Recognise this face? If you’ve ever lined up at Berghain in Berlin, it’s no doubt burned into your memory, along with a substantial feeling of angst.
Sven Marquardt has controlled the door at the world’s best techno club (there’s no contest) for more than a decade. During that time he’s been mythologised almost as much as the former power station itself, which is known for its savage Funktion-One sound system and debaucherous fetish nights. Imagine a stadium-sized Revolver and you have an accurate picture of the place. It’s common for clubbers to fly from other parts of Europe just to spend the weekend there, provided they can get past that tattooed face and aggressively impassive stare.
Long before he was a bouncer, Marquardt was taking photos. He started in 1982, as a young East German behind the Berlin Wall. His work has since appeared on T-shirts by Hugo Boss, and has been exhibited in Brazil, Singapore, New York, Italy, France and Sweden.
“Sven is very well-known in Berlin. Mostly as the bouncer at Berghain, but really as a Berlin cultural icon,” says Brad Spolding, the director of The Substation in Newport. The venue is exhibiting 20 of Marquardt’s portraits from tonight until the end of May. They feature bouncers and other characters around Berlin.
The Substation got the tap from German-language school The Goethe Institut, which has previously toured Blixa Bargeld and Love Parade founder Matthias Roeingh to promote the edgier side of German culture. The similarities between Berghain and The Substation (both former power stations) weren’t lost on it.
Marquardt will open the exhibition with a talk, which sold out “in about five seconds”, before local DJs Andras Fox and Bunker take over to deliver several hours of Berghain-ready techno (slow, heavy, punishing).
“We’re getting emails from hundreds of people saying they can’t get into the artist talk,” Spolding says. “They’re saying, ‘I studied photography’ or ‘I lived in Berlin’. People are interested for a lot of different reasons. He’s the artwork. Everyone wants to meet him.”
That Marquardt’s work is primarily concerned with identity isn’t surprising. “I exclusively shoot portraits,” he tells Broadsheet through an interpreter. “I’m only interested in photographing people.”
That’s been his MO since the late ’80s, when he first became interested in the punk movement, styling his hair and applying eye makeup to rebel against the socialist government.
He still shoots in grainy black and white (“it’s more dramatic”) using an analogue Nikon FM2. “It’s more exciting because until you get the finished images you have no idea what the result will be.”
Sven Marquardt: Fotografien shows at The Substation, 1 Market Street, Newport from April 28 to May 31, 2016. The opening-night party runs from 7pm to midnight. Entry to the exhibition is free.