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Two room installations by Carsten Nicolai on view at MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main
Carsten Nicolai, unidisplay, 2012. Installationsansicht, Foto: Axel Schneider, Courtesy Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzig/Berlin und The Pace Gallery, New York.
FRANKFURT.- The MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main is presenting two room installations by Carsten Nicolai: unidisplay (2012) and uni(psycho)acoustic (2012/13). The sound installation uni(psycho)acoustic was developed with students of the Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste – Städelschule within the framework of Carsten Nicolai’s guest professorship there.

unidisplay is a projection on a wall measuring fourteen metres in length. Uniting the results of Nicolai’s longstanding examination of perceptual processes, it is his most complex work to date and, as a work in progress, can be further expanded in the future. Large-scale graphic patterns and forms alternate on the projection surface at regulated intervals. Here Nicolai explores phenomena of optical perception on three levels. The first group of black-and-white graphic modules visualizes the factor of time and makes it perceivable by the senses. It is a kind of universal clock – a graphic representation of time units from the second to the age (one million years). The second section deals with sign systems and their meaning and asks how a universal language can be constructed solely from graphic patterns. The third part, inspired by Wolfgang Metzger’s (1899–1979) publication Laws of Seeing, uses optical illusions to address our power of visual perception: the phenomena featured here are after-images, complementary contrasts and the completion of missing images by the brain.

Because the projection is flanked by mirrored walls, unidisplay creates a three- dimensional space and suggests the infinite continuability of this artistic / perceptual-psychological experiment. Another important element of the installation is the bench positioned in the room in such a way as to provide the visitor a view of the projection from the ideal vantage point. Loudspeakers integrated in the bench transmit vibrations and acoustic signals leading to the immediate perceptual experience of image and sound.

“With the presentation of unidisplay, we are showing one of Carsten Nicolai’s most important works. The installation unites his research results of several years with his artistic concerns, and features his investigation in the area of acoustic, optical and aesthetic phenomena in impressive manner”, says MMK director Dr Susanne Gaensheimer.

In another room of the museum, unidisplay is enhanced by uni(psycho)acoustic, a sound chamber created in cooperation with students of the Städelschule. In this work, Nicolai places the focus on psychoacoustic phenomena and inquires into the effects of auditory sensations. The students developed altogether thirteen sound works based on a wide variety of phenomena, for example “phantom words” and the “Shepard scale”. The former demonstrates that the brain responds to acoustic sensations repeated at regular intervals by constructing words that are not actually present in the sound source. The Shepard Tone describes an acoustic phenomenon in which the illusion of an infinitely ascending or descending scale is created. The various psychoacoustic phenomena are made audible in the sound chamber and juxtaposed with the visual impressions of unidisplay.

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