Carsten Nicolai’s “Observatory” at Ibid Projects

Carsten Nicolai may be best known for spelunking the crevasse between digital experimentation and electronic music and emerging with pure and stunning synthetic examples, but today, perhaps more than ever, much of his effort is concentrated on fine art. His current solo exhibition at London’s Ibid Projects on the ever-evolving Hoxton Square is arranged over three floors and presents handful of simple-looking works which disguise a theoretical backdrop grounded in metaphysical experimentation.

The works on display appear to be completely unlike anything we have come to expect from Nicolai who leaves hangar-sized LED screens in his wake. However, this modest collection of pieces operate on a similar thematic level to the rest of his oeuvre. Much of his music deals with the electronic error, the digital signal and the pulse, all elements that can be defined, broken down, and articulated.

This exhibition works on this semiotic plane but the signals involved this time are more cosmic, often hailing from background radiation or the movement of water droplets in the troposphere.

The steam shimmering over thermic reminds us that there is still a gentleness to industry. The sounds produced by the processing of our bodily radiation, measured on an industrial Geiger counter, reminds us that we are but particles, affecting the world around us, an actor-network of connections. Our actions have reactions. These may usually be imperceptible, but many of Nicolai’s works highlight and emphasize their existence.

Ibid has worked with Nicolai before, presenting a stunning collection of moiré drawings in their 2012 group exhibition, but in this show the idea of interference within patterns is expanded upon, demonstrating the inverse: patterns caused by interference.

The notion of the random appears prevalent in much of Nicolai’s work: in all the pieces presented here, randomness dictates the ultimate result, from the cloud formations shown in the video piece future past perfect pt. 04 (stratus) to the dust particles magnified in the wismut series of prints. But for some reason this randomness sits in perfect harmony with the precise calculation that clearly heavily infers the process of the work’s creation.

Carsten uses as his subject matter the full visible and invisible spectrum, using conventional media as outlets to represent the unimaginable, allowing the audience to both appreciate the intricacies of nature, while also providing visual illusions through the exploitation of the world’s relationship with the natural. Because of this, the show is hugely accessible and relevant to all.

Carsten Nicolai is a multi-disciplinary artist born in 1965 in Karl-Marx-Stadt, Germany. Working under various pseudonyms, Nicolai “seeks to overcome a separation of art forms and genres for an integrated artistic approach”. His work has been exhibited in numerous internationally-renowned venues including Solomon R. Guggenheim museum in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Centre Pompidou in Paris, Kunsthaus Graz in Austria and the Tate Modern in London.

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