Critics’ Picks

Nicholas Mangan, Limits to Growth, 2016–2017, bitcoin mining rig, Raspberry Pi 3 computer, screen, plotter, metal shelves, ink-jet prints, 2 HD videos (color, sound, 2 minutes 29 seconds and 3 minutes 5 seconds), dimensions variable. Installation view.


Nicholas Mangan

KW Institute for Contemporary Art
Auguststrasse 69
June 2–August 13, 2017

Nicholas Mangan’s four video installations explore the overlapping disciplines of economics, geology, ecology, and colonial history, presenting a portrait of a world riven by human intervention but elusive when it comes to humanity’s efforts to understand it. A World Undone, 2012, the simplest and most powerful of the works on display, depicts a churning vortex of golden particles that fall slowly out of view. The whirling specks are Zircon particles, 4.4-billion-year-old crystalline mites that were produced by the formation of earth’s tectonic plates. The video, which eschews the complicated interrelation of industrial objects and the moving image, is emblematic of the artist’s practice, representing a vision of geological time that is both spellbinding and dread-inducing for its suggestion that mankind has an imminent expiration date.

The exhibition’s titular installation, Limits to Growth, 2016–17, examines the shifting value of monetary currency as it is beset by radical historical change. A high-definition printer continuously spits out photographs of the discontinued Micronesian currency known as rai—gargantuan stone disks carved from boulders. Originally produced by the inhabitants of the island of Yap, the value of the rai was derived not only from the size of a given piece but also the labor involved in obtaining it. Following colonial intervention in 1871, new technology was introduced that expedited the production of rai, leading to oversupply and rampant inflation. As Mangan’s piece discharges seemingly endless images of the coinage, an offsite computer simultaneously generates Bitcoin, registered as a mounting stockpile on each ink-jet print. Here, complex systems of representation intersect, demonstrating the precarious historical contingency of wealth and value.