Sven Johne lives and works in Berlin, DE


Sven Johne searches for the footnotes of world history—for places and people that are not the focus of grand narratives, but whose traces and actions can be read in the context of political ideas. Prompted by things he hears or reads, he travels like a local reporter to regions or communities, condensing his experiences into what he calls “fictional realities”: quasi-documentary photographs and videos combined with texts that gently reproduce the artist’s personal view. Many of his projects revolve around his own history: Johne grew up behind the Iron Curtain, in the German Democratic Republic. Both his biological father and stepfather were officers, the latter a commander of a border guard unit.


Sven Johne, Heilpflanzen im Todesstreifen / Medicinal Plants in the Death Strip, Germany (detail), 2021, 25 archival pigment ink prints on fine art paper, overall dimensions 60 × 1000 cm, each 60 × 40 cm, courtesy Galerie Nagel Draxler, Berlin/Cologne; KLEMM’S, Berlin © Sven Johne / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022

Johne’s new photocollage is based on a hike along the former inner-German border, which he had once looked upon with awe as a child raised to conform to the system. Together with his children and their friends, he walked the 1400-kilometer route in stages from south to north. The scars of the so-called death strip are still healing; eager to understand their grandfather’s “workplace,” the children frolic among the memorial sites and the few remnants still visible. Johne’s photographs of children and twenty-five medicinal plants entangle eras and generations. According to the artist, “I wanted this moment of confusion: watchtowers, fences, and the path previously patrolled by soldiers are rendered in black and white, as are the children playing. The flowers are colorful and draw one’s gaze. The difference between what was then and what is now is not immediately apparent.” Moreover, a painful feeling set in during the walk: not far from here, fences are going up between Poland and Belarus. The work deals with precisely these contradictions: healing and wounding, the freedom of globalization and the revival of borders. Not only do these images represent Johne’s own family, they also offer a global picture of how systemic constraints continue to shape individuals.

Gesine Borcherdt


Sven Johne, Heilpflanzen im Todesstreifen / Medicinal Plants in the Death Strip, Germany, 2021, © Sven Johne / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022, installation view, 12th Berlin Biennale, Akademie der Künste, Hanseatenweg, 11.6.–18.9.2022, photo:


Why Can’t We Live Together – Collection Peters-Messer in Marburg, 2022, Marburger Kunstverein, Marburg (DE)

Mixed Feelings, 2022, G2 Kunsthalle, Leipzig (DE)

East German Landscapes, 2021, Kunstmuseum Kloster Unser Lieben Frauen Magdeburg, Magdeburg (DE) (solo)

Camera Austria International: Laboratory for Photography and Theory, 2018, Museum der Moderne Salzburg – Mönchsberg, Salzburg (AT)

Dear Vladimir Putin / I am the Power, 2018, Klemm’s, Berlin (DE) (solo)

Natural Histories. Traces of the Political, 2017, mumok – Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, Vienna (AT)