The Art of Pursuit: Interview with artist Nick Laessing

Wednesday, November 4, 2009 17:34

On occasion of Artissima 2009, Turin’s international contemporary art fair, The Norma Mangione Gallery hosts an exhibition, curated by Simone Menegoi, showcasing two British artists Nick Laessing, and Kit Craig running from November 7 to December 19 2009.

Nick Laessing and John Bedini’s drawing of his ‘Free Machine’, courtesy The Norma Mangione Gallery

Nick Laessing born in 1973 lives in Berlin, his installations and performances have been shown in galleries and art shows in France, U.K., Switzerland, Germany, Greece and Israel. Exhibiting for the first time in Italy Nick brings to Torino a prototype of a ‘Free Energy’ machine, Cluster met with him at the Norma Mangione Gallery before the opening to learn more about the machine, the artist and other stories.

C: Could you start by telling us about the ‘Free Energy’ machine you are showing at Artissima 2009 and the Norma Mangione Gallery?
NL: Yes, it is a machine prototype based on a patent made in 1994, the machine’s inventor, John Bedini, started making these machines in the 1970s but back then it was impossible to claim a patent for a such a machine, so later he changed the name of its function for conventional science’s sake, something like ‘Electromotive force of the motor’. Allegedly the mechanism of the machine is capable of producing more energy than it requires to operate.

I aim to rehabilitate his ‘Free Energy’ machine and test it during the exhibition.

Close-up of ‘Free Machine’, by Nick Laessing, courtesy The Norma Mangione Gallery

C: How did you come to learn of Bedini’s invention?
NL: I found a book in a second-hand bookshop in Notting Hill entitled The Search of Free Energy published by Tesla Book Company, the book was about people who had made extraordinary efforts to either generate, or find, alternative sources of power. In this book I discovered the American inventor John Bedini and his 30 yearlong quest to produce free energy. Further research led me to a series of audio footage of interviews from a 1980s US radio talk show on his machines, then I was gripped.

C: Is Bedini alive today?
NL: Yes, he is, he’s in his sixties and he sells low-key efficient battery chargers.

C: Does the machine work?
NL: I’m not sure. I’ve spoken to different people who have told me different things, but very few of them have got the machine running. The first time I saw the machine was at a sustainable energy fair in America where I met Bedini’s assistant. He told me that the machine works, and that some people actually use it to generate electricity in their homes, but they are unable to make this information public so they say they get their energy from wind power. Obviously, this story is based on hearsay, so I can’t confirm it that it’s true.

Whether they make a mistake, or discover something, what I find fascinating is the pursuit, the tireless and enduring devotion. The purpose for pursuing an idea goes beyond conventional science

C: Is it a complex structure?
NL: Bedini believes that anyone can make the machine at home, all you need is a magnet, some copper coils and an old nail. But, while it may appear a simple, old-fashioned apparatus you can assemble in the backyard, the truth is that the physics behind the machine is very complex and not conventional at all. I’ve spoken to electrical engineers at various shows who are unable to grasp it; it is created from a completely different view on electricity, different to how we understand it.

Diagram of ‘Free Machine’, by John Bedini, courtesy The Norma Mangione Gallery

C: You are testing the machine in the context of a contemporary art fair, where do you see the connection between science and art in the case of the ‘Free Energy’ machine?
NL: As an artist I am fascinated by the parallels between where information comes from and people’s insight, rather like Philip Dick’s idea of a universal matrix of information. There is a fine line where an artist/scientist’s belief stops, and fine line between science fiction and reality. This is the territory that I explore with my art, the grey areas, highlighting the utopian tension that inspires outsiders to carry out their research and confront the unknown. I think the unknown holds a lot of romantic appeal.

C: In this sense do you think that a contemporary art fair, or a gallery, becomes a ‘safe
place’ a kind of neutral territory where art can present to society the force of the imagination? is not approaching a dream from an aesthetic point of view in some way a safer option?

NL:In the past – the begining of the century – the imagination definitely occupied more space within society, take for example futurism, entire festivals, shows and publications were dedicated to the subject.

I believe there is still room for these dreams and therefore I strive to build these inventions faithfully, to present the idea, and therefore my attempt to construct this technology is sincere. What is the space for contemporary art anyway, does it have one?

The ‘Free Machine’, by John Bedini, courtesy The Norma Mangione Gallery

C: Does this mean that your action is an invitation to society to design the future?
NL:Not really, even though I think this space could be useful for the future of technology. Looking at the flip-side of science, the outsiders who didn’t make it to the text books but who lived in the obscure. I think they have an extraordinary potential and if art can succeed in inviting society to act, or reflect, then I think that would be marvellous. There are in fact artists I like that manage to achieve this.

C: Do you think, then, to some extent that art renounces to change the world because it inhabits a sacred place?
NL:Um…a sacred place…let’s just say that idealism can create dreams, so to some extent its a sacred place, but I hasten to stress that I don’t build these machines to make fun of them. I can’t help but feel enormous respect for the people who dedicated years of their lives – often considered insane or living in poverty – to the pursuit of a dream. I think art holds potential and the investment in contemporary art is fundamental to progress and the future.

C: What if the machine worked, would it lose its place in the art world?
NL: Well, if it worked then I’d offer it to run the electricity for galleries! I don’t see that it would cease to be a work of art, it would just behave differently. Its story would still remain, the research too and ultimately the dream. It would move into a different domain which too could be a very strong and interesting place.

The ‘Free Machine’, by John Bedini, courtesy The Norma Mangione Gallery

C: Could you explain a little about other projects of yours? What media you use and your area of research?
NL: I’m currently exhibiting at a gallery in London at Arcade called ‘Excerpts from a diary’, this show has its origin in Siberia. I visited the Akademgorok Institute for Argriculture in Novisibiesk to find out about a Russian Scientist and entomologist, Victor Stephanovich Grebennikov. Apparently Grebennikov had invented a flying machine, a bizarre, foldable object that resembled something between a broomstick and a Pogo stick, based on the antigravitational chraracteristics of a Siberian insect. In his autobiography, My World, published in 1997 he wrote about his discovery and the anti gravity phenomena of the insect. This story was translated into English and then published on the internet, it caused a huge stir.

Suddenly everyone was interested in this alternative source of energy and he was hounded phone calls, visits, bribes and threats. In his lifetime Grebennikov never revealed his flying machine. His grandson continues to receive phone calls and unexpected visitors.

Unfortunately, I arrived in Siberia after Grebennikov’s death but while I was in Siberia I spent a lot of time with his family, friends and students. I interviewed many people, looked through his archives, drawings, photographs. ‘Excerpts from a Diary’ offers through videos, photos and materials a patchwork narrative of Grebennikov’s life that derived from my visit.

It was revealed that Grebennikov – as much of an artist as a scientist – was outraged by the devastation of natural land for industrial or agricultural purposes, and made it his mission to protect it, thus his extensive studies on the surrounding nature. Whether or not the story about the insect’s antigravitational characteristics was conceived as an act of preservation or not remains unknown.

The truth never emerged from this project, some believe it to be a hoax, others blindly believe that Grebennikov flew over the Akademgorok Institute on his flying machine. I’m not interested in the truth. If you probe enough the truth will surely be revealed; it comes by default. What captures me are the stories, his family, students. This man succeeded in transforming the livelihood of many, he mesmerized his students, changed the childhood of children, this for me is the core of the matter.

C: Are you suggesting that this approach to science pertains to the magic world? Or rather, where does science delimit itself and magic take over?
NL: In my work I try to emulate the so-called ‘natural philosophers’. Hard-science is a bit like religion in a way: it can make terrible mistakes. Someone can believe something enough to act on it and consequently cause harm. I’m attracted to the metaphysical aspects of this; Newton was secretly an alchemist. How can a purely rational thinker be an alchemist? Maybe it is the inherent need within man to find a balance. I don’t pretend to be a scientist, but I love the stories.

C: Do you think society has to preserve itself from this type of dream? In your opinion is a mad scientist working on a big dream a potential danger for society?
NL: Whether they make a mistake, or discover something, what I find fascinating is the pursuit, the tireless and enduring devotion. The purpose for pursuing an idea goes beyond conventional science

C: Is there an underlying environmentalist or activist element to your work? Something that corresponds to the challenges currently facing contemporary society? Are the stories of alternative sources of energy and the preservation of natural systems related to environmentalism in anyway?
NL: I realize it’s a very topical issue, there’s a lot of attention being paid to these issues right now. Honestly, I’m a little cynical regarding the quantity of events, exhibitions dedicated to the subject. How much money is being spent and to what end? It almost seems as if you ‘have’ to operate in that field in order to work. Personally, I would do what I do in any case, regardless of current trends. Because it’s just what I am.

C: Earlier you mentioned other artists that you like, can you name a few?
NL: Goodness, there are many. A couple of names that come to mind are Peter Fend, Chris Burden and Kit Craig, who incidentally, I’m very happy to be sharing this exhibition with.

Opening: November 7 2009
Location: Norma Mangione Gallery, Via Matteo Pescatore 17, 10124 Torino
Duration: November 7 – December 19 2009
Tel: +39 011 5539231
Opening hours: Tuesday – Saturday 16:00 – 19:00

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3 Responses to “The Art of Pursuit: Interview with artist Nick Laessing”

  1. What's On Berlin? says:

    November 4th, 2009 at %I:%M %p

    The Art of Pursuit: Interview with artist Nick Laessing: Nick Laessing born in 1973 lives in Berlin, his instal..

  2. what's on berlin says:

    November 4th, 2009 at %I:%M %p

    The Art of Pursuit: Interview with artist Nick Laessing: Nick Laessing born in 1973 lives in Berlin, his instal..

  3. Michael Oh says:

    November 9th, 2009 at %I:%M %p

    hmmm, a bit skeptical of the free energy machine

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