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  • Christian Hain

Carsten Nicolai. A Quant-astic Tele-party at Berlinische Galerie

(Berlin.) Lasers are cool, everything’s better with lasers. From SciFi to dermatologic surgeries and all sorts of “useful” applications that you will only understand if you enjoyed a solid scientific education (I haven’t). Carsten Nicolai, next in line for Berlinische Galerie’s single piece space, thinks the same. Following on Monica Bonvicini's broomstick sweeping the floor, now it’s his turn to test how thoroughly she’s done it. Is it possible to see your reflection on the walls? - Not quite. But art is always better when dirty, or dusty; and Tele is no exception.

The German musician-slash-artist (don’t confuse him with Carsten Höller!) ordered his assistants to build two objects nigh ceiling-high with mirror panels on the front – facing each other over the room’s distance – and naked steel on the back. For those compulsively thinking “SciFi” everytime they hear “laser”: They do look like Tie Fighter wings. Exactly like Tie Fighter wings. More academically spoken: crystal, or honeycomb, shapes, biological, geometrical, both. The catalogue’s preparatory sketches let the installation appear almost like a huge Fabergé egg cut in half.

Through two holes in the centre and surrounded by a small unreflecting area, laser beams are emitted and received, respectively. They “communicate” with each other in that hitting its target, a beam gets measured and a corresponding one immediately sent back. From a distance, they lose distinctiveness and appear like only one, wide, broad, reaching from end to end of the rectangular hall. Stepping still further back - into the gallery’s main hall for example and staring through the empty doorways - one aspect of the spectacle becomes most striking: Innumerable dust particles sparkling, glistening, dancing, riding, surfing the wave (or light quantum, or whatever you say in physics nowadays) like myriads of diamonds or stars.

At least one of the (thirty-one, or was it twenty-nine? - he gave a number!) alternative, yet ultimately unrealized, ideas the artist came up with in the lead up to this show, would have involved the whole length of the wall, fifteen metres approximately. In a way, the installation does even now: Seen from afar, distances vanish to the eye and an abstract painting, or video, materializes on the beam's white cube background. Turning to a side, explosions appear where the lasers hit the surface like pearls on a chain, multiplied to infinity in line. The 3D effect is still heightened by lines inside the glass itself, even looking from an angle, depth appears without any reflection.

Closing in again, dust dots somersault around the tubular beams and the integrated space between, fleeing, flying, flowing towards the door, falling upwards, wrapping and turning around the yellow light. Then abruptly, only seemingly anarchic, change direction and velocity, determined by room climate and air currents, calculable in science but much too complex to put in words or formulas.

For the theoretical background, artist and BG quote Einstein on quantum entanglements: “a spooky action by distance”. Multiple particles appear miraculously connected, keeping contact over a distance, when measuring one will affect all others. The installation’s name stays half-open to speculation and interpretation: Tele.

Tele-... what? Carsten Nicolai tells of his long-time obsession with –pathy, yet there are other composites too, from “-kinesis” and “–ology” to “–vision” (and rather not “-tubbies”). “Tele”, from “telos” - Greek: purpose/goal/target, most frequently relating to a distance. Nicolai lends visibility to a connection between two points in space that according to quantum mechanics neither “really”, nor theoretically exists, to reinstate causality, a bridge, a link, in an endless loop. Art reintroducing order in infinite randomness (that dust in motion), alas, there is no empirical ray (of light) touching both points. He further insists on quantum mechanics’ inherent “incomprehensibility” that would be of particular appeal to artists. And still, this artwork keeps it simple (not in a bad way: basic, but impressive!). It feels like something every other High School Physics teacher has done in his free time already - or is this me being ignorant again?; also reminiscent of land and road surveying, annoying speed traps, and those little tools posh galleries use for the hanging of artworks.

Oh yes, the backside: Cables, rods, and a red button on either side. Always enthralling to se the entrails of art. No warning not to push the button (no warnings not to look at, or touch, the laser either), but on the other hand, there would be no surer way to encourage people than such a sign. I refrained. Behind, the waste - an abstract pattern almost like a x-ray scan thrown unto the wall. Traces of an artwork’s digestion?

Could the gallery - not Berlinische, but Nicolai's - try, and sell Tele to a Science Museum, say Germany’s biggest in Munich? Or would they decline for a lack of novelty in the eyes of science?

Carsten Nicolai, Tele, 23 March-03 September 2018, Berlinische Galerie

World of Arts Magazine – Contemporary Art Criticism



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