• 11.02.12

A 130-Foot Display For Mesmerizing Monochrome Abstractions

Carsten Nicolai’s Unidisplay explores time, shape, and sound on a truly massive scale.

Japanese rock gardens, or Karesansui, involve the painstaking arrangement of natural elements like water, rocks, plants, and gravel. But instead of walking through them, visitors are typically instructed to enjoy the tableau from a fixed point, like a bench, somewhere outside the garden. Carsten Nicolai encourages the same type of viewing experience for his latest installation, Unidisplay, but instead of rocks and shrubs, Nicolai’s audiences find themselves contemplating a 130-foot-long wall of abstract visuals.


Currently installed at the HangarBicocca in Milan, Unidisplay confronts viewers with abstract visualization on a massive scale. A series of black-and-white patterns form and transform in unison with an ambient soundtrack of mechanical murmurs and pulses, immersing audiences in a pure expression of shape and sound. As Nicolai explains, the piece isn’t merely a series of visuals on a 2-D screen but a three-dimensional experience whereby viewers look deep into another space entirely, interpreting its signs and filling in its reality. This is where the artist’s comparison to the Karensansui is apt; as he writes of the piece, the seated viewing experience “generates a sort of filter between interior and exterior. Outside there’s nature, the ocean, the landscape, the universe: a universe in itself. Something much bigger than what you can physically see.”

But in addition to the purely abstract visuals, the piece also occasionally cycles to an abstract clock, ticking seconds away and reminding viewers of a larger reality, but also encouraging them to get lost in the moment. In a press release on the project, the German artist says he wanted to explore the idea of “losing one’s sense of time…the proportion of a second, the proportion of a minute, the proportion of a minute within an hour, of an hour within a day, and so on.”

The piece will be on display at the HangarBicocca through December 2, or for about 2,765,000 more seconds, if that’s how you want to look at it.

Find out more, and watch a 7-minute video about the piece, on the HangerBicocca site.

[Hat tip: Collacubed]