Carsten Nicolai. transmitter / receiver – the machine and the gardener

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Exhibition overview

Carsten Nicolai (*1965 in Karl-Marx-Stadt) fuses the disciplines of music, art, and science to create extensive media installations. His works seek to make invisible phenomena, like sound and light frequencies perceivable. 

transmitter / receiver – the machine and the gardener (2022) is a site-specific and multi-sensory installation created for Haus der Kunst. This work is inspired by Japanese Zen Gardens, which are conceived to resemble the universe in miniature and allow the observer to identify patterns and abstract language in nature. The installation submerges visitors in the usually unperceivable phenomena of cosmic noise and an everchanging horizon of light, which are modulated by different parameters. 

Embedded in a field of crystalline road salt, a sculptural instrument (“the machine”) is controlled by a Geiger counter, which is a device that measures radioactivity. Wherever installed, the counter quantifies terrestrial and extra-terrestrial radioactive particles from that exact location. Each time the counter detects a particle, it emits an electric impulse. These impulses determine the modulation of the audible cosmic noise, picked up by an antenna on the rooftop of Haus der Kunst. The changes in the light installation’s horizon are triggered twofold, by this chance encounter with radioactive particles and by the specific time within the current moon phase to visualise a more long-term cosmic event. 

Nicolai conceived this “machine” for a composition to emerge that is entirely written by chance. This mesmerising work invites visitors to enter a meditative state of contemplation and to perceive their own bodies within a space full of random frequencies and intensities. 

In reference to the Latin word “curare” – to take care ­– which is the etymological origin of curator, a member of the curatorial team will occasionally appear as the “gardener” in the installation to perform ritualistic acts of care and slightly rearrange its physical elements. 

In dialogue with Fujiko Nakaya’s fog sculptures, in which water diffused in the air renders the atmosphere of the environment visible, Nicolai’s transmitter / receiver – the machine and the gardener zooms in on the smallest particles to mirror the universe and present its random array of cosmic incidents. Nicolai and Nakaya met in the late 90s through his collaborator, Shiro Takatani, one of the founders of the Japanese collective, Dumb Type. Takatani, Nicolai, and Nakaya are all inspired by Nakaya’s physicist father, Ukichiro Nakaya, and his visionary research into snow crystals. 

Curated by Sarah Johanna Theurer with Hanns Lennart Wiesner

With generous support by DARC ­­- Deutscher Amateur-Radio-Club e.V.
Many thanks to Kostas Murkudis for the gardener’s costumes.