Walking into WHITEvoid’s Prenzlauer Berg office is something of a dreamland for anyone interested in audiovisual design. One side of the office holds a dedicated team, coding their way around the design prototypes which stand dotted around the rest of the space.
In the basement, there is a small workshop that contains a 3D printer, tools and remnants of past projects, as well as electronics to build circuit boards. Then again, this workshop is only the testing ground, as the company has a warehouse space for large-scale testing further out of the city. Among upcoming projects for WHITEvoid is the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s destruction, while recent projects have included lighting design for Phillips’ OLED system of lights, and multiple commissions for car companies (Citroën, Renault) that explore form and shape through lighting.
WHITEvoid’s award-winning projects are often difficult to explain in words (check out the video above). They are visually and experientially spectacular, which has led to great demand for their work for both artistic and commercial projects. For example, for “Flare Façade”, they created tiltable, reflective shingles that create motion on the surface of a building, while in “Fluidic”, they created an interactive cloud of tiny balls that can, through lasers and a computer interface, represent three-dimensional movements. Throughout all these endeavours, the focus for remains how to best represent the 3D pixel. WHITEvoid founder Christopher Bauder explains: “I always wanted to export this stuff from inside my screen to the real world. How can I make the smallest digital thing in real life, that is: the pixel? I tried to bring this out into the real world, so it became about how to suspend and then move things in space.”
Bauder, who started the audiovisual company ten years ago, trained in interactions design here in Berlin, but was frustrated by the two-dimensional constraints imposed on his work. As a student, he used 3D mapping with video to create a more immersive experience, but he was still unhappy with the possibilities he was able to create.
“I did like virtual reality but it was still always trapped in the screen, with the keyboard and mouse for input. I was very annoyed by that. I still can’t type with ten fingers, so what use is that as an interface? It’s not self-explanatory at all: it’s really bad actually!”
It is this concept of interaction with the digital in real life that forms the conceptual basis of his work, though the end product may appear almost architectural in its expression. And when I say “real life”, I mean REAL life: Bauder is dismissive of technology that allows us to interact in three dimensions at a distance from reality. For example, he hates Google Glass. His work leads instead towards true interaction with the virtual. “I’m interested in shapes I can modulate, that have a flexible form that I can control from the computer. I don’t like having to wear glasses and having a virtual form that is not present in physical space. For me, it’s a surrogate, when instead it needs to be fully immersive and tangible. I need to feel the presence of the virtual and not just have it superimposed somewhere on the side of my vision.”
Despite this interest in interaction and technology, Bauder’s inspirations in his work are far more low-fi: “My inspiration is nature and the principles of physics. I’m fascinated by light – all my projects are related to light and all the different sources of light. I also often look at materials, new and old. When new technologies come out, we get inspired by because we have a blank canvas. But I like using old tech – mirrors, reflection, shadow and light. These are very tangible physical things, but we give it a new twist by arranging it on the computer, doing things that may be too complicated to draw in two dimensions, or don’t work in a model. The computer allows us to do something new with this old tech.”
With so much going into the projects WHITEvoid create, it is hard to pin Bauder down to a description of the company’s work. However, he agrees to try: “What we do is audiovisual cinography, but what we want to achieve? Creating an emotion. If people say “wow” when they see it, then we have succeeded.”