When the artist Pablo Wendel can no longer pay his electricity bill, he has a radical idea: why not produce the electricity himself? Years later, he and his partner, curator Helen Turner, brought that idea to life with E-Werk Luckenwalde, a 1910s coal-fired power plant transformed into a sustainable power plant and art gallery. Their view of Kunststrom – the power generated by and for art – is at the heart of the project, which seizes on so-called means of production to create an avant-garde approach to art and electricity.
The spirit of the former E-Werk power plant is visible upon arrival in the form of a quirky stained glass window in the entrance: a raised fist, lightning bolts emanating from its center. Helen explains that the authorities wanted to tear it down after the war, calling it fascist iconography. It was the former factory workers who fought to keep it, recalling that it is the left fist that is raised, a symbol of workers’ power.
This feeling is reflected in the exhibitions, which play with the ideas of colonialism and industrialism, and their effects on the environment. The entire building, including all the multimedia exhibits, is powered by E-Werk’s own sustainable energy, which is also fed into the grid and used to provide electricity to people across the region.
E-Werk is pleasantly industrial, with ceilings that will put your Altbau to shame and glimpses of pastel green antique machinery everywhere. The Turbine Hall, which once housed huge power-generating turbines and now hosts large-scale exhibits, is particularly impressive. There is a certain quietude in a room that is at once so huge and empty: you feel alone with the art in a way that is difficult to recreate in more traditional galleries. Be sure to bring your jacket, as a place this large is almost impossible to heat properly. The other two rooms are both smaller and brighter, and the three spaces host a rotation of shows throughout the year.
From the turbine hall, it is possible to see a slice of the plant itself. One of the most important production halls, it once carried coal through the bowels of the factory and now carries wood chips from forest fires and felled trees in Brandenburg, the raw material behind the electricity from E-Werk. The machinery glistens in the light of the huge, multi-paned double doors behind it, and the ambience of the room itself is a mix of rustling woodchips flying through overhead chutes and the sweet smell close to the essence of fresh wood pulp and metal. In fact, a new “smell artist” (Sissel Tolaas) is considering using this olfactory profile in her work.
A working town
E-Werk isn’t the city’s only architectural gem. Berliners looking for apartments may feel envious of Luckenwalde’s wealth of beautiful abandoned buildings, many of which are former factories built with surprising attention to detail. The famous hat factory, which was the crowning glory of Luckenwalde at the start of the 20th century, was designed by Erich Mendelsohn in the expressionist style and sports its own “top hat”. Bauhaus-style bad bad hosted the opera performance piece Sun & Sea (a joint work by Lina Lapelytė, Vaiva Grainytė and Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė) in her empty swimming pool last summer, presented by E-Werk.
After exploring the remnants of Luckenwalde’s industrial heritage, do Marx proud by stopping at the Worker’s Canteen, a retro dining hall serving hearty DDR-style plates for less than the price of your BVG round-trip ticket. The canteen is only open from 10am to 2pm on weekdays, so if you’re visiting on the weekend, head to klassMO, a small ‘cultural cafe’ that serves coffee, cakes and a 10am large portion lunch to 19h. End the day with a sauna and soak at Fläming-Therme Luckenwalde, a no-frills spa that locals say is frequented by savvy Berliners.
January visitors will be able to see works in the POWER NIGHTS: Being mothers program. A collection of trippy, home-movie style films from the Karrabing Film Collective, a not-for-profit Australian Aboriginal group, is currently screened in the Turbine Room with The Family (a zombie movie) in its center. In one of the smaller rooms, Himali Singh Soin exhibits Static rangea multi-element piece inspired by the stranger-than-fiction story of a supposed nuclear power leak in the Indian Himalayas.
Keep an eye out for a special event this year: the unveiling of Super Duty, a 1969 American fire truck (purchased, of course, on eBay Kleinanzeigen) that Pablo plans to convert into a portable vehicle Kunststrom provider. You can also experience Kunststrom from your home and support the project by switching to E-Werk as your energy provider, a relatively painless process described in detail on their website.
How to get there
Get on the RE3 towards Lutherstadt Wittenberg Hauptbahnhof. Disembark at Luckenwalde, then walk 15 minutes to reach E-Werk. The journey (including walking) takes just under an hour from Sudkreuz. Visits by appointment only. Email [email protected] to plan your trip. The gallery is free.
Coming soon at E-Werk Luckenwalde
POWER NIGHTS: Being mothers, A growing exhibition curated by Lucia Pietroiusti. Until July 31, 2022
Chapter Three: Opening February 5, 2022, Isabel Lewis & Sissel Tolaas and Revital Cohen & Tuur Van Balen
Chapter 4: Opening March 20, 2022, Tabita Rezaire and Kitchen sections