Artist Tim Berresheim sits on a stone bench with a wall in the background.

Old world, new technology − an interview with artist Tim Berresheim


“The curator Hans-Jürgen Hafner was the first person to give me lots of space. He just let me get on with it. They were brave in Düsseldorf.”

Tim Berresheim’s art isn’t what you’d call immediately accessible. Instead, it seems enigmatic and complex, extremely diverse in its expression and full of hidden clues and symbols. Berresheim himself says that he deliberately refuses to facilitate simple interpretations. We meet the burly artist at his first major retrospective at Düsseldorf’s NRW Forum, where he is immediately surrounded by a throng of people. When Berresheim expounds on the processes for conceiving and creating his contemporary, computer-aided art, explaining his approach and his intentions, he is met with curiosity and wonder. We had our own questions for him, about his unusual art and his working methods, about studying at Düsseldorf’s Academy of Arts and about his favourite places in the city.

Your exhibition at the NRW Forum in Düsseldorf is called New Old World. What’s behind that title?
The title refers to my assumption that we are about to open up a new world, namely the digital space. Using that digital space in a meaningful way, making it our own, is currently one of our major challenges. But whenever a new technology emerges, we are faced with the same questions: what is useful for us as people, what is of less use? My work can be seen as an attempt to answer these questions – and resolve this age-old problem – through the medium of art.

You also refer to your exhibited work as artistic contemporary archaeology. What is the archaeological aspect?
The archaeological part of my work is to highlight phenomena that are not obvious. Computer technology is a very complex world, and everywhere I dig I’m discovering different knowledge. I’m convinced that the world is undergoing seismic changes and it’s worth digging now in order to make things visible that are happening out of sight.

Could you go into a bit more detail? What do visitors get to see in your exhibition?
On the one hand there are finds from the Vogelherd, a cave (editor’s note: near Niederstotzingen in the Lone valley, a major archaeological site from the Upper Paleolithic period) in which humans left behind artefacts and tools 40,000 years ago. And then there are other tools, my pictures. You could describe them as thought tools, created using a cognitive tool, the computer. Tools always need to be thought of, they don’t just fall from the skies. The narrative space that I’m opening up here shows on one side the hand axe, as the first tool. It then took another 19,000 years until humans emerged from the cave and began farming. That means this first tool led to others in its wake. It’s the same with my work. After all, we are always having to reimagine tools for communicating or for creating pictures. This exhibition shows my musings on that – using pictures from the last 25 years.

You have said that your computer is an equal partner who takes work off your hands. What does it do for you?
The more mindless and annoying tasks. I don’t use it to create pictures, but to process interminable volumes of data. I scanned seven caves for this exhibition, that amounted to billions of data records. Virtually impossible for a person to map manually.

The heavily tattooed hands of Tim Berresheim are holding a smartphone displaying the word ‘computer’ on its screen.

You are self-taught, not least when it comes to technology. What first sparked your fascination for the medium?
Even when I was only seven or eight years old, I already saw the computer as some sort of saviour. I was born in 1975 in the back of beyond. Back then, the view of computers was often dystopian. We had Pershing missiles around the corner, we had the Cold War and there were film like War Games. I’ve never been interested in the computer as a networked application. The computer as a tool for work and medium for output that can single-handedly transform or visualise infinite volumes of data – that’s what excited me! The computer provided me with the illusion of control. That’s what it’s all about.

You studied art in Braunschweig and Düsseldorf. How did your affinity for computers go down at the art academy?
I was interested in the emotional setting of digital art. How does it feel? And to me it felt warm and real right from the start. At the academy I realised that most people perceive computers as deficient and inauthentic. They think there is no signature, that the author disappears behind it. I saw this completely differently. In my eyes, it’s not a deficiency, but rather an indication of the quality of art; if it is artificial, that’s a good thing. In 2007, there was a backlash in the form of a painting boom. And even today, almost 20 years later, some artists remain a bit suspicious of digital art.

Is that attitude reflected by the art critics?
Not by the art critics, no. It’s not as if there is one type of ‘digital artist’, there are hundreds of different activities employing hundreds of different tools. I use the computer this way, others use it in other ways. The label ‘digital artist’ isn’t meaningful, it falls short. I see myself as a contemporary artist.

You studied under Albert Oehlen at the Düsseldorf Academy of Arts at the end of the 1990s. What was the most important lesson you learnt there?
I actually only spent one week at the Academy of Arts. (Laughs) It really didn’t work for me at all. But Albert Oehlen invited me to Cologne, to his studio, that was a pivotal experience. Simply put, his lesson was about concentration and courage. He was a very focused, very courageous person. I knew punks, I knew skinheads, my parents were solidly middle class. In Albert, I encountered an alternative concept for living, one that worked for me.

What have been your experiences of the Düsseldorf art scene?
In 2014, I had my exhibition ‘Auge und Welt’ (Eye and World) in Düsseldorf, at the Rhineland and Westphalia Kunstverein. The curator Hans-Jürgen Hafner was the first person to give me lots of space. He just let me get on with it. They were brave in Düsseldorf.

What else do you associate with Düsseldorf?
I went to a lot of punk concerts on Kiefernstrasse, for example at AK47. And I bought my first pair of Doc Martens at Pick Up in the Altstadt.

What do you do when you come to Düsseldorf?
I love eating out in Düsseldorf. I also love to go shopping. And I like to look at art here. The city is well proportioned. I don’t have to go very far to find something interesting to do. And I really like that.

Where do you hang out?
At Bouillabaisse on Neustrasse, for one. You won’t find a place like that anywhere else. But I also like Bar Olio and Brasserie Hülsmann in Oberkassel.

Portrait of Tim Berresheim

Tim Berresheim can be seen at Galerie Beck & Eggeling as part of the group exhibition ‘Der Blumenstrauß. Die vergängliche Pracht. Fotografie von den Anfängen bis heute’ (The Floral Bouquet. The Ephemeral Splendour. Photographs from the early days to the present) until 29 June 2024.

Since 15 May 2024, Tim Berresheim has been exhibiting at the fiftyfifty gallery. The artist supported the homeless charity with a dedicated benefit exhibition and the sale of selected pieces, including 15 photographic works, originals and a multiple in three colours.

Interview: Ilona Marx
Photos: Markus Luigs
New Old World exhibition photos: NRW Forum

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