Company Post

carsten nicolai's unidisplay: an extended private viewing


carsten nicolai . unidisplay (tri-version), 2012

real-time projection, large-scale screen, mirror walls, bench with loudspeakers

dimensions variable


the installation unidisplay offers an examination of semiotics and the laws of perception. the work operates with a number of modules of different visual effects that interfere with the viewers' perception, through optical illusion, jitter, flicker, after-image, movement, complementary colour effect, and so on. the installation unfolds against a long projection wall with two mirror walls on the side thus visually expanding like a universe. the basic visual, made up of sequences, motifs and graphic translations of various units of time measurement acts as a world clock and evokes the intertwining of time, between past, present and future. the installation is created with derivative's touchdesigner software which has been used for alva noto live performances with a triple-screen projection.

- cn

For the last four years we have had the unmatchable pleasure of working with Carsten Nicolai, a clear and discreet presence in the contemporary art world well known for his minimalist aesthetic and for his conceptual work. Nicolai has produced an influential and critical body of work as visual and installation artist, in the realm of electronic music (as alva noto and as cofounder of the much respected raster noton label) and has published several design-based books with the prestigious publisher Gestalten.

The collaboration which has seen Derivative's Markus Heckmann work closely with the artist for a few weeks once or twice each year, began in 2009 when Nicolai expressed the desire to model the visuals for live performances of unitxt on the TouchDesigner user interface itself. The resulting work has been refined, finessed and performed at an impressive list of festivals and venues around the world including: Ars Electronic (Linz and seen in the video below), Transmediale (Berlin), Mutek (Montreal), Sonar (Barcelona), Nemo (Paris), icograda world design congress (Beijing), and also in Athens, Moscow, Tokyo and London.

The installation unidisplay, is essentially very much related to the performative piece unitxt/uniscope in the way that it is produced and in the organizing idea behind it which is to a degree about organizing ideas, observations, and data - specimens - all things contemplated, documented and put exactingly in place for now by Nicolai.

In an interview with the CreatersProject at the opening of unidisplay at the Musée d'Art Contemporain Montréal this May where the night before he performed uniscope in the very same space, Nicolai effectively sums up the diferences and similarities between the performative and installation work:

For installations, you don't practice. It's a little bit more like creating something that lives on its own. There's not a timeline, let's say, there's no particular time to do something with it. In a way it always has to run at the same level. A performance has a peak or a dynamic. What I like about performance is that you share it all together at the same moment. On the other hand, with installations, I can totally step out of it. I can leave the museum and the piece is running. This is great, and already, this is a change in how you do things, how you design things and how you create things. The connection between the two is overt. For one, I'm using the uniscope. A uniscope is this idea of a collection of scopes for visualizing sound, and unidisplay, is more based on visual sounds rather than just sound. It has a sound connection. It's very gentle, but it's not really based on this idea of sounds, it's really based on visual sound through architecture.

Markus beautifully describes here his experience and some of the process in working with Carsten reinforcing not only the clarity of purpose in the work that is created but also how naturally and in a way, how easily it comes into being:

The process is fairly straightforward and starts with Carsten’s ideas and descriptions which often is already enough information for me to get started on initial prototypes. It follows in a way a classic approach of incremental refinement until the level of detail is reached that best represents the underlying idea. A special thing for me is that Carsten conveys his thoughts in a language that seems very clear for me to understand.

Working really becomes a great pleasure as the further the project advances, the excitement about the final outcome increases. Apart from that the work is a discovery process as the underlying ideas to some of the pieces hide their full potential on the computer screen until seen in full scale on site.

Through the process of visualizing and engineering Carsten's concepts you gain quite a good understanding of the piece and the categorization behind it making the work kind of like an extended private viewing. I believe that the more you grasp it, the more the internals of the project reflect the whole approach, compartmentalizing the technical backbone and the visual front into logical categories which are modulated and sampled to form the outcome. Even when faced with technical restrictions that have to be overcome that exact process of categorizing and grouping becomes a work philosophy - best shown by the need of having to render multiple simulations on the same Render TOP and processing it through the same compositing chain - as video memory is plentiful but unfortunately not unlimited on a 6 screen installation like the one at HangarBicocca in Milan. The end result is, with its use of actual TouchDesigner nodes, a hint of this work showing process - the process that is hidden and organized below in more nodes and structure, all in all a meta synth.

We could very well end here but so much that is revealing and interesting has been written about Nicolai's work that there is always 'one more thing' that should be added, another way of seeing it perhaps. In the end, nothing compares to the experience of viewing the work for yourself but this is how Louise Simard, Head of Multimedia Events at the Musée d'Art Contemporain Montréal introduced unidisplay when in premiered at the Musée in May this year.

Strongly influenced by scientific systems, Nicolai often employs mathematical and cybernetic models, girds and codes; he is especially interested in loop structures and self-organizing systems such as the formation of crystals or snowflakes. “his artistic approach is a cross-section of science and contemporary music practices. Throughout his auditory installations and his music, he exploits the limits and creative potential of codes, crypted formulas and other logical systems that structure our world. In order to do this, he bases himself on solid knowledge... for his projects and expositions.” 1.

Nicolai is interested in sound as a physical phenomenon. As he explores the faintest of tones, he captures their subtle variations and attempts to make sound waves visible. In performance, he accompanies his sound compositions with projections whose intensity fluctuates according to the energy flux of the sonorities. His creations investigate the boundaries of perception.

For the inaugural edition of the International Digital Arts Biennial, the Projections series is presenting Nicolai’s latest installation, unidisplay. the installation unfolds against a long projection wall with two mirror walls on the side, thus visually expanding like a universe. unidisplay offers an examination of semiotics and the laws of perception. the work operates with a number of modules of different visual effects that interfere with viewers’ perception through optical illusion, jitter, ficker, after-image, movement, complementary colour effect and so on.

The basic visual, made up of sequences, motifs and graphic translations of various units of time measurement, acts as a world clock and evokes the intertwining of time between past, present, and future. The installation is created with Derivative’s TouchDesigner software which Nicolai has used for the pst while for his alva noto live performances with a triple-screen projection.

Nicolai suggests that “unidisplay can be regarded as an open archive of forms of visual representations, which gradually extend over the years. Rather than offering any definite solutions, the exhibition aims to investigate the idea of a universal language.

Louise Simard, Head of Multimedia Events,

Musée d'Art Contemporain Montréal

1. Priscilia Marques, in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition update 3 Body, Sound, Ghent, April 17 to June 20 2010.

Thanks Carsten and thanks Markus!