I’ve decided to abide by a new rule when selecting exhibitions to visit. Since viewing Carsten Nicolai’s solo show at Galerie EIGEN + ART, I’m no longer seeing a show unless it comes with a warning label. Upon entering this contemporary art space in Berlin’s Mitte district and walking down to their main exhibition area, I was greeted by the following warning written in both English and German:
PLEASE KEEP A MINIMUM DISTANCE OF 1 METER TO THE EXHIBITED OBJECTS AND DO NOT CROSS THE WHITE LINE ON THE FLOOR.
Apparently Nicolai’s latest installation included powerful magnets that the gallery warned could not only ruin someone’s credit cards, mobile phones and hearing aids, but could also affect pace-makers and implanted heart defibrillators. A dash of danger mixed with art: what’s not to love?
Inside The Mainframe
Carsten Nicolai isn’t your run-of-the-mill artist showing in a Berlin art gallery. Many know him exclusively as Alva Noto––the experimental musician who combines classical instruments with mellifluous digital affects to make both soothing and distorted tunes. For example, try this track named for our beloved city of Berlin, which is akin to listening to John Cage’s ‘In A Landscape’ inside of a computer’s hard drive. For Nicolai, however, the glitches that filter through his music are not merely an ornament but rather an important part of the works’ composition.
With his music in mind, it’s appropriate that Nicolai's exhibition at EIGEN + ART would exploit the frailty of technology. Hung on one wall were four long fluorescent lights blanketing the gallery in a pallid glow. In the middle lay two televisions facing upwards that displayed a live stream of the fluorescent lights. Swaying back and forth over the televisions’ screens were two black pendulums adorned with large magnets. Every time the magnets passed the surface of the screens, the image on the display would distort like a futuristic ocean wave. This glitch was further enhanced by two amps that bellowed out a malfunctioning tone every time the magnet swooped by. The effect was like a metronome for robots, or The Pit and the Pendulum meets the Matrix.
If the late artist Nam June Paik comes to mind, you have nailed Nicolai's inspiration. This piece (or a version of it) originated at the Watari-Um Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo in 2007 shortly after Paik’s death. Inspired by Paik’s work Magnet TV, Nicolai experimented with a distorted TV performance at an event to celebrate the Korean/American’s art and life. While this piece doesn’t have the simplicity and aphoristic quality that made Paik’s art so amazing, it certainly is an appropriate tribute. Now if I could only get my phone to work….
Galerie EIGEN + ART – crt mgn: Carsten Nicolai – Until May 18th, 2013 [BAPs estimated price range: €2,000 – €10,000]
Article by James Shaeffer