LAS Art Foundation

THE SOUL STATION: Extended Guide

03 Jul 2024

Curators' Introduction

Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley is among the most radical voices today within a new generation of artists who create video games as audacious works of art. Video games have come to dominate the world’s entertainment culture, while at the same time influencing various productions and artistic genres, and increasingly becoming a place of experimentation for artists. A growing number of theorists and researchers are taking an interest in video games as a medium, acknowledging their artistic and thought-provoking qualities. What distinguishes them from other cultural and artistic media is their participatory nature. Without the commands issued and the decisions made by the player the game does not happen. In fact, a game is never exactly the same, and offers a different experience each time it is run.

Halle am Berghain is a space that seems destined to host Brathwaite-Shirley's work. Recreation and counter-culture are elements that define the famous Berlin club and are also features of game art, which cleverly uses a now popular cultural production to subvert its mechanics and develop critical and experimental approaches. For this industrial space, Brathwaite-Shirley has created a new collaborative, story-driven game, defined by a time loop, in which players are tasked with saving the lives of a handful of characters living in a parallel world, while facing moral dilemmas and ethical choices. Visitors are also invited to track their progress throughout the show, including older games presented in the arcade section, and eventually solve the puzzles presented by the SOUL STATIONS scattered throughout the venue.

Challenging the hyperrealism characteristic of the vast majority of popular and commercial video games, the artist uses an experimental language to shape critical postcolonial and gender identity discourses. Brathwaite-Shirley deliberately introduces formal constraints into the creative process, for example, by limiting the maximum number of polygons available for designing characters and 3D objects. These intentional restrictions result in a distinctly personal aesthetic that reveals not only extraordinary experimentation with form, but also a determination to deliver powerful, intellectually challenging and emotionally impactful experiences and narratives. The artist’s works are an invitation to explore the Other, the unknown, perhaps even to confront that which at first glance, through lack of experience or ignorance, appears uncanny.

Taking advantage of the medium’s inherent characteristics, Brathwaite-Shirley combines interactivity and formal experimentation to provoke introspection, an approach that has evolved throughout the artist’s career. The fate of the characters that inhabit Brathwaite-Shirley's virtual worlds is in the hands of the players, who are called upon to make decisions and reflect on their own ethical and moral choices – both in virtual universes and in the real world. Ultimately, the artist’s works speak of real communities and human beings, taking the experiences of Black and Queer people as a recurring thematic focus.

Brathwaite-Shirley invites us to shake up and question our beliefs and habits, waking us from the intellectual apathy and conventions that continue to insidiously permeate most cultural discourses and our everyday lives.

DR BORIS MAGRINI, SENIOR CURATOR

Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley’s new body of work – YOU CAN'T HIDE ANYTHING – plunges us into an alternative parallel world where both the plural histories of race, enslavement and colonisation as we know them, and the various notions of selfness, gender and sexuality are nothing like ours. Still, as space-time travellers we are asked to interact with(in) this universe, with no other option but to proceed using our earthly logical and moral bias – although these may not “fit” anymore. Like so, the artist challenges us as visitors, to recognise as much as to confront our own (un)conscious habits and roles in perpetuating or benefiting from systemic oppression; including cultural and identity discrimination, state genocide, extractivism and all forms of epistemological erasure – among other things.

Similarly, while one might initially be drawn to associate the work’s quirky and maximalist aesthetics with algorithmic glitches and randomness, they will soon realise how much sophistication and rawness are complementary rather than binary opposites. The discomfort experienced when encountering the other(ed) beauties of this alternative world is intended to provoke reflection on what is conventionally accepted and passively recognised as “valid”, “good” or “beautiful”; and all that doesn’t pass. All that is and all those who are so often and repeatedly disregarded, simplified, excluded, or outright erased. By entangling lush and low-poly details derived from motion capture and archival research with some hand-drawn elements, the kaleidoscopic scenes in the artworks serve as catalysts that shift the viewer’s perception and perspective.

But why such a specific mention of the “soul” in an exhibition that presents a seemingly familiar sci-fi scenario? In various Indigenous and shamanic traditions around the globe, “soul loss” refers to a fragmentation of the spirit. Often caused by hopelessness and trauma, it manifests in feelings of emptiness and disconnection. Thus, at a time of ongoing as well as renewed violence, ingrained colonialism and relentless grief – compounded by the inhuman unflinching acknowledgment, if not justification, that maintaining business as usual remains "necessary"–, how can we find a better way to describe the terrifying numbness that characterises our current situation? In other words, whether Brathwaite-Shirley transports us into a speculative realm or explicitly engages with the stories and archives of Black trans and non-binary people (as seen in other video games featured alongside YOU CAN'T HIDE ANYTHING), I am thankful to experience her works as digital initiatory journeys of communal accountability – and perhaps a step towards a broader process for social change.

Those who journey through Brathwaite-Shirley’s digital chronicle are called on to make a choice: either to participate in a collective movement to protect the integrity of every being, and especially those from marginalised / alien(ated) communities, or to remain focussed on one’s singular experience, whether in the game or in life, soulless. However, this powerful through the looking-glass installation isn’t about pinpointing individual guilt. Rather, it emphasises the importance of every single gesture as crucial for community-based healing and resilience practices to reintegrate the lost soul. It is only by combining both approaches – acknowledging personal involvement and taking mutual responsibility – that new and different ways to combat hegemonic impunity can be assembled.

Brathwaite-Shirley crafts digital experiences that demand profound introspection on a path to greater social awareness, innovatively expanding the instrumental potential of interactive media and video game art. Blending experimental aesthetics and design with situated activism and social critique, THE SOUL STATION is a wider reflective, inclusive and transformative space. Additionally, it is accompanied by a public program that consists of a series of invitations to seven artists, whose practices are also multilayered and intersectional – to perform during two special events and to host several youth workshops –, along a shared library. All the more collective instances that impel and recall us the (so!) many ways in which it is not only possible but vital to keep on shaping a world and imagination radically different from dominant models and ideals.

MAWENA YEHOUESSI, GUEST CURATOR & RESEARCHER

Artist Statement

EVERYTHING YOU’VE EVER DONE

IS RECORDED IN YOUR SOUL

EVERY THOUGHT

EVERY FEELING

EVERY FAILURE

EVERY DESIRE

EVERY ACTION


LOOK DEEP INSIDE OF YOURSELF

IN YOUR SOUL

LET IT WASH OVER YOU

SEE WHO YOU TRULY ARE

YOU MAY NOT LIKE WHAT YOU SEE

YOU MAY NOT BE ABLE TO BARE THE TRUTH

BUT IT'S NOT TOO LATE

TO CHANGE


TAKE A LOOK

THE SOUL STATION

YOU CAN’T HIDE ANYTHING, 2024

[ Episode 1 ]

YOU CAN’T HIDE ANYTHING tells the story of a cataclysmic event in a parallel society, where a revolution has been waged against globalised slavery and the enslavers have been overthrown. Played using a voting system, it features a central control chair and a circle of player-spectators who together determine the final outcome of the story. The audience witnesses the final moments of various characters' lives, listening to their dialogue and thoughts. While the players occupying the central seats are invited to choose which character to follow, the audience sitting in the arena can contribute to the decisions made by the central players. The installation created for this collaborative experience, reminiscent of large public arenas, symbolises common historical democratic infrastructures that often include leadership positions and citizen representatives.

ARE YOU SOULLESS, TOO?, 2024

[ Episode 2 ]


In the second episode, ARE YOU SOULLESS, TOO?, the audience witnesses the conversations of a new group of characters who have migrated from one universe to another, confronting different ideologies as they reflect and discuss them together. While the gameplay and controls follow the same mechanics as the first episode, the dynamic between the players sitting in the central chair and the audience is more antagonistic compared to the collective effort required in the previous episode. At the same time, Episode 2 offers a behind-the-scenes look at the real people and conversations that brought YOU CAN’T HIDE ANYTHING to life.

Instructions – Central Seat

  1. ​​1. Sit at the “leaders’ seat” and tap on the touch screen to begin. The leader controls where to go.
  2. 2. When the game starts push and pull the controller towards and away from yourself to move back and forwards.
  3. 3. Turn the wheel left and right to look around.
  4. 4. Press the red button to shoot your gaze: this will let you see more clearly, but be careful where you shoot, it may cause harm to others.
  5. 5. Icons will appear on the touch screen: tap them to interact with the world around you.
  6. 6. The more you look around the more you will discover.

Instructions – Audience

  1. 1. Icons will appear on your tablets: press the icons to interact with objects and vote.
  2. 2. Pay attention: it's up to all of you to decide how many people will be saved.

SOUL STATIONS, 2024

[ Episode 1 ] [ Episode 2 ]

SOUL STATIONS are available throughout the exhibition and online, allowing you to embark on a personal and introspective journey. Answering questions and deciphering symbols, you’ll be able to, as the artist suggests, cleanse your soul. An extension of the central work, YOU CAN’T HIDE ANYTHING, the SOUL STATIONS introduce a new encrypted language system, a compendium of symbols and emblems created by Brathwaite-Shirley and inspired by the scripts of past cultures. As you explore the installations and various games in the space, you will be able to collect clues that will allow you to decipher the codes and progress on your personal quest.

IMPORTANT: register your personal SOUL STATION account using the tablets provided at the entrance and write down your personal code below. You need to enter this code every time you access a SOUL STATION.

Instructions

  1. 1. Enter your personal code by tapping the red arrows and pressing the enter button to begin.
  2. 2. Once your soul has been uploaded there will be a selection of six ways to clean your soul, some of which may already be done depending on the state of your soul.
  3. 3. Tap on one of the six options to select.
  4. 4. Pay attention to all the symbols and numbers.
  5. 5. Solve the puzzles.

DEATH STATIONS, 2024

[ Episode 1 ] [ Episode 2 ]

Scattered around the hall are several vertical screens, or DEATH STATIONS, which preserve the lives of people who have passed away too soon. Like a frozen moment in time, an act of resistance, they hold people's memories, preventing them from being erased from history.

“DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO BE A LEADER ?

DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO DETERMINE
WHAT PEOPLE SEE ?
WHOSE CONVERSATIONS ARE HEARD ?
THE TOPICS TO BE VOTED ON ?

OR WILL YOU SIT ON THE SIDE WAITING FOR YOUR CHANCE TO VOTE
HOPING THE LEADER WILL LEAD YOU DOWN THE RIGHT PATH ?”

— Danielle brathwaite-shirley

Arcade Section

Selection of previous games

INTO THE STORM, 2022

[ Episode 1 ]

A vast storm has appeared in the middle of the ocean, slowly growing in size and changing the world’s climate. Facing a scenario of extinction, the planet’s remaining countries send ships to the eye of the storm, aiming to investigate its origins. As the player, you follow the only ship that survives, hailing from Black Trans Country, their journey broadcasted live via Black Trans TV. While listening to the passengers’ conversations grappling with feelings of fear and excitement for the unknown, you are asked to choose alliances that will decide your path on the ship. Will you carry through with the mission or give up in the face of impossibility? Could an impending apocalypse hold a new beginning? INTO THE STORM intimately interrogates our relationship to the unpredictable and the unfamiliar, illuminating individual and collective psychologies in the face of an approaching catastrophe.

Instructions

Manoeuvre the pointer with the joystick to the RESTART button on screen and press the red button to initiate the game. When a video has played and a choice is available, use the joystick and buttons to select your choices. Watch carefully.

PIRATING BLACKNESS, 2021

[ Episode 1 ]

WHO WERE YOUR ANCESTORS? Based on this query, PIRATING BLACKNESS sends the player on a cross-Atlantic voyage. But their answer provides them with entirely different goals and prerequisites. Following one route, the player navigates the ship to encounter relics, ruins, glitched spaces and wounds in the sea that reveal forgotten clues about the lives of those who came before them. Following the other path, the journey is shorter, and way less hopeful than it initially appears. Retracing the routes of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the game confronts the player with a responsibility to the fates of others, their undeserved suffering or their monumental violences. Is it possible to escape cross-generational trauma to rewrite history? Or will repressed guilt continue to linger in the matrix of time, waiting to return?

Instructions

Press any button to begin. Once the videos have ended a choice will pop up. Each choice is labelled 1, 2, 3, or 4. Press the corresponding button to select the choice. Use your ancestry to guide your choices.

INVASION PRIDE, 2022

[ Episode 1 ]

Created using images and soundscapes captured on a smartphone, INVASION PRIDE explores modes of accessing the intimate archives of the present: the data on our mobile devices. The digital repository becomes narrative material, reshaped to investigate the mechanisms through which the pride of some may be seen as a threat by others. A so-called virus, holding a much-feared power to spread and overtake those who come near. By reclaiming the language of enduring stigmatisation around the idea of otherness as a contagious disease, the artist challenges the player’s ability to distance themselves from collective anxiety. Will you allow yourself to be infected and explore a perspective outside your horizon, or will you try to eradicate this virus?

Instructions

Manoeuvre the pointer with the joystick to the RESTART button on screen and press the red button to initiate the game. When a video has played and a choice is available, use the joystick and the buttons to select your choices. You may get lost. You may get turned around. You may become confused.

NO SPACE FOR REDEMPTION, 2024

[ Episode 1 ]

The public sphere is where the structures of social orders most clearly intersect with daily life. Navigating the city – its parks, rooftops, hotels and airports – might hold potential for conviviality and expression. For some, however, the pitfalls of bureaucracy and exclusion aren’t far away: public spaces hold potentials for trauma. Redemption seems a long way off. Through a series of scenic sketches that begin in a family home shaken by a violent crime, the player navigates the public sphere through the lens of transness. How does a mother respond when the bureaucracy machine perceives her trans identity as a threat? Is it possible to defend oneself against exclusion mechanisms imposed by authorities? And where is it safe to find refuge and intimacy?

TRIGGER WARNING: The game includes scenes that depict violence, mental abuse and suicide. Viewer discretion is advised.

Instructions

Press the blank button to proceed the text in the game. Once choices pops up, they will be labelled 1, 2, 3, or 4. Press the corresponding button to select your choices. Think carefully about your choices.

I CAN’T FOLLOW YOU ANYMORE, 2023

[ Episode 2 ]

Navigating a wobbly figure, the resurrected statue of a cult leader formally declared dead, the player progresses through a world surrounded by characters in search of purpose. However, it takes work to convince your potential devotees to associate themselves with your cult: precision and speed are required to continue the journey and gather a maximum number of followers. Progressing through various stages of leadership, a tightly woven fabric of worship and fear, the surrounding landscapes ask the player to reflect on the value of authority. What tools are you prepared to use for your own advancement? What would be a revolution worth fighting for?

Instructions

This is a rhythm-based dance game. Press the buttons corresponding to the icons in the game. Keep the rhythm. Lead a revolution. And suffer the consequences.

I CAN’T FOLLOW YOU ANYMORE was commissioned and produced by Factory International, Manchester, UK.

RESURRECTION LANDS, 2020

[ Episode 2 ]

As part of the artist’s ongoing engagement with archiving and thus reimagining Black Trans histories, the game challenges the violent appropriation of marginalised narratives and explores potential avenues for resistance. The RESURRECTION LANDS is a fictitious landscape on the grounds of a former Black Trans community. Using the newest technological advancements, it has been made possible to resurrect those ancestors, bringing them back to life in a digital archive dedicated to them and their memories. It doesn't take long, however, before this world is exploited by outsiders for voyeuristic Trans tourism. Feeling unsafe, the community decides to fight back, establishing new conditions for accessing the archive. With which intentions will you, the player, enter the RESURRECTION LANDS?

Instructions

Manoeuvre the pointer with the joystick to the RESTART button on screen and press the red button to initiate the game. When a video has played and a choice is available, use the joystick and the buttons to select your choices. You may get lost. You may get turned around. You may become confused.

SHE KEEPS ME DAMN ALIVE, 2022

[ Episode 2 ]

Originating from a reflection on the global movements of Black Lives Matter and Black Trans Lives Matter, Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley's SHE KEEPS ME DAMN ALIVE addresses the fundamental psychological conditions for (self-)defence. Unlike traditional point-and-shoot games that declare shooting an exercise in precision and speed while neglecting its underlying psychological gravity, the work requires deep discernment. Distinguishing between good and bad, between allies and threats isn't immediately obvious. Rather, it takes empathy, careful observation and learning from previous failures to progress and ultimately save those who need collective protection.

Instructions

Pick up the gun and shoot to navigate. Be careful who you shoot.

GET HOME SAFE, 2022

[ Episode 2 ]

GET HOME SAFE, both an invocation and a plea, asks the player to guide a person walking home through the dark streets of a deserted city. While directing the on-screen protagonist, you are asked to acknowledge the privileges invisible or readable upon your body: white, hetero, able-bodied or cisgender. How may these characteristics contribute to your safety in a scenario of possible danger? Will you use them to protect those whose integrity may be at stake? Making explicit that choices impact others and inaction can be a form of complicity, the game reminds its players to mobilise their solidarity to protect themselves and those in need of backing.

Instructions

Press any button to begin. Use the joystick to move forwards. Move the joystick left and right to protect yourself. Hold it down to look back. Try and get home safe. It looks unlikely.

Public Programme

Curated by Mawena Yehouessi at the artist’s invitation, THE SOUL STATION’s public programme includes an artist and curators’ talk, two evenings of performances and three youth workshops.

Artist Talk

In conversion with the two co-curators of the show, Boris Magrini and Mawena Yehouessi – respectively focussing on video game and digital-media artforms / speculative and sociopolitical creative apparatuses – Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley will share some of the motives and motivations behind her work.

Saturday, 11 July, 2024, 15:30–17:00

Performances

On two evenings, four artists and their collaborators are invited to perform within the exhibition. The hope is to bring an understanding of the plurality of both individual and collaborative means for communal healing and restorative justice, ingrained in non-hegemonic practices.

22 August and 13 September, 2024

Workshops

First intended for BIPOC and queer teenagers and young adults, these workshops are hosted by Berlin-based artists with the help of local community-based organisations. Also taking place on site, they become a pretext to engage with creative work and creativity as a tool for self and collective empowerment.

August – October 2024

“By previously proposing how Danielle’s new work could be approached as an echo of the notion of “soul loss”, my intention was to raise awareness on how, despite our distinctive ways and our many tools, we – as a community of entangled souls – are both able and responsible for collective healing and radical change. And if artists, I believe, can blaze a trail; it is us, as active visitors of the worlds they unveil, who must ultimately have to decide whether to bring these worlds into reality or to abandon them.”

— Mawena Yehouessi

Biographies

06

Artist

Maithu Bùi

Artist

New Kyd

Artist

Marquet K. Lee

Artist

Fallon Mayanja

Artist

Catol Teixeira

Artist

Michelle Tshibola

Artist Biography

Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley (she/they) is a Berlin-based artist who graduated from Slade School of Fine Art, London in 2019. Working predominantly in animation, sound, performance and video game development, the artist explores voices that (en)counter misrepresentation, exclusion and mainstream erasure, with a focus on Black and Trans communities. Through this approach, the artist both archives and anticipates narratives outside of the mainstream, so as to overcome the harms of tokenisation and erasure. By engaging the visitor-player through most of their installations, Brathwaite-Shirley examines how individual choices are as critical as collective, political responsibility in the context of marginalisation.

Credits

Commissioned by LAS Art Foundation

THE SOUL STATION
Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley
12 July – 13 October 2024

Danielle brathwaite-shirley team

Artist
Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley
Guest Curator
Mawena Yehouessi
Co-Writer, Voice Actor
Ebun Sodipo
Movement Director
Malik Nashad Sharpe
Virtual Architecture Consultant
Joel Simpson
Coder
Florian Brückner
Music and Sound
wavesovspace
Virtual Camera Assistant
Johannes Krell
Co-Director and Producer
Valerie-Malin Schmid
Co-Producer
Hildegard Oehler
Voice Actor
Madison Moore
Voice Actor
Robin Rutenberg
Voice Actor
Blu Bone
Voice Actor
Newroz Çelik
Voice Actor
Jayden Rahatoka

LAS Project Team

Founder & Chairman
Jan Fischer
CEO & Co-Founder
Dr Bettina Kames
CFO
Kristina Leipold
Senior Curator
Dr Boris Magrini
Assistant Curator
Agnessa Schmudke
Project Manager
Flinder Zuyderhoff-Gray
Operations
Alina Fichtner
Marketing and Brand
Felix Thon
External Relations and Communications
Sophie Furse
Communications Manager
Selin Şahin
Communications Assistant
Moritz Weber
Social Media Manager
Veronica Jonsson
Head of Partnerships and Development
Coraly von Bismarck
Strategy and Development Manager
Alice Lamperti
Development and Production Assistant
Jordan Komlangan

planning

Scenography and Production
Celeste Burlina
Spatial Sound Design
Lugh O'Neill
Public Programme Production
Pierre Renard
Production & Installation
Tranzept GmbH, MWB Theater- und Veranstaltungs GmbH
Documentation
Moïse Youmba

With thanks to:

LAS team, Jennifer Brathwaite, Connecting the Dots, Norbert Thormann, André Jürgens, Krischan Makswitat, Ostgut team, Studio Karhard, X:hibit Projects and the visitor service team, Ode, Lifta, Joaquín Villarroel Echaiz, Van at Short Notice, Wisag, Robert Müller-Grünow, SCENTCOMMUNICATION.

Media Partners
Venue
In-Kind-Support

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THE SOUL STATION
Installation|12 July – 13 October 2024

Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley : THE SOUL STATION