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German Explains Art of Light at the Opening Ceremony

German light artist Andree Verleger told DW-WORLD.DE about his role as an art director for the Olympic Opening Ceremony, revealing the concepts behind his novel art form and the creative process backstage in Beijing.

A girl touching a pulse of green light

Verleger said he works to create images people can feel

DW-WORLD.DE: In descriptions of your work one often comes across phrases like "the cloud principle of images," which sounds very poetic. Where are the borders between a light technician and an artist such as yourself?

Well you really do begin to ask yourself that question. When you take to look at something, if you are a technician, you try to somehow reproduce or produce an image through an electronic medium that is visible to others. I find myself often asking, what is an image, and what can I do with it? What is happening with the image? And when it bounces out from somewhere as a projection or when it comes out of a screen, what happens then inside your head?

That means that when I think about these images, I'm thinking about what makes them exciting for us. With what emotions do we respond to the image? I think about the habitual image associations within our minds, the links we make with images that are already known to us. I ask myself where I can build on these types of things and how I can influence them. These are the aspects that give us the power to consider things in an imaginative way, and not just to "consume" a picture.

When did you start considering emotion in your work?

Andree Verleger

Andree Verleger called himself an artist of the imagination

It has been about five years now. Five years ago I thought to myself, I really come from the background of an events organizer. I was also a musician for 10 or 15 years prior to that. Then I thought about working with visuals so I worked in organizing events. But I started to find it boring, and it came to the point where I felt that something new had to happen in the language of images.

We needed to develop another language of images that simply does not revolve around the flat surface of a screen or the reproduction of an image on a wall. That was the point when I started asking myself, how can I conduct images so that they become more alive, so that they are maybe even physically tangible or can be understood as metaphors?

I thought it was important to have a real connection with the images so that we no longer feel "addressed" by the image, but rather that we feel really moved -- in every sense of the word. That was when I started experimenting with things like mechanical images and tangible images. I thought about the relationship between spectator and image and between performance artist and image and the spectator.

That leads onto the topic of my next question: What is the role of people in your concepts?

The most important role. I do not know anything more powerful than an artist or performance artist standing on the stage who really connects with the images and who transports the images to the spectators -- because people identify with other people.

The artist on the stage has a power, like a kind of aura, that an ordinary picture could never replace. That means that this bond, this subtlety or this sensitivity to the spectacle then surpasses the point where you could become distracted from it. The most important factor is that one is not faced with easily consumable pictures, rather -- and this is the "cloud principle" that I often talk about -- it is most important that the images leave space for the spectators to fill in with their own interpretations and narratives, to develop their own internal cinema, like when you read a book.

An man walking in one of Andree Verleger's spectacles

People play a crucial part in the spectacles

You once said the artists act as the fingers of the audience, could you explain that idea?

I like to interpret the performance artists as fingers because it gives the sense of direct touch. The finger reaches out and touches a direct point of contact. People say I often talk about emotions or about things that touch people, and I really mean it in a tangible sense, so that the spectators really sense that someone is touching them inside their heads.

You were not allowed to work with your team in China. How do you work around that? In the day-to-day politics of a nation, what is the role of the artist?

My team, of course, still works in Germany. I am not here (in China) permanently, rather I am here for about 10 days and then gone for 10 days or sometimes I am here for 14 days and in Germany for five. So I have a huge changeover because production technicians in Germany are completing things for me with my team. So it's a huge task for me as I feel compelled -- although not in any negative sense -- to take on the challenge of working with a Chinese team, and it's a surprising experience.

Enjoyable on the one hand, although of course it's occasionally strenuous. But on the other hand, it's really enriching because when you work with your own team in your own country you end up constantly treading the same paths, whereas here I have to learn everything anew and I have got to know new ways of thinking. But the main aim was to create something, and to create it with other people. When I was asked a question I would respond with my own more Western viewpoint, and my colleagues were very grateful for that.

An image from one of Andree Verleger's spectacles

His theaters of light have been presented in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Las Vegas

So do you feel that there was space for your own point of view, or were you mainly serving someone else's way of thinking in preparing the ceremony?

No, I did not feel that way at all, and it was not like that. Rather, I would often give presentations to Zhang Yimou, the master of ceremonies who is responsible for the grand opening, and he would welcome these presentations with an open mind. I could tell by his eyes whether they were things that interested him or not and whether he would agree to take them onboard. It really worked out well, and in the end Zhang Yimou told me that I really inspired him. That was a very important factor -- that through my ideas I really managed to inspire other people.

In your opinion, what kind of relationship should exist between art and politics?

I try to tell my own story here. That means that I wasn't pressured by the press or anything. I came here, was warmly welcomed and worked with a team. I tried to implement my own visions. Our working relationship was not built on politics, we were moving in the space "between the lines" so to speak. I was given total freedom to pursue and express my ideas and politics was not an issue in our day-to-day work together.

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