FIBER x The Rest Is Noise: In conversation with Theresa Baumgartner

Ahead of this year’s edition of FIBER x The Rest Is Noise, which will take place on Friday, January 5, we spoke with visual artist Theresa Baumgartner, who will adorn GEZEGEN, CEM’s experimental live performance, with her light scenography.

8 min readJan 4, 2024
CEM (live) presents GEZEGEN, with Theresa Baumgartner and Mauro Ventura | Photo: Philippe Gerlach

Straddling the line between sanity and insanity, the familiar and the unfamiliar, Theresa Baumgartner invokes the otherworldly, the uncanny, and the primal, through a light scenography that, with each beam that carves through the darkness, invites both discomfort and awe. The Berlin-based light and media artist will adorn Cem Dukkha’s (CEM) abstract soundscapes and Mauro Ventura’s striking stage design with her surreal visual worlds during the former’s live performance, GEZEGEN (planet, in Turkish), which will be presented during FIBER x The Rest Is Noise at Muziekgebouw, on January 5, 2024.

GEZEGEN is a search for inner worlds and moments of solace, containing hints to Dukkha’s Sufi background. Baumgartner will use the delusive metal-sculpture made by intermedia artist Mauro Ventura to play with shadows and light, crafting introspective, experiential storytelling that tugs at the subconscious.

With influences spanning from experimental noise and punk to painting and sculpture, Baumgartner’s work floats between audiovisual performance, installation art, and experimental art film. She has previously collaborated with an impressive range of acts, such as Hildur Guðnadóttir, Abyss X, Bendik Giske, Gediminas Žygus, and Holly Childs. (Baumgartner also provided the light design for upsammy and Jonathan Castro’s performance of Germ in a Population of Buildings during Rewire Festival 2023.)

For Baumgartner, who has found navigating the fine arts world to be often uneasy, approaching music from a non-musician positionality lends itself better to a more collectivist and democratic ethos, leading to a visceral blend of disorder and experimentation with painterly and sculptural sensibilities.

Over the holidays, FIBER spoke with the artist about her collaboration with Dukkha and Ventura, the artistic vision and sensory experiences that underpin her practice, and her playful, punk-inflected approach.

Theresa Baumgartner

FIBER: How would you describe your own practice, and what fundamental values or interests consistently influence your work?

Theresa: I’m a visual artist and stage designer. I build installations, sculptures and environments. My main driving force is storytelling, but on a more emotional level. You build a world for people to walk into and people can experience this world on an emotional level rather than a rational one.

With lights, you don’t really tell linear stories . I always describe it as communicating with people´s reptile brains. Light is a sensory stimulus that triggers on a deeper — than — rational level, a more subconscious way of interacting with the world.

I’m not thinking about it in a very esoteric sense, but it works differently thanmere verbal communication. very simply: sunlight means safety, darkness means eerie strobe means unsafe. All of those are sensory stimuli. This is what I like to use to build a narrative.

Together with CEM and Mauro Ventura, you will present the new live performance “Gezegen”. What artistic experience did you develop for it? What choices did you make regarding the use of media in relation to the music and the story?

GEZEGEN seeks to wander the threshold between inner worlds. Divided by a barrier that allows to speculate the nature of its purpose, whether a gate or a fence, this liminal space unveils with the lights that shine riddled by uncertainty. The show is a lot about the dynamics between what is visible and hidden, between the conscious and unconscious.

What people see is equally important to what they do not get to see, what they feel and what is imprinted on their minds and retina.
There is a threshold between collective and singular experiences and I am curious about that.

Light design for “Germ in a Population of Buildings” with upsammy and Jonathan Castro | Photo: Pierre Zylstra
Light scenography for “Cracks” by Bendik Giske live at MUTEK (2022) | Photo: Bruno Destombes

How did the artistic collaboration between the three of you come to fruition?

We’ve known each other through friends and are familiar with each other’s work, and this is kind of how the collaboration got together. But this is going to be the first time that we work together. The initial step is always a conversation about approach, thoughts and story. Mauro created the main visual element to GEZEGEN, that I get to interact with.

You have done quite a few collaborations. What draws you to a creative partner and how does each collaboration shape your process?

Usually collaborations happen quite organically. It very rarely comes from someone completely removed, that I don’t know at all. It’s very important to me that you get along, actually understand each other and each other’s work.

“Animosity” (SOPHIE Remix) with Abyss X

Your work is informed both by the experimental energy of noise and punk shows, as well as your fine arts background. How do you reconcile these sensibilities, and do they still imbue your scenographies in GEZEGEN?

I depends on how you look at both things, whether they need or don’t need reconciliation. Both can be aesthetic approaches. If you think of one as subculture and the other one a marketplace, then there’s definitely a background of me tiptoeing into the upmarket art world and not feeling very comfortable in it. Subsequently I somehow found my way in the music world as a non-musician, which felt to me the more democratic space. People buy a ticket to see a show in contrast to one person buying an art piece that will then end up in someone’s living room.

I generally prefer seeking how to break things or how to turn things upside down — which I would consider more in a left field way of looking at the world than a marketplace driven one.

Since you talk about entering music from a non-musician perspective and as you will also soon conduct a spatial design workshop for live performances and DJ sets during the Sonic Acts Biannial, how do you ensure spatial and light design enhance the experience of space and sound in a way that is integral to the story and experience, rather than a gimmick?

I always try and think: is this a party that I would like to be in? I think of the space, the music and try to make sure that people can zone into their experience and the exchange they have with their friends. I try to create an environment where this is possible.

Stage design and visuals for “Myxomy” during Rewire (2022) | Photo: Pierre Zylstra
JASSS & Theresa Baumgartner, “STEAM” (2019–2020) | Photo: Marcel Weber

What role does technological development play in your work? For instance: The influence of AI and machine learning in artistic practices is steadily growing. How does this personally translate to your film and light design practice?

Personally, I’m not too worried that AI is going to steal my job, because it involves a lot of carrying stuff. I don’t think that AI can do that yet [laughs].

AI will have a massive impact on certain industries, like coding for example. For me personally, it’s a tool that I have used, sometimes more and sometimes less successfully.

I’ve used it for a video installation Sam Slater and I made together. For me personally, it is one of my most favourite pieces. It’s a video installation of someone falling on his face in slow motion and then getting up again from two angles, over the course of half an hour. We filmed it and we used AI to upscale the image, which created this flickering that comes with those softwares, this uncanny sort of AI grain. It tied the whole thing together and turned it into a Caravaggio painting more than a film.

If you use a tool you can tell a story, but I think the tool should never be the story.

My other experiences with AI so far have been that you’re interacting with the fever dream of a quite dull human.

“I do not wish to be known as a Vandal“ with Sam Slater and Lukas Malkowski (2021)

Your point about not focusing on the tool is really important. It feels like people focus on the novelty of AI-generated art, and then it ends up being an echo chamber where the actual substance of it is overlooked.

Yeah, I guess you have to do some research about it or around it. I couldn’t find something very interesting in the tools, but this is also not really where I usually look. I usually use tools to build something weird, or that’s what I want to do.

Where do you usually look for that?

I read- novels, poems, magazines, or just go on Wikipedia binges. I sit in front of the computer and just scroll down for hours or go to the library and look at art books. I put a bunch of random information in my brain, shake it and then see what comes out of me.

Or playing with it?

I think play is really important in finding new ways and also just to be happy. There are people who can create art from a place of anger or critique, but I think I need to be in a bit more of a happy, exploring place, and then I can exist without hating it here [laughs].

Without revealing too much, in what ways do you relate to the themes illuminated in GEZEGEN both as an artist and as an individual? What elements from the performance would you emphasise for the audience?

I do think I relate to it a lot. I relate to the dance around the subconscious and the uncanny, what’s there and what’s hidden. That is quite an integral part of how I want to create. And as I mentioned before, I think a lot about the “reptile” brain, what Mauro and Cem would call inner worlds. Different words, but there’s a lot of parallels in what we mean with it.

If you lean into your unconscious and if you give it a bit more airtime in your waking life, it becomes very hard to distinguish sometimes what´s a dream, what’s real, whether there’s more true in the stuff that you dream up or the stuff that you live, and how it all informs each other.

I think GEZEGEN is quite a beautiful poetic way of looking at liminal spaces.

Interview and text: Eleni Maragkou

FIBER x The Rest Is Noise returns to its trusted slot, on the first Friday of the new year, at Muziekgebouw. Joining Cem Dukkha, Theresa Baumgartner, and Mauro Ventura, Thessa Torsing, better known as upsammy, will perform her latest album, Germ in a Population of Buildings, supported with dreamy visuals by Peruvian visual artist Jonathan Castro, for the first time in Amsterdam. The evening will be musically tied together by Slimfit (DJ). For more information, click here.




Amsterdam based platform and festival for audiovisual art, digital culture and electronic music. Upcoming events: FIBER Festival 2024