Carsten Nicolai is a master in making scientific phenomena like sound and light frequencies perceivable for both eyes and ears. The light installation tele is yet another mesmerising creation by the renowned German artist, whose work has been shown at the MoMA, Guggenheim, Documenta X, Centre Pompidou, Tate Modern and the Venice Biennale.Under the pseudonym of Alva Noto, Nicolai is also active in the experimental and minimalist electronic music scene, where he collaborates with Blixa Bargeld, Frank Bretschneider, Olaf Bender, Ryoji Ikeda, and Ryuichi Sakamoto, with whom co-composed the score for the 2015 film The Revenant.
And so now this. Carsten Nicolai – awesome composer, producer, performer, sound and installation artist – enjoys operating in the ample field between art and science, as evidenced by his tele light installation at the Berlinische Galerie. The work refers to an anomaly called ‘quantum entanglement’, which an internet search will tell you is a phenomenon whereby two quantum systems that are widely separate in space share the same condition. It was Albert Einstein who described this condition as ‘spukhafte Fernwirkung’ (spooky distance effect). The two particles are so interconnected that any change in one has a direct, instantaneous effect on the state of the other, as if there were some telepathic link between them.
Technically, tele consists of two mirror sculptures brought into contact with one another through laser beams. These beams encounter photocells whose impulses then trigger the laser beams anew. The result is a kind of feedback system that links both objects via the laser beams and their ‘communication’. Here, Nicolai is building on a long-standing interest in self-perpetuating systems that, once they have been designed and set in motion, function without the need for any further intervention by the artist.
Nicolai’s intervention tele makes us think about how we perceive: ‘You have to first perceive percipience in order to speak of perception at all,’ said scientist Heinz von Foerster (who’s best known for his 1960 Doomsday equation formula published in Science predicting future population growth). Nicolai, who studied architecture before becoming an artist – which has probably helped him linking rhythmic and spatial structures throughout his minimalistic aesthetic work – broadly investigates human consciousness, such as how much of what we perceive exists beyond our perceptions and to what extent it is constructed by the neural networks in our brains.