Week 5: Carsten Nicolai, Observing the Unobservable



Berlin-based artist Carsten Nicolai works simultaneously as a visual artist and a sonic media artist to create pieces that combine elements of science, technology, music, and art. Originally trained as a landscape architect, he has since established himself as an influential artist in the art world with projects exhibited in several museums around the globe among which include the MoMA in New York and IBID Projects in London. In a recent interview with an online video channel Nowness, Nicolai shared that one of his biggest inspirations is nature, and for years he has had an ongoing fascination with clouds. This fascination prompted Nicolai to engage with micro and macro structures, which eventually led to an exploration of and experimentation with various kinds of particle phenomena. From these investigations, Nicolai took on a collaborative project with artist and scientist Marko Peljhan. They displayed their work in a joint installation titled “polar m [mirrored]” that allowed visitors to experience a level of radiation and particle events normally unseen by humans. The artists combine concrete materials with audio-visual projection and a sound system to create an all-encompassing black and white atmosphere within two rooms.



Three layers of objects occupy the cubic space with the first layer consisting of three mechanical installations. Among these installations include Nicolai’s Cloud Chamber project. The setup includes a diffusion cloud chamber, an existing scientific apparatus that uses water vapor to detect and visualize radiation, equipped with a video camera that projects visual noise onto the walls. Other components of the first layer include four grey granite rocks with a robotic arm positioned in the center and three high frequency radio receivers. Altogether, these components as well as the two other layers of objects serve to explore the phenomenon of earth’s radiation and electromagnetic systems.


When analyzing Nicolai and Peljhan’s works, the following questions come to mind: What is the significance of physics-based works? What are the benefits of combining physics and art? From a personal perspective, artworks that combine physics and art allow spectators to visualize things that normally appear invisible to the limited human eye. Projects like those shown in “polar m [mirrored]” bring forth details of life that often go unnoticed. They expose viewers to an amplified view of natural phenomena in order to promote analytical thinking about the indeterminable physical events involved. With the visual aid, viewers may form a better understanding of certain physical concepts that are at times difficult to grasp.




Crystal Sun


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