Sven Johne

Das sowjetische Hauptquartier

September 13 – December 16, 2023

Fluentum presents Das sowjetische Hauptquartier, a solo exhibition by artist and filmmaker Sven Johne. The titular 33-minute film Das sowjetische Hauptquartier (The Soviet Headquarters) (2023), produced by Fluentum, is set on the now-abandoned premises of the former Haus der Offiziere (House of Officers) in Wünsdorf, Brandenburg. The palatial estate, built in the early-twentieth century in a neo-baroque style, served as a type of headquarters and cultural center for the Soviet troops stationed in East Germany until 1994. In Johne’s new work, it becomes the setting for a real estate showing. The wordy Becker (Marc Zwinz), a real estate agent doomed to succeed, leads Katharina Baronn (Luise Helm), supposedly a prospective buyer, through the desolate facilities. As the narrative progresses, the film’s focus shifts and Baronn’s inner monologue takes over. When she was eight years old, Baronn witnessed the departure of the Soviet troops from the headquarters. Since then, a nostalgic “child’s USSR” (in the words of Johne) has haunted her memories as an idealized alternative to actually existing capitalism. Das sowjetische Hauptquartier is about early imprints, the potency of ideologies, and the farewell to childhood.

The space where Fluentum shows exhibitions was built in the 1930s as an administrative facility for the Nazi Luftwaffe, later serving as headquarters for the US military in West-Berlin. As an ideological and historical counterpart to the Haus der Offiziere—one that has not fallen into neglect, but was architecturally restored in the wake of the premises’ privatization in the 2010s—the film’s presentation at Fluentum becomes an allegory on the enduring narratives of the post-Wende era: on alleged winners and losers, remembering and forgetting.

In Sven Johne’s works, personal narratives are draped over the cornerstones of official history, ultimately retelling it through individual perspectives and moments of emotional upheaval. In his videos and photographic works, Johne appropriates documentary aesthetics, but subverts its claims to truth by infusing it with fictional elements. The result is a realism beyond authenticity and mimesis, one that amounts to more than the sum of its parts.

On the upper floor, an installation of five earlier video pieces by Johne demonstrates his long-standing engagement with the longing for change, the feeling of political stasis, and the present and past of East Germany. Similar to Das sowjetische Hauptquartier, these works employ the montage of voice-over, narrative, and the filmic image to showcase the entanglement of personal stories and political powers. In On Vanishing (2022) and Meridian (2020), it is the emotional irrationality of a child’s perspective that guides the viewer. Works such as Greatest Show on Earth (2011), Dear Vladimir Putin (2017) and A Sense of Warmth (2015), which are part of the Fluentum Collection, tackle issues that remain controversial to this very day––like the search for ideological belonging. They also display the collection’s special focus on art that considers historical material within a contemporary social context and questions media’s transformation of storytelling.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue designed by André Fuchs, to be published in December.

Installation views © Stefan Korte.