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Art Power: An Interview With Khidja
Megan Wallace , September 29th, 2022 12:35

Ahead of the carbon-negative Currents Festival held in a reactivated German power station, curators Khidja as well as the venue’s curator discuss the many lines they hope to draw with their artistically and environmentally ambitious first edition


In 2017, an art collective called Performance Electrics gGmbH, led by Pablo Wendel, acquired a former coal power station located in the town of Luckenwalde, Brandenburg, 30 minutes south of Berlin. Built in 1913, it had ceased production in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin wall. Wendel’s vision was for It to begin firing once more but in a sustainable manner, burning locally sourced waste wood chips instead of coal. The power was formally switched back on in 2019.

At the same time, along with curator Helen Turner, Wendel was simultaneously transforming the structure into a large scale contemporary art centre – making particularly significant use of its large-scale turbine hall; in German it is called Kunstrom - Art Power. Now, as the venue continues to grow in stature as a hub of Brandenburg’s cultural scene, the venue is being put to use for an innovative and artistically ambitious new music festival.

CURRENTS Festival, which will take place on 8 October, draws links between the station’s production of electricity and electronic music. Inviting musicians and artists such as Suzanne Ciani, Wojiech Rusin, Lena Willikens and more, and featuring installations that they hope will create “a hyper-attentive environment where every tone is charged to the maximum,” it will also be among the world’s first carbon-negative cultural events.

As curators the festival chose the Romanian production and DJ duo Khidja, who have spent two decades at the forefront of experimental electronic music. To find out more about the thinking behind this extraordinary festival, tQ caught up with them, as well as CURRENTS’ head Adriana Tranca who has been working alongside them.

Can you tell us about the backstory behind E-WERK Luckenwalde?

Adriana Tranca: E-Werk started as a consequence of Pablo Wendel’s performance practice. He's always worked with electricity in all sorts of performances, and he wanted to take his practice not just a step further, but a really big step further. He was looking for a power plant that he could reactivate but in a sustainable manner. He found this building from 1913 that was completely derelict, so now we are producing electricity that we sell back to the national grid of Germany, as well as into the building and the art centre. It's a conceptual, move, it just to show that, you know, an art institution can be independent, and that you can produce electricity in a sustainable way. And that you can think things differently.

Inside E-WERK Luckenwalde, photo by Ben Westoby

How did the idea of CURRENTS Festival arise?

We’ve already done so much, commissioning people and artists to produce site specific artwork. And of course, when you think about electricity, you must think about electronic music, because they are so beautifully connected. So at one point in our discussion about programming, myself and Helen Turner, who is artistic director along with Pablo, started thinking about a music festival. So then we invited Khidja, who are incredibly talented. I’m part of the festival, but aside from that as a contemporary art curator I think they’ve managed to unite these two realms so nicely.

How did you go about curating the lineup for CURRENTS?

Andrei Rusu, Khidja: We wanted to create a bridge between all electronic music worlds, not only experimental ones. That’s what we've been trying to present with Khadija all these years. So, it's kind of a mirror to the way we approach music in general, which is not by genre, but by worldview.

What is that worldview?

AR: Everything goes.

Florentin Tudor, Khidja: We didn't really look at a particular genre, we were just looking at having some people that are heroes for us, and then also emerging acts that are interesting and maybe unknown, or at the periphery of electronic and experimental music.

This is an environmentally friendly endeavour, can you tell us more about how carbon negativity is achieved?

AT: E-WERK is itself a sustainable institution, we produce our own electricity by this process called pyrolysis. So the whole festival is built upon a sustainable structure. For CURRENTS we took things further. Florentin and Andrei came up with this amazing list of artists of course, but another concern was how we could be reasonable in the resources we consume with transportation. Suzanne Ciani is coming from Chicago so that had to be a flight, but then other people we have encouraged to travel by train. And then, we’re trying to use the building as much as we can, work with the space rather than inventing new stages. While E-WERK is activated and powered by a state-of-the-art system, it’s still a 20th century building, which is a bit of a conflict, but you need to work with what you have instead of building new things.

What sort of energy do you hope that the programming and the curation of artists will bring to the space?

FT: The turbine hall, which is the main building where the concerts are going to be is quite spacious and there’s quite a bit of reverb, so we had that in mind for some of the sets.

AR: People would usually see reverb as an enemy during a festival, but we tried to use this to our advantage. We’re making the best from this glorious room by putting the right kinds of artists in the room, artists who can shine without the use of artificial reverb. Also, in the same way that the building generates electricity based on a system from the 20th century, we’re trying to bridge gaps between different generations of musicians and having them intertwine. In the same way that the building is something new and something old, and creating something for the future, the lineup is also adapted.

AT: All the performances are unique and beautiful and special, it’s creating a space where you as an audience can dive in and let yourself experience the moment. The title ‘Currents’ of course references electricity, but it also refers to what is contemporary and what is ‘now’.

Why the skew towards live sets, rather than DJs?

FT: We really wanted to have a mixed audience. Not necessarily just party people, but that are, like mixed various ages and everything. We wanted people to feel like they're at a concert more than a rave. There will be a beautiful sculpture in the middle of the space while the live events happen, so it will feel different, like you’re in some sort of Sci Fi.

AT: In the turbine Hall, currently we have Cold Light, which is an immersive installation exhibition by Lindsay Seers stemming from the work of Nikola Tesla. The other exhibition is called The Real Line which is more static and deals with geometry and domesticity.

Are you hoping for the festival’s mix of artists across generations to attract that kind of auciences?

AR: It should happen quite naturally. With all our past events it’s felt like a very universal crowd.

AT: With E-WERK in general we’re trying very, very hard to make sure that this institution is not an island. We don’t just do contemporary art for a specific public and ignore the local community. It’s a town of 20,000 people, 30 minutes away from Berlin, so there’s no MoMA going on around here, but that doesn’t mean we’re not making sure that whatever we produce isn’t the best possible festival. We want to make sure that this lineup is something interesting for someone that knows their music, but also for someone that is just opening up and trying new things, new experiences and environments. So far we’ve managed to do that with our programming, and we’re now trying to go further and open it up internationally. This is the first edition and we’re putting big hope behind it. It’s our first music festival, but it feels like we’ve been doing this for 100 years. It feels natural, already a part of us.

Currents Festival Will take place on 8 October at E-WERK Luckenwalde. For tickets and full information, click here.