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Green Screen: Carsten Nicolai Performs at The Kitchen

German artist Carsten Nicolai is also a musician and performer, the proprietor of a record label, overseer of an intense amount of information on YouTube, and a publisher. But, if there's one thing I would be hard-pressed to call him, it's a man with a painterly style. Take, for example, his last exhibition, for which he created a catalogue featuring a seemingly infinite number of grids. His next show, at The Pace Gallery in New York, is based on the moiré, the type of visual interference that results when parallel lines meet at certain angles, and which publishers generally tried to avoid at all costs. In his contrarian spirit, Nicolai has made a whole book cataloguing them. Last night at the Kitchen, under his musical pseudonym, alva noto, Nicolai performed the type of visual and audio show he's executed at nightclubs and venues all over Europe. The lights go down on the room and Nicolai stands before a switchboard, in shadow as the screen lights up behind him. A rhythmic bass line begins and horizontal lines of various colors appear on the screen; it's unclear throughout what Nicolai's role in the performance is, because he moves very little, but the colors and lights are intensely synchronized and would require both concentration and endurance to produce. Nicolai appears as a vague and patriarchal figure, especially last night as he stood blocking part of the Kitchen's single-screen stage. The light show centered on a single line that maintained the screen's horizon and depth. If you concentrated on that center, the effect was immersive; focusing elsewhere and it appeared more formal. Nicolai's bands of lights always appear to be racing, although their direction is unclear, and it's a trick on the limits and frustrations of vision that we always perceive a beginning and an end. The show began with sharp bursts of light and sound. Later, dabs like effervescent brush marks appeared, before transforming into more structured crosshatches and color blocks. Finally, a solar system of small orbs that faded into the black screen. Nicolai remained unmoved throughout, his control and DJ apparatus no less comprehensible after he left the stage and the audience jumped up to examine the machine, which looks like a flimsy mounted iPad. Old and new together, and mysteriously.
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