TALK AND DISCUSSION WITH CARSTEN NIKOLAI
17.06.2008, 2 pm
LABORATORIA Art&Science Space
Daria PARKHOMENKO, director / curator of LABORATORIA Art&Science Space
Ñarsten NIKOLAI, artist (Germany)
Àrseny ZHILYAEV, artist
Haim SOKOL, artist
Dmitry STEPANOV, artist
Daria BYUN, artist
Alexandra SUKHOREVA, artist
Igor BITMAN, artist
Maksim KREKOTNEV, art critic
Maria CHEKHONADSKIKH, cultural researcher
Anna BRUKOVA, coordinator LABORATORIA
Why is interesting for you to research the process of self-organization? And what is the role of an artist in the process of self-organization?
For me it's a very personal question because every artist would answer this question differently. For me it's a very beautiful moment that your artistic decision becomes secondary, I like when some kind of mechanism or self-organization produces the result. I'm kind of lazy maybe I don't want to make the work myself, I just leave it up to principle to make the work. For me it's a difficult term, but it has a certain beauty to work with this kind of self-organization. It's difficult to explain.
What would be the example of self-organized systems in nature that you use in your works?
If you use a synthesis experiment of speaker or sound waves if you use sound in a certain complexity it’s not controllable. So you can set up a room for instance with multiple speakers you can make a field of sound that will resonate with a room, that has a lot of complexity. But what I really like when you go inside as a visitor and you move your head you become a part of the instrument. If you’re moving from one field or valley of sound to a hill of sound it will resonate, so it’s kind of self-organizing, it’s a very simple example. I like this kind of instability as well. It’s about perception a lot.
You see I’m not always using this principle the scientific background in my works. It’s always up to what kind of piece I want to do. Sometimes it becomes a main field and sometimes it’s absolutely not important.
Do you orientate to any philosophical scientific paradigm?
Yes, sometimes. There used to be one installation - I worked a little bit with this idea of Heisenberg, the theory of uncertainty. It says that at the moment you’re observing the system you’re changing the system just with your observation. It’s a great philosophical question as well. It puts a big question mark on a lot of materialistic thinking. And of course many scientists believe in some kind of god, because they always talk about the beauty of nature, the beauty of mathematics.
Your works are very beautiful. I mean beauty is a very important part of your works. Is that the final purpose of your works to take scientific interface, design and bring it to the beauty?
It’s interesting because in visual arts we avoid the term of beauty. But actually I like this question. Because most of the time in art when something turns beautiful it puts a kind of question mark, okay art is beautiful? It’s a little bit tricky here, is it decoration or something? Because beauty in art doesn’t have a clear expression, it’s quite good in mathematics what I said before they like the term of beauty, they use it a lot actually, when they find a formula they say “wow it’s such a simple formula and it reflex such complexity, that’s beauty”. I think the works that I do sometimes they are very simple, but at the same time they have a certain complexity, and I think it’s very interesting when you ask yourself, okay when do you find something beautiful? What does it mean? Why do you find it beautiful?
So is it kind of scientific work to search for beauty?
No, actually, I’m not trying to find beauty. Sometimes I just try to find something that makes sense in a way for myself. It’s quite personal work I think. If something works well for you it might have a potential to have a universal language for other people, so people can read the work the same way. And this is a big misunderstanding in art. Most of the artists work for themselves first, they never work for the outside. I think it’s quite good because you have your own micro-cosmos, which at least you can control a little bit. For the macro-cosmos you have no understanding it’s too big.
But as well I like this kind of striping down things to very minimal elements that are just necessary. I like to make it very elementary. If I make a piece I always look how can I make it simpler, what can reduce? I like it more pure and cleaner. And I do this not because of esthetic reasons but for the viewer to percept better.
I am more familiar with your music art rather than the artworks. What are you more concentrated on in your music, on psycho-physical impact or you are looking for a music esthetics?
It's very difficult, I have different ideas when I work with sound. It's more based on a research idea. I actually did a lot of test with sound of really low and high frequency out of our perception. And I did a lot of tests and experiments on how high frequencies effect us in terms of the body for instance. That's how I started using the sound. Now after many years of doing this kind of work I'm as well interested in musicàl aspect. I involve my previous experience into more musical approach which is very useful as I use a lot of visual interfaces. If I'm using sound I know how it's produced, it sometimes creates very interesting analyzing patterns. But I know a little bit about phycho acoustics and I use it sometimes but not always. I used to do it a lot at the beginning. For instance many years ago I used very high frequencies out of perception in pieces but most of the time these kind of pieces people cannot hear. Most of these pieces are converted to mp3 and people can’t hear them because frequencies get lost.
I wanted to say that you may not hear the frequency but you can see it.
Yeah, I think you can percept it as well even if you don’t see it. That’s the reason I use visualization because I was very interested what I’m doing and I couldn’t hear the frequency but I needed some kind of possibility to see if the frequency is there.
My question is about the problems of optics and visualization. I understand that your visualizations are mostly geared towards a subject comprehension. There are zones in a daily life that are invisible and everyday comprehension is unable to locate them. Art like yours makes it possible to see these invisible zones. What is the purpose of this visualization to anthologize the object or is it just a fiction, technical tricks?
When you visualize things it's not one to one translation. It's only representation of that something exists. It's not like you transferring on thing into something more visible. But what I try to do with most of the visualizations I try to strip it down as much as possible. I choose certain language of graphics but I’m not trying to define graphic content like you would do in the movie. For example, for sound visualization I start with the sound itself. There are sound visualizations that already exist like ostelescopes, face analyzers, frequency ranges, FM analyzers. I did a lot of research on this kind of analyzers and in many of my works I used them as well. Sound basically creates everything. There is a big range of software analyzers and software visualizations and they all use those kind of tricks you mentioned. You have to choose certain parameters but I’m not interested in this kind of stuff.
Do I understand right that most of your works are not finished, they are more like research?
Yes, but some pieces you don’t have to execute. For example, I have this one piece that I showed for Moscow Biennale, that kind of piece you have to create on the spot but I consider it as a finished piece. The process is involved in piece. But sometimes I don’t like the process I want something that is solid.
I have a social question. Correct me if I’m wrong, you tend to avoid social themes, social zone is not your favorite zone. Another part of the question is that on one side you create perfect works from the technical point of view and these works are very expensive. You use expensive equipment and expensive kind of research. All this based on some sort of investment I guess. On the other hand you create something intangible, something that you cannot touch.
I will start with the social part of the question. I do art for more than 25 years now. I grew up in East Germany in a system that you would consider a poor economic system. Many of my works you can execute in a poor quality. But right now I have this kind of lucky situation that I’m selling my work. It’s difficult to accept it at the beginning that you have to sell your works, I hope that they are still mine, but I give it away and at the end I realize that selling my works can finance my life and it can finance my ideas. So you use the economic system in this way. I always saw money as a possibility to distribute ideas. I trust my works all the money I get I put them back into work again. It gives me sometimes the possibility to produce work that has a lot of equipment. And then for the past years I received a lot of offers to use certain equipment or to get money. This creates a very interesting conflict. I like more healthy situation when I put my money in my works rather than somebody offers me half a million Euros to produce the work. This creates a very weird situation when you have money already but you don’t have an idea. It’s a kind of pressure that I don’t like. There was also one work that I had a concept for but this kind of work was 1/5 funded. So I didn’t have enough, but then I got a sponsor who provided the equipment for free. Sometimes you are lucky when people do the research and develop equipment but they don’t know what to use this equipment for. One time there was a 3D company that developed scanning equipment and I was the only one who used it at the end because they went bankrupt. I read a lot and do a lot of research on equipment being produced so that way I have an idea of using it somehow. Mostly I work alone, sometimes I need a scientific advice but I prefer to figure out things myself.
As for communication with the scientists sometimes it’s easy sometimes it’s not. I think one of the greatest inventions is a light bulb that is also a very beautiful artwork. That’s why I don’t like a definition of science-art, because art is art. But some people believe that this is kind of new art form. There is a great freedom right now that you can mix a lot of art forms and I don’t put myself into frames I try to do a little bit of everything.