Carsten Nicolai: Observatory
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A spotlight on a long black metallic radiator makes the shadows of its heatwaves dance on the wall. When they shimmer off sweltering summer tarmac these ripples are the visual embodiment of oppressive heat.
But in a cold, empty gallery, as winter breathes its last outside, they become surreal tricks of the eye. German artist Carsten Nicolai’s small and brutally minimalist sound and installation works are built not only to trick, but to unsettle.
Upstairs, a video piece scans across blankets of clouds, repeating images to the point of abstraction, rendering them entirely alien and out of reach. In the final room, a Geiger counter measures radioactive particles in the atmosphere and relays them sonically through four starkly presented black speakers (pictured). Frequencies flip between piercing highs and suffocating lows as audio clicks snap all around and static spins through the space.
The spaces are mostly empty, yet full of invisible forces, leaving the receiver aware of being at once totally surrounded and completely alone. And even though you want the works to be bigger, more immersive, to swallow you whole, they remain unapproachable, holding you at a distance. Nicolai’s work forces us to confront how narrow our audio and visual spectrums are, how little of what’s around us we are actually able to see or hear. It might be intangible stuff, but it’s also uncomfortable, disorientating, and incredibly powerful.