Caspar Berger

Prayer nut, a work in progress

The prayer nut, Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam
Prayers nuts are sixteenth-century devotional objects about the size of a golf ball, made in the Dutch studio of Adam Dircksz. Two are kept at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. When I look at them I always lose all sense of time, because I need to focus on concentrating in order to see everything properly. Within them you see highly detailed wood carvings of religious significance, which fundamentally changed how people at the time viewed the world – namely the emergence of Christianity. This object served as an aid to prayer. Inside, two scenes are depicted: Jesus on the Road to Calvary, and the Crucifixion. In these turbulent times we could use some guidance for our moral compass, I think, which is how the idea of making a series of contemporary prayer nuts came about.

Inside the prayer Nut
But I want to replace the interior of the nut with contemporary scenes that are etched in our memories. Such as the image I saw in the newspaper one morning of the lifeless body of a Syrian boy washed up on the shore, followed by Angela Merkel’s celebrated comment: “Wir schaffen das!” There are numerous such moments in our social and political lives: the Tank Man, the Napalm Girl, Nelson Mandela’s walk to freedom, The Falling Man and the murder of George Floyd, to mention just a few. I may have changed the subject of devotion, but I certainly did not change its intensity.

Exterior CT scan and High speed milling
Unlike the insides, I wanted to base the outsides on one of the original prayer nuts in the the collection of the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum. And that is how it ended up, under the personal supervision of Frits Scholten, senior conservator of sculpture, in the most detailed CT scanner of Canon, at Radboud Hospital in Nijmegen. The medical division of Canon conjured up a razor- sharp digital image of the nut, with which I then stepped into the world of 5-axis ‘high-speed micro milling’ technology. Here they can mill in astonishingly fine detail; drills with a diameter of 0.1 mm are no exception. The firma De Ridder and NeBo Special Tooling took on the challenge to mill the nuts out of boxwood. Hopefully I can soon hold the first boxwood result in my hands.

Interiour 3D design
I worked with a 3D designer, Jeroen Brinkhuis, on the detailing of the interiors. We had to generate three-dimensional representations of key contemporary moments. A lot of digital craftsmanship was required, involving the use of the most advanced AI tools.