• NIK NOWAK

    12 Töne
  • Nik Nowak Horn #26, 2020 Ceramic, glazed and engobed | 17,5 x 92,5 x 21,5 cm

    Nik Nowak

    Horn #26, 2020

    Ceramic, glazed and engobed | 17,5 x 92,5 x 21,5 cm 

  • For 12 Töne, Nik Nowak turns, for the first time, to the medium of ceramics. Whereas his sound sculptures in...

    For 12 Töne, Nik Nowak turns, for the first time, to the medium of ceramics. Whereas his sound sculptures in previous years (such as Panzer 2010 or The Mantis 2019) were technical, highly complex, machine-like constructions of wood, steel and several electro-acoustic elements, the new ceramic series is shaped by reduction, physicality, intuition and directness, although still markedly part of the continuum of his research and praxis. By rolling prepared sheets, Nowak creates funnel-shaped horns that are subsequently subjected to processes of deformation, folding, bending, squashing and invaginations. The resultant ceramic horns are reminiscent of antique ear trumpets, the trumpets, in the Biblical mythos, that were sounded to tear down the Walls of Jericho, and of megaphones, as well as organic anatomical extensions, or the auditory canal itself. In their formal structure, each object inherently has a smaller, and a larger opening with a horn section in between that is more or less deformed. They consequently produce varying effects of acoustic amplification – listening to the inside of the horn with their spectral resonances, results in a considerable change in external sounds. The background noises, or acoustic envelope, that continuously surround us emanating, for example, from wind, distant voices or traffic, and which we usually ignore, seem louder and more in the foreground.

  • Nik Nowak Desktop A War of Decibel, 2020 Collage | 75 x 120 x 7,5 cm

    Nik Nowak

    Desktop A War of Decibel, 2020

    Collage | 75 x 120 x 7,5 cm
    • Nik Nowak Desktop Panzer, 2020 Collage | 75,5 x 113 x 7,5 cm

      Nik Nowak

      Desktop Panzer, 2020

      Collage | 75,5 x 113 x 7,5 cm

    • Nik Nowak Desktop The Mantis, 2020 Collage | 75,5 x 113 x 7,5 cm

      Nik Nowak

      Desktop The Mantis, 2020

      Collage | 75,5 x 113 x 7,5 cm

  • Nik Nowak The Mantis #3, 2019 Archival pigment print | 120 x 80 cm and 120 x 180 cm Edition...

    Nik Nowak

    The Mantis #3, 2019

    Archival pigment print | 120 x 80 cm and 120 x 180 cm 

    Edition 3 + 2 AP

  • Nik Nowak focuses on the affective dimensions and potential of sound and space in his multi-media interdisciplinary work that re-engineers...

    Nik Nowak focuses on the affective dimensions and potential of sound and space in his multi-media interdisciplinary work that re-engineers the formal boundaries between installations, performances, sculptures, films or paintings. He has become renowned for his use of sound as an identifying and socially binding element as well as sound systems as cultural transmitters and acoustic weapons.

     

    Nik Nowak, born 1980 in Mainz, studied at the Universität der Künste (University of the Arts) in Berlin. In 2007 he took part in Xiang Jing’s sculpture class at the Shanghai Normal University, China. He was a master’s student (Meisterschüler) of Lothar Baumgarten.

    Nik Nowak’s works have been shown in national and international institutions and exhibitions including KINDL – Zentrum for zeitgenössische Kunst, Berlin; Berlinische Galerie, Berlin; Marta Herford, Herford; Städtische Galerie Wolfsburg, Wolfsburg; Philharmonie Paris, France; Muzeul National de Art al Romaniei, Bucharest, Romania; and Art Basel Miami Beach, USA.

     

    Photo: Hinata Ishizawa

  • The Auditory Canal of the Shai-Hulud

    Inke Arns

    “Walk without rhythm, and you won’t attract the worm.” (Dune, 1984)

     

    The objects they brought back from the last excavation now lay before them. They were funnel-shaped horns in different sizes and appeared to be ceramic. Looking at them, Frantz was spontaneously reminded of antique ear trumpets, the trumpets of Jericho, megaphones and also organic body extensions. Strictly speaking, they looked like giant, fossilised versions of the centimetres-long human auditory canal. He tried desperately to remember where he had last seen such an organic funnel shape. Right, it was in a media archaeological paper on the development of the telephone (1876) by the deaf-mute teacher Alexander Graham Bell. 

    The telephone resulted from a series of scientific attempts to simulate the physiology of sound sensations through the technology of electricity. Even as children, the brothers Alexander Graham and Melville Bell wanted to build a speaking machine. They killed the house cat to use its vocal cords as a mechanical mouthpiece. Before Melville died, the brothers had made a promise: the one who outlived the other would build a device that would enable communication with the dead. Now Alexander Graham Bell also needed a mechanical ear. Bell used the tympana from two corpses to develop the concept of a ‘talking membrane telephone’(1) As his assistant Thomas A. Watson(2) reported, they now built a ‘real ear telephone(3) (or ‘human ear phonautograph’)  with a human ear’s eardrum and inner bones. The telephone results from a profoundly macabre sensomotoric replacement: namely, that sounds can be produced and heard without a living body. The physical act of hearing was replaced by mechanical processing(4) that – at least in the beginning – required the partial reanimation of dead body parts. Friedrich Kittler thus wrote: ‘Wherever phones are ringing, a ghost resides in the receiver.’(5) 

    But, thought Frantz, these found objects could not be fossilised human auditory canals, they were far too large. Perhaps they were not in fact sense organs that received signals but were rather extensions of the human body that sent out information. Maybe they were trumpets (Jericho was not far from the excavation site) or so-called megaphones to amplify sound? What if they had something to do with an acoustic weapons system? Were they miniatures of gigantic loudspeaker modules? And then he had an – utterly bizarre – idea: one of his namesakes had built puzzling ‘Adaptives’ in Vienna in 1974, which functioned as 3-dimensional extensions of the human body and, as a ‘score for gestures’ were to turn passive observers into active participants. Perhaps these archaeological finds were such ‘Adaptives’ that the process of fossilisation had preserved?

    No, none of that made sense. After extensive taphonomic analyses, Frantz concluded they must be the fossilised remains of the Shai-Hulud’s auditory canal. The Shai-Hulud was the largest of the huge sandworms that once inhabited the arid planet Arrakis. Frantz remembered that the consciousness-expanding drug ‘Spice’ produced by the sandworms only existed there, where it was a requirement at the time for interstellar space travel at faster-than-light speeds. Sandworms fed on living creatures and things that moved on the sand’s surface. The worm had fine-tuned sensors in its auditory canal that allowed it to sense every vibration in the sand from kilometres away. For this reason, the Fremen, the inhabitants of Arrakis, set up ‘thumpers’ to emit a steady vibration to attract a worm for a ride. To camouflage their own footfalls from a worm, they had to walk in irregular steps without any recognisable rhythm.

    Frantz blinked as he looked at the Shai-Hulud’s auditory canal through an electron microscope. Of course, he knew that this worm had never existed in reality. He had seen the Shai-Hulud in an old, post-apocalyptic film(6) and he had a vivid imagination. He forced himself to think calmly. Was the object not an early instrument after all? A type of bugle that conveyed secret information over long distances. The object reminded him of the abeng, a bugle made from a cow horn that the Maroons used for their secret communications to protect themselves from the British colonisers in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Maroons were former slaves who fled from Jamaica’s sugar plantations in the early 18th century to the island’s Blue Mountains where they fought for autonomy.

    Frantz looked down at himself. The stillsuit that recycled the Fremen’s bodily fluids and thus kept fluid loss to a minimum worked flawlessly. Like the Maroons, the Fremen (a name derived from ‘free men’) were the damned of this Earth. He grasped the object, held it to his lips and blew into the horn. It emitted a long, resonant note.

     

    • (1)Bell, quoted in Charles Snyder, Clarence John Blake and Alexander Graham Bell: Otology and the Telephone”, in: The Annals of Otology, Rhinology and Laryngology, 83. Supplement 13, 1974, pp. 3-31, here: p. 14.
    • (2)Thomas A. Watson was a spiritualist who conjured up spirits at nightly seances. His attempts to communicate with the deceased in the afterlife provided important inspiration for the development of the telephone. Cf. Avital Ronell, The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 1989
    • (3)Thomas A. Watson, Exploring Life: The Autobiography of Thomas A. Watson, New York 1926, p. 90
    • (4)Cf. Anthony Enns, “Telepathie - Telefon - Terror. Ausweitungen und Verstümmelungen des Körpers”, in: Hörstürze. Akustik und Gewalt im 20. Jahrhundert, Nicola Gess, Florian Schreiner, Manuela K. Schulz, Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2005, pp. 89-112, here: p. 98.
    • (5)Friedrich Kittler,Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, Stanford University Press, 1999, p.119
    • (6)Dune(1984) by David Lynch, 136 min
  • All photos by Trevor Good