When I was invited to become a collaborator for WOW, I was thrilled.
But then I wondered: How will I start?
I immediately thought about making an interview.
I’ve been living in Berlin for some time now and I’m completely in love with the city, its history, its people. So, who better than Sven Marquardt to start with?
Sven is one of Berlin’s most iconic figures and luckily, he’s one of my dear flat mate’s (Matthias Spohn/ ‘Matze’) best friends.
He started his career in photography after his education as camera assistant and photographer at DEFA. From 1985 to 1986, he worked as Rudolf Schäfer’s assistant (a well-known figure in East Germany’s photo scene). In the 1990s, Marquardt began working for his brother Oliver Marquardt (DJ Jauche) as a bouncer at the nightclub Ostgut. After the Wall came down, he immersed himself in Berlin’s new nightlife and club scene (Ostgut closed in 2003). At Berghain (one of Berlin’s most famous techno clubs) he became even more of an intriguing symbol of Berlin’s nightlife (if you have been to Berghain you know exactly what I am talking about).
Per his suggestion, we caught up for coffee in Mitte and this is a good portion of what we talked about: His art.
by Fernanda Viana Dias
WOW -You exclusively use analogic cameras and natural light.
Do you feel an obligation to show this honest realistic incompleteness in art?
SM. I had a classic photography education in the divided 80’s Berlin and to this day, I consider solid craftwork as an important instrument. Of course, development has its value, I am not against digital photography, Photoshop, or lit up studios but this is of no value to me. My pictures create a completely new parallel world only through styling and in the protagonist’s role assumption. If I added artificial influences such as studio lights or Photoshop, my representations would be too artificial. Some good photographers live off retouches but my work would lose its essence if I applied that extra kind of artificiality.
SM. I believe there is an unpredictable moment that makes the whole thing very exciting. If you are a shooting with one kid, one dog, two actors and a team at a given time and place and somehow something goes wrong with the camera or the film, you would not be able to recreate that shoot. That almost never happens, thank God!
There was once this dramatic incident in a lab; something went wrong during film processing and the photos had to be worked with on Photoshop. That’s the kind of sad incident where no one is to be blamed – just sheer bad luck. I have tried to work with artificial light in the past but I soon learned that it didn’t match my art, and if something like that happened to my pictures, everything would be lost.
WOW – It is terribly difficult for an artist to select his own work. What is your selection process for your exhibitions and books?
SM. It is hard indeed. Sometimes the strength in the protagonist’s facial expression can be powerful in several different pictures, and you have to choose a single shot. It is a challenge to concentrate on one picture alone and make the decision. That’s why I like to discuss it with some of my friends, like Matze (Matthias Spohn, our friend and my flat mate). It is important to have more than a pair of eyes looking at it so that the right decisions can be made. Your vision can be quite narrow when you look at it alone.
WOW – The first noticeable quality of your pictures is, even before their eccentric composition, the intense facial expressions. Faces seem to inspire you.
Even in your second job it’s all about faces and expressions.
Do you see faces as sculptures corresponding to the artworks of which life is made of?
SM. I would say so, yes. I once heard that until you are forty, you have the face that you came to the world with. After forty, you have the face that you deserve. In one of my exhibitions in Switzerland, I was asked if two of the protagonists in my pictures were relatives but we were actually talking about the same person separated by a thirty-year gap. It is great when this timelessness comes to light. These people might have never met, considering their age.
I see a big difference in the pictures I took in the 80’s and the ones taken nowadays. The models in the 80’s were much younger, as was I. Those pictures show, I would say, people’s defiance and stubbornness towards that historical period (the divided Berlin) and towards aging. I think that the fact of whether they had grown in a dictatorship or in a free country would make no difference. Their experiences in life are the decisive aspect in their expression.
WOW – You seem to be a very balanced and fulfilled person. Do you see yourself as an assembled kind of artwork? If so, do you think you actively assemble this artwork?
SM. I haven’t always been this balanced. For many years I had this inner conflict going on; wondering where I wanted to go, what my values were, what was success, what was luck, evanescence? But now I have answered some of these questions. For me, success is being able to tour my pictures, show them around, have people show interest in them and being invited to exhibitions. Another nice perk is selling my pictures. Of course, I am always happy to go back to my old night job. I have also settled down in that job, I wasn’t always like this.
For the record, I find it weird when people are surprised that I am a common person. If someone asks me something with manners, I will certainly answer politely. What would you expect? That I turn the table over?
I would be happy to know that my appearance and my personality actually reflected the sum of what I have seen and lived throughout my life.
SM. I didn’t miss photography at that time. I had the feeling that I’d said everything with my camera. With the fall of the DDR I thought my involvement with the camera and photos was simply over. Maybe this happened because I didn’t need my camera to build a parallel reality anymore, considering that everything that I had always dreamed of was now available in reality. But photography is a journey, a process, which can always be rediscovered. Many people felt the same in those times (when the Berlin Wall fell), but no one could express that because it was a very new thing. Society was turned upside down and each individual handled it differently. People who surrounded me did not talk about it, probably because they were all trying to find their own way out. Consequently, I went to work in the all-new Berliner scene, along with many others. I did not see that as a fault, it was a great time and that same feeling was still there when I started taking photos again. The luxury to be free, to do what I wanted, was the only thing that really mattered.
WOW – Two different worlds are exposed in your pictures: the feeling between desire and disgust and attraction and fear. Where do you see the connection between those two extremes?
SM. I have always been interested in opposition. I try as much as I can to break clichés. I feel like my mindset has been transmitted to the picture’s observer if they realize that opposition. In East Berlin, this opposition was not so present – I didn’t invent it, it was more about my inner life. I’ve just recently realized that back then in East Berlin, I mostly photographed women and only two men who recurrently came up. Nowadays, I photograph almost only men and two women that recurrently come up. But it wasn’t all of those oppositions that changed so dramatically. I guess it is more related to the fact that back in the 80’s I was more concerned with my search for a role as a man in life and in society. Those things were pretty different back then.
WOW – In your pictures you often show people in a direct relationship with nature, naked people lying on a plant or on dirt. This should be totally natural, as the word itself already dictates; however, many people from our ‘sterile’ world find it disgusting. Is your intention to show a mirror?
SM. It’s about pictures taken in the 80’s and actually, I find it poetic. Provocation or criticisms to society were never part of my motivation. It represents something peaceful to me. As for the dirt, I have to think a bit. In East Berlin there were lots of abandoned apartments. I guess the dilapidated buildings already tell a story and when you go in there you just keep the dirt. At that moment, when you enter an abandoned and dirty house you wonder what the story behind that place is, you can identify the antagonism between fear and desire, and that’s exciting.
WOW – In some pictures you play with symbols, including Christian symbols. Are you religious?
SM. I am not religious at all but Christianity is the best representative of the themes in the Europe I grew up in. I think my fascination with cemeteries already began in East Berlin and was related to my love for quiet and abandoned places. It was a way to escape from East Germany’s dismal day-to-day – trespassing limits and connecting to other times. I find that what the church offers is somehow outdated and does not correspond to the needs of our time, although some things are somewhat very attractive. Once I was looking for a location to shoot in a church and the people there only agreed to let us use the place if we declared, in writing, that we wouldn’t produce any sexual content. After taking a long hard look at us, one of the women there went on to tell us unbaptized people should not wear crosses. We told them it was a way to transform something old-fashioned into something new, but they did not like it at all (laughs).
WOW – When is your next exhibition?
SM. There are two exhibitions going on in Switzerland. In August there will be a group exhibition called “My Icon” in a gallery called Neurotitan in Haus Schwazenberg, where artists from the whole world participate. I am really excited about it. Not much is planned for Berlin yet though.
I like to be in a spot between clubbing culture and art because I don’t feel confortable with that “who-knows-who” and “see-to-be-seen” behavior that you get at that sort of event. I love to show my work in clubs because I am able to reach a type of audience that would normally not go to an art gallery. “Rudel 2”, the musicians, is still being exhibited in Berghain. “Rudel 1”, the doormen, was exhibited in Berghain in the past. I still don’t know if there is going to be a “Rudel 3”. There is a plan for a book next year with eastern women and western men; I want to create this clash between people from the 80’s and contemporary characters.
WOW – Wikipedia says that your birthday is between 01.02 and 18.02.
SM. Did you party for two straight weeks or you just did not want to reveal the exact date of your Birthday?
I did not know about that. My birthday is on the 03rd of February (03.02.1962). I am not on Facebook and I don’t read what is said about me online very often.
Special thanks to:
Matthias Spohn, Christoph Mayr, Paula Strakos, Zora Morgenthaler and Kathrin Hain