer rather than the real thing.
Fame as a bouncer does come with karma, though. Marquardt notes there have been several times where other clubs had barred him entry, one that stuck in his memory was being turn away from club White Trash in Berlin because he didn’t allow the club manager’s girlfriend into Berghain earlier. “It’s also interesting to see how much clients are interested in me as a person, as much as a photographer,” says Marquardt.
The Club Berlin exhibition is a photography project between him and long-time collaborator Martin Eberle, who ran club/art venue/basement Galerie Berlintokyo in Berlin. It is curated by German music writer Heiko Hoffmann and art critic Alfons Hug,
Club Berlin has already toured Singapore and Manila.
“The basic concept of bringing together sound, photography and art came out three years ago,” says Marquardt of his media installation.
He adds that end result is an altar, with shifting photos in a darkroom, with Berghain-endorseded music being pumped in. Marquardt’s installation is a collaboration with long-time Berghain resident deejay/Berlin underground favourite Marcel Dettmann.
The idea is to get people who enter the room to be “cut off from the outside world” and feel fully a part of Berlin club culture.
Marquardt reveals that the first attempt was done privately in a container on site at the Berghain, shared with only friends and those in the Berlin clubbing scene.
He adds a disclaimer that he doesn’t see himself as a mascot of the Berghain, and only comes on tour as a photographer and an artist.
Marquardt, who has also been a photographer for the past 30 years, toured his Fotografien (projects for German fashion label Hugo Boss) and Future’s Past (a retrospective) shows in Australia last year.
Marquardt says touring with his works has been somewhat of a rollercoaster, sometimes landing in museums and sometimes in tiny art spaces. He adds that the Malaysian venue, the former OCBC bank building, is an oddly perfect fit with its old (basement) vault, complete with pre-existing graffiti, lending to the feeling of being in underground Berlin club.
“This place in KL has got the vibe,” he concludes.
Club Berlin is on at 2 Hang Kasturi (the former OCBC building in Medan Pasar) in KL till Feb 9. Opening times: 8am to 8pm (weekdays), 10am to 10pm (weekends). Free entry to the exhibition and concert (by Urban String and Fatim) on Feb 4, 8pm. More info: www.goethe.de/malaysia and www.detourasia.net.