Why am I not having fun in this place designated for fun?
Carsten Höller is an artist whose contribution to culture is a playful approach within art institutions – they are delighted to have his works – it gives them edge and makes them interactive and groovy: technicians get to flex their expertise in realising the actualities of construction and installation. That only leaves the audience.
I walk through a metal corridor construction, unnerved by the darkness and echoes, the entrance to a Haunted House at a funfair. Actually I didn’t notice there was a choice of doorways, but it all ends up at the same place anyway.
Research into Höller’s background reveals that he was a research entomologist, specialising in insects' olfactory communication strategies, work in which he has a doctorate and continued working in into his 30’s – he is now early 50’s. This nugget of insight is key to understanding Höller’s approach – we are all as insects implicated in his experiments: setting up and testing interaction rather than any interest in emotional or intellectual responses. Höller says that he does not visit his exhibitions while they are open to the public, and so one wonders what the artist/scientist gleans from how people actually react.
Somebody else rotates the giant mushroom mobile. Well, that’s it, like Alice in Wonderland without the fiction.
What is interaction in a gallery – perhaps a truly engaging painting that cannot be touched may in effect be more interactive than any device available for handling because of the communication between artist and viewer through the medium of the artwork. Decision relies on a block naivety in the audience who are expected to have their minds blown and their perceptions revolutionised, as if they have never encountered ideas before. Where is the intervention of the artist – where is the interpretation, the vision, or the reflection where works deepen the more they are considered?
Beds that may or may not move a bit. A really exciting concept to read about.
Hayward’s curator Ralph Rugoff says of Höller’s slides that because of their context within a gallery, the viewer is offered more than one experience that if they were in a fairground. This disingenuous viewpoint disregards the problematic complexity of FUN, as if there were no childhood trauma or personal history trailed in with the audience. Not everyone has uncomplicated memories of fun and games, or has their entire paradigm of the world inverted through seeing an upside down reflection.
A wall of changing lights with some codification behind it. What impressive production values!
The exhibition relies upon a crowd response, assuming that everyone has the same inner realities, perhaps like the collective insect mind.
The upside down view helmets with mirrors. They make me smile a bit, as if Carsten Höller has invented upside down!
Decision is an experience of varying quality which allows the viewer to somewhat play around with items which tinker at the edges of ideas of perception. It’s the sort of thing science museums do extremely well, and a kind of exhibition parents love to bring their children along to before they turn into teenagers.
Is this the same exhibition? Still not sure about those two videos about music in Kinshasa. They are just footage. No mediation from the artist.
Resistance to Höller’s enforced fun can grow to indifference then cynicism. Höller keeps on insisting that by altering our perception it will help us to see the real world. The viewer may well be amused, but there just isn’t the depth, abstraction or profundity here to examine why one might have a half-hearted response to overblown claims. His strongest works are diluted in the collective.
What now? Would I like to weigh myself in public, slip into some sort of harness and be swung from a crane for the view, which I can see anyway? And in this skirt?
Decision is weak as science and rather empty as art. Perhaps it’s a candidate for a new definition as gallery installation. All that interesting material and fascinating ideas are now ripe for metamorphoses into art.
A pile of pills. I just can’t pretend to think it’s exciting and dangerous to try one. I am not seduced.
Carsten Höller: Decision
Southbank Centre London
10th June to 6th September 2015
I had written this review for the Frieze Writer's prize - obviously I didn't win that! I found the style I was attempting a bit of a struggle and not quite me - Frieze seems to like a walk through the entire exhibition in print, whereas I prefer to pick out the gist, and not survey or describe particular works.
15th October 2015