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Carsten Nicolai - Spaces in Between

Category: Portrait 1. April 2009

Through his artwork, Carsten Nicolai overcomes the segregation of forms of sensory perception. Sound is made visible, light frequencies are heard. Sound, light, time, and space are the cornerstones of the work of the artist, who is making neither a political statement nor yet another self-reflexive discourse about art. Instead, he tries to investigate and penetrate the frontiers of perception, of which we have no conception but which do seem to have an effect on us.

Nicolai is experimental in his art in a scientific sense. He formulates precise conditions, clears away that which is unnecessary, defines environments in which his artworks can grow: sometimes through the influence of the public, sometimes through moments of disturbance, blurring, or chance in the system. Self-organized processes – for example, the formation of snowflakes in the air due to impurities and disturbances – fascinate him. Through the formation of self-organization and chance, Nicolai can step into the background as an artist and avoids the personification of his artwork. Such processes speak for themselves.

Carsten Nicolai began with painting – first, completely classic: oil on canvas. Then, however, with the exploration of new artistic possibilities, the search also began for other materials that would suit his objectives. The conventional canvas was replaced by translucent polyester frameworks within which the arriving light breaks and whereby the color in the picture is produced. Liquid-filled basins placed on loudspeakers through which digitally worked sound samples are played reproduce frequency patterns on their surfaces. Through the explosion of a gas mixture, the speed of sound at 334 meters per second is made visible in a glass tube. On his label “raster noton”, the artist publishes under the alias "alva noto". His sound work is designed on an editing program that does not work in real time and therefore the sound must first be visually drafted in order to be heard. Nicolai considers his work in sound as visual work, he does not make music but instead calls himself a visual composer.

The artist, born in Karl-Marx-Stadt in 1965, has achieved great success with his work. Numerous prizes, almost twenty solo exhibitions in cities ranging from Berlin to Tokyo, Biennales, group exhibitions, as well as alva noto performances in the New York Guggenheim, Centre Pompidou, Kunsthaus Graz, and the Tate Modern. Although his work is appreciated worldwide, he is more concerned with those details, fragments, or parts in which – following the thesis of philosopher Marcello Viccini – all the information of the whole is retained. (wh/jn)

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