When is blue really blue? It’s a conundrum posed by scientists and children alike. ‘It’s difficult to know what colour you’re really seeing,’ says German artist Carsten Nicolai. ‘What I’m challenging through unicolor is this perception of colour’.
Nicolai’s installation at London’s Brewer Street Car Park uses 16 modules to create pulsing visual effects. Drawing on Goethe’s Theory of Colour and the works of artists Josef Albers and Johannes Itten, unicolor plunges the viewer into an immersive space where panoramic ‘wavelengths of blue, red, green and grey are stretched to infinity’ as reflections in a mirror.
‘The brain is always adding things it doesn’t really see,’ Nicolai explains. ‘Put a very strong red next to white, and you experience an afterglow of green. With RGB, when it moves really fast, we start seeing grey. We really believe what we see – as an observer, it’s difficult to identify the illusion.’
Adding to the psychological stirrings of the installation, each module is tied to a sound frequency which fills the space.
‘The mirrors create an infinite stripe of colour and so the room becomes endless. It creates this incredibly immersive environment,’ he adds. ‘I really like playing with this idea of infinity.’
Making its European debut, unicolor has taken on new characteristics from the Brewer Street Car Park space. ‘It’s a real combination of the architectural and the sensorial. Every time we install unicolor, we have to optimise and update it because of the difference in space, the projectors, sound system and the size of mirrors. They all have a huge impact on how you experience the artwork’.
The modules are relentlessly bright, drawing attention to the strain our eyes go through when decoding colour temperature, contrast and shade. But viewed in the mirrors – in the space beyond the gallery – that intensity softens as the modules morph and melt into each other.