Carsten Höller

Carsten Höller: Experience at The New Museum

October 26, 2011–January 15, 2012

Carsten Höller was born in 1961 in Brussels, Belgium, to German parents. He studied agricultural entomology at the University of Kiel where he received his doctorate in 1988. By the 1990s, he began to make artworks and eventually abandoned science as profession to pursue a career as an artist.

Höller is frequently inspired by research and experiments from scientific history and deploys these studies in works that alter the audience’s physical and psychological sensations, inspiring doubt and uncertainty about the world around them. His work often draws on social spaces outside of the museum such as the amusement park, zoo, or playground, but the experiences they provide are always far from our usual expectations of these activities.

Giant Triple Mushrooms, 2010

Höller’s art takes the form of proposals for radical, new ways of living by creating sculptures and diagrams for visionary architecture as well as transportation alternatives, such as his renowned slide installations. These concepts may seem impossible in the present day, but suggest new models for the future.

Each floor of the exhibition explores a different general theme within Höller’s work to provide a carefully choreographed journey through the building and the artist’s oeuvre.

Mirror Carousel (2005)

The fourth floor focuses on the theme of movement—featuring the artist’s spectacular Mirror Carousel (2005), which provides riders with a notably different physical experience than the traditional fairground merry-go-round, while at the same time reflecting and illuminating the space surrounding it.

The third floor gathers together works that seek to provide an altered or utopian experience of architectural space. For example, his Giant Psycho Tank (2000) invites viewers to float weightlessly in the water of a sensory deprivation pool, providing a tenebrous, out-of-body experience.

Giant Psycho Tank, 1999

Over the years, the artist has employed psychotropic drugs, flashing lights, and other stimuli to potentially alter the viewer’s mental state. His new site-specific installation on the second floor, Double Light Corner, flickers back and forth on a central axis, creating an immersive, hallucinatory experience.

Light Room, 2008

The work is paired with a recreation of Höller’s Experience Corridor in which the viewer is given the choice to undertake a number of self-experiments.

Functioning as an alternative transportation system within the Museum, one of Holler’s signature slide installations will run from the fourth floor to the second, perforating ceilings and floors, to shuttle viewers through the exhibition as a giant 102-foot-long pneumatic mailing system.

Untitled (Slide), 2011

The sculptures, Giant Triple Mushrooms (2010), icons of the kind of personal exploratory journey that his work has always centered on, will also be on view.

Giant Triple Mushrooms, 2010

Taken as a whole, Höller’s work is an invitation to re-imagine the way in which we move through the world and the relationships we build as he asks us to reconsider what we think we know about ourselves.

Carsten Höller’s SOMA at Hamburger Bahnhof Museum

Nationalgalerie im Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin
November 5, 2010 through February 6, 2011
Carsten Höller. Soma

Belgian artist Carsten Höller has turned a contemporary art museum in Berlin into a zoo! 24 canaries, 12 reindeers, eight mice and two flies, are what visitors to the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum for Contemporary Art will be lining up to observe this month.

Höller’s installation, named Soma, is inspired by the myth of a magical drink. According to the beliefs of Vedic nomads in northern India in the second millennium BC, soma gave those who drank it special powers and brought them closer to their gods. Nobody knows what went into the drink, though some research suggests that soma may have contained fly-agaric mushrooms — Amanita muscaria — a poisonous, red-capped mushroom which has hallucinogenic effects.


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Carsten Höller

Born 1961, Brussels, Belgium
Lives and works in Fasta, Sweden

Upside Down Mushroom Room, 2000
Exhibited at Fondazione Prada Milan

Carsten Höller holds a doctorate in biology, and he uses his training as a scientist in his work as an artist, concentrating particularly on the nature of human relationships. Viewer participation is the key to all of Höller’s sculptures, but it is less an end in itself than a vehicle to informally test the artist’s theories concerning human perception and physiological reactions.

Test Site, 2006.
Installation view ‘Unilever Series : Carsten Höller’, Turbine Hall
Tate Modern, London 2006.

For Carsten Höller, the experience of sliding is best summed up in a phrase by the French writer Roger Caillois as a ‘voluptuous panic upon an otherwise lucid mind’. The slides are impressive sculptures in their own right, and you don’t have to hurtle down them to appreciate this artwork. What interests Höller, however, is both the visual spectacle of watching people sliding and the ‘inner spectacle’ experienced by the sliders themselves, the state of simultaneous delight and anxiety that you enter as you descend.

Mirror Carousel, 2005.
Installation view, « Logic », Gagosian, London, 2005.

Tate Modern Interview