Carsten Nicolai, unidisplay, 2012, real-time projection, screen, mirrors, sound, 54 minutes. Installation view.

Carsten Nicolai, unidisplay, 2012, real-time projection, screen, mirrors, sound, 54 minutes. Installation view.

Carsten Nicolai

Pirelli HangarBicocca

Carsten Nicolai, unidisplay, 2012, real-time projection, screen, mirrors, sound, 54 minutes. Installation view.

Carsten Nicolai’s unidisplay, 2012, is a monumental visual and sound landscape that extends horizontally for about 160 feet, infinitely multiplied by mirrored walls at both ends. Twenty-four visual modules follow sequentially on a screen, where the combinatory possibilities of lines and black-and-white two-dimensional geometric shapes produce changing visual stimuli. The sounds, both sampled and created, that accompany the sequences are mutable vibrations that reach the ear while on the screen they are translated into optical pulsations. The minimalist graphic clarity of Nicolai’s typical imagery, the reduction of drawing to basic elements, and the negation of color in favor of a black/white binary all work to counteract unidisplay’s spatial grandiosity.

The optical effects and graphic solutions can bring to mind experiments in kinetic and optical art from the 1960s and even earlier, with which the artist is quite familiar. Beyond visual affinities, and taking into account differences resulting from the availability today of more sophisticated technologies, correspondences between historical precursors and Nicolai’s work are found in a shared humanistic vision. In both cases, technological devices are investigated and exploited to give shape and substance to time, to expand and dilate human experience.

The palpitating wall of unidisplay is an organism in symbiosis with its viewers, who find themselves beating time with the flow of images and sounds—a pace that is expanded, suspended, accelerated, compressed, yet remains fundamentally unchanging. The projection lasts fifty-four minutes, and while the sequence of the modules is always identical, their duration varies every time it starts over again, thanks to software that calibrates them and establishes a real-time dialogue with the software that operates the sound.

The installation is constructed so that it maintains certain fixed parameters while varying others. This play between repetition and variation can be considered a constant in Nicolai’s work. Unidisplay is a changing environment, one that lives on ever-changing and unpredictable harmonies, but also on magic, hypnosis, consciousness, and wonder. It not only continually beats out different rhythms but also counterpoints the micro and the macro, small-scale events with the immeasurable nature of the infinite. Minuscule particles reflect a proportional ratio to hours, days, months, and years. The arbitrary measurement that gives sense to our social existence enters into a relationship with the unknowable. The mirrors at the sides of the installation endlessly propagate the projected images that flash past and reverse in the space, becoming ambiguous, leading the viewer to the edges of the perceptible. The work incessantly shifts our attention from the observation of the precise passage of time to a sense of being permeated by a state of temporal suspension, as if we were touching upon a more profound state of consciousness, beyond mathematical calculation. The installation achieves this goal through a system of abstract signs that, like waves, transmit perceptual impulses to the brain, transforming them into mental images. Both the mechanism and the visual code that Nicolai sets out to define are universal—the uni of the title stands for universal. But at the moment they settle into our consciousness, indissolubly linked to their duration, these images delineate exquisitely personal story lines.

Alessandra Pioselli

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.