Decision / Carsten Höller / Hayward Gallery

Carsten Höller’s exhibition at the Hayward Gallery begins with making a decision, there are two tunnels to choose, the Decision Corridors. Selected one, we are in a metallic maze, practically dark, progressing by feeling the side walls. Each bend requires groping for the new direction of the tunnel. Not only tours, also it rises or falls slightly, making totally lose any previous reference. It is precisely the loss of references and relocation to a new coordinate axis, the leitmotiv dominating the show. That forced relocation is made by feeling again under a changing perceptual system. The absence of light also has a strong symbolic value in the Western Art History, light has to be with the deity, with the permanent, with the true. The phrase “I am the light of the world” is meaningless in the tunnel, “I am the beginning and the end” is canceled when you don’t know where you are or where you go, “I am Alpha and Omega” stops being important when you face another communication system.

In the tunnel, the viewer walks blindly, the sense of sight is canceled and must be guided by touch and hearing, you must start from scratch. After, it reaches a large room in which a kind of model of planetary system revolves moved voluntarily and randomly by a spectator. If the loss of references is the leitmotif, the rotation cycle in either direction, is the deus ex machina of the Höller’s proposal. Planets here, the Flying Mushrooms, are Amanitas muscarias, forming a galaxy of hallucinogenic mushrooms, cut longitudinally, with one side placed in inverted mode. What is above, can may be down, depending on your point of view. What turns, comes and goes away and at the same time is already approaching. Rotate in one direction or the other depends on yourself. The clockwise no longer have a unique address, happy unbirthday.

In the next room there is in the ground a large pile of capsules, ceiling falling slowly but steadily. As an eternal manna each new capsule as a new measure of time, easy to reach, half red, half white, like the Amanita muscaria, insist that we we launch to lose consciousness of what is rigidly set, to get carried away, to feel differently, and choose like in the movie The Matrix “You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” At this point, just begun the exhibit, the artistic journey, we have entered the rabbit hole through the tunnel, we have taken the pill, we already are Alice in Carsten Höller. The artist encourages the viewer to use their senses. That is, to perceive, to receive messages, to issue them, to be immersed in the artwork.

Virtually there is no escape. We can hardly take the blue pill and leave the exhibition as if nothing had happened. But the decision ultimately is ours.

Next we see two hospital beds moving, advancing slowly and randomly rotating, proposing a journey during sleep. The beds have been throughout the exhibition to the public for use at night. It was possible to spend the night sleeping in the gallery in one of the two beds. The elastic and multiple world of dreams, where anything can happen, is indistinguishable from the world of exposure.

Near the beds we can enjoy a virtual reality, goggles and earphones introduce us into new space. What we see it looks like a forest where could grow the Amanita muscaria, and it looks like it’s snowing, perhaps the same pills that we saw at the beginning of the route. Suddenly, the vision is cleaved showing different sides of the scene simultaneously.

In a wall painted in different warm colors, an insect, an aphid, looks like it is giving birth, as a mammal, its young. Actually, they can multiply by parthenogenesis, without sexual contact. But in the environment of the exhibition brings to my mind the caterpillar conversing with Alicia. “I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

The insect is replicating, lighting himself while is shining a new life. Same and different. Old and new merge. Leaving the exhibition we should feel different, new and at the same time remain equal. The game with the meaning of words is no stranger here once again, light, and the creator is an insect. The power to change is within us, and Höller is activating it. While it is not an external, but internal metamorphosis.

At the same time, the reference to the painting-painting with spot color range seems a playful concession to who only accept framed art or in a classical format. It is also possible a reading in feminist key, not because of the color, but because some species wich reproduce by parthenogenesis, could dispense entirely male.

After we find Insensatus, a work consisting of several tubes of paint, one for each family member, with the pigment posed as a drug. The artist not only established its proposal as a cheerful artificial paradise, it also suggests that we enjoy the history of art in the same way, a generous, lively, instructive, sometimes painful, but always constructive playful way.

In a corridor there are two rows of monitors facing. In each pair, the same person, all female, talks to herself, replication occurs. Sometimes in English, sometimes in French, sometimes subtitled. Language is a crutch, a prosthesis, a technology that helps us to feel and to make feel. A phrase is answered by the judgment or sometimes by its opposite, with its sense rotated in an endless loop. We walked between monitors, interrupting the conversation, like walking through a cascade of dialogue, a cascade of light, bathed in light, again.

Another room is set up as a big and inevitable game of mirrors. We face art as copy, as mimesis, we replicate as the aphid do, but we are also Alice Through the Looking Glass. We face ourselves. We are spectacle and spectator, we see and are seen. Here are the questions and answers. The choice is ours. What is art? It depends on us.

In the same room as a big dice is being assaulted by young infants. Playfulness is inherent to this exposure but is exploited in a surprising way. The dice is also a reference to Stéphane Mallarme, each child plays his way, invents his game inside of the dice, and looks out through a different hole, “A roll of the dice will never abolish chance.” Höller has left the dice in a certain way, but this determination is abolished every time someone enters the dice.

To forget the feeling of weight, the lightness, the weightlessness, floating like a bird, taking a high point of view, it is possible by the artist. And once again, spinning, hanging from a harness like in a paraglider.

And see the world upside down, get a mirror image, live in a turn, walk the floor with your feet in the sky, a sickening feeling that upends the stomach, is available to us if we put a goggles built for it. It is not easy to take a few steps when your feel your feet well above your head.

The penultimate experience encourages us to distort our body. If we bend the arm and support the fingertips on the nose while we apply a vibration in the tendons of the forearm by a device that has provided the artist, our arm, which remains still, we will feel it spreading, but the contact whit the nose will make us believe that our nose is stretched like a Pinocchio effect.

The exhibition ends coming out of one of the Höller’s well-known slides. We dropped, more speed than expected, turning in either direction, depending on the slide we have chosen. Smile, inevitably, the child’s face, having enjoyed the feeling of knowing you have seen an exhibition that will always remember, it is really fantastic, redounding, you feel have been in pure fantasy. It was a lisergic trip, cyclically structured, hallucinogenic, without side effects. Höller expand perception its widest. Höller is the red pill. And I took it.

Carsten Höller
Hayward Gallery
Southbank Centre
10 June – 6 September 2015