This troubled Claerbout, who set out to make an artwork that would use the structure as an enduring warning against the ideas it originally embodied. Today, as military tensions have shifted, Berlin’s Olympic stadium has again became a venue for more peaceful sporting events like the 1974 and, later, the 2006 World Cup. As an artist, Claerbout has made a name for himself through large-scale projections that recreate photographs using 3D tools, then use those same tools to send a cinematic camera along a carefully planned tracking shot; in doing so, he mimics the effect of looking itself (two such works are on view in this show). With Olympia, however, he was inspired to go beyond what he’d done in the past. Rather than simply animating a still photograph, Claerbout used video game software to create a link between a virtual version of the stadium and the real one, with the intention of representing the degradation of the structure in real time. His first step was capturing the full texture of the building’s exterior with an array of DSLRs. Then, to recreate as exacting a replica of the insides of the stadium as was possible, he worked with his assistant to model all the paths and passageways that cut through in order to make sure that when the structure failed, it did so accurately.
His project, in some ways, overlaps with Nazi architect Albert Speer’s idea of “ruin value”—that a building’s design should anticipate its collapse, and through crumbling, become a monument to those that built it. Claerbout imagined the structure’s slow rot over a thousand years, hoping to make Olympia “a resistance against rhetoric,” a virtual shadow following the real structure into the future, leaving it untouched by humanity. “It is a work that will fail,” Claerbout tells me, pointing to the fact that 1,000 years is a long time, and software becomes obsolete very quickly. “But at least it is structurally about that failure,” he adds. In the case of Olympia, he hopes that failure also communicates a cautionary tale about the seductive pageantry of state power.