HÖLLER, Carsten; Left/Right Slide
[Cartsen Höller’s slides] are among the most vital and life-affirming artworks I know. Their purpose is to make people feel joy and happiness – which for an artwork is quite an ambition.(Dorothea von Hantelmann)(1) The experience of sliding is a very hard to describe and peculiar phenomenon. The best description I have found was in a book by Robert Caillois. He speaks about vertigo and describes sliding as a ‘voluptuous panic on an otherwise lucid mind’. (Carsten Höller)(2) Born in Brussels to German parents, Carsten HÖLLER's first vocation was as a biologist. He holds a doctorate in biology and ran a research laboratory in Kiel before he made the decision to pursue a career as an artist. As many critics have commented, Höller’s approach to art is influenced by his scientific training and many of his art works might be understood as applications of experimental method in the sphere of contemporary art. In the context of his art practice, one might think of the gallery as a laboratory, the art work as an experiment and the audience as the subject. At its core, Höller’s work is concerned with human experience. He works across a diverse range of media and produces art works that function as tools to provoke different sensations in the viewer. In the context of recent art history Höller's work is often discussed with reference to ‘relational aesthetics’, a term introduced by the critic and curator Nicolas Bourriaud in the mid 1990s and the title of his 1998 book.(3) Participation and interactivity are key concepts for so-called ‘relational art’, exemplified by Rirkrit Tiravanija’s influential cooking works in which the artist would cook Thai food that was served to exhibition visitors. The Collection work by Tiravanija, ‘Untitled (lunch box)’ 1998, is a key example of this type of work. Olafur Eliasson’s Lego work, ‘The cubic structural evolution project’ 2004 is also regarded as a key relational work in the Collection. Höller’s work distinguishes itself from that of many of his peers by focussing both on the activity of interaction (which has both spatial and social dimensions) and the internal (mental) affect this has on the participant. He is keenly interested in the private sensations of anxiety, joy or exhilaration, for example, generated (often involuntarily) in response to the stimulus provided by the work. A key point of difference, then, between Höller and many other artists associated with relational aesthetics is that his work sets out to act upon the viewer rather than the viewer on the work. For the ‘21st Century: Art in the First Decade' exhibition, the Gallery has been working with the artist towards a proposal for two spiral-shaped slides that would transport viewers hurtling from the level 3 walkway into either the Cinema Foyer or Gallery 1.2 depending on which slide s/he enters. The slides forms of the slides were developed in response to the architecture of GoMA’s foyer – key factors being its cruciform shape and its function as the main point from which people are distributed through the building.The artist was particularly interested in this location as it would situate the slides amongst several other modes of transport for moving vertically through the space (stairs, elevator, escalator). The slide is perhaps the least functional of these, in a strict utilitarian sense, but has a profound affect on the visitors who choose to use it. The slides would be situated in the central area of the foyer and provide a striking line of sight as one enters the building. An important consideration for the artist was that the slides should function on an aesthetic level, as sculpture, and can be appreciated without the necessity of sliding. Located side-by-side, the proposed slides are precise mirror images of each other and together produce an elegant sculptural form. Höller’s first slide was produced for the Berlin Biennale in 1998 and, over the course of the past decade, he has been commissioned to produce slides for venues across Europe and the United States including the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb; and the Fondazione Prada, Milan. Best known, however, was his installation of slides in the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall in 2006, which attracted record visitor numbers. Höller had always conceived of the slides as an ongoing body of work and described the original Berlin slide as a prototype for future projects. In discussing this first slide he stated: A slide is a sculptural work with a pragmatic aspect. It can be used as a means of transportation - one that is effective, environmentally sound, and elicits happiness. You let go and lose control, and a moment later you arrive safely at another place. However, at the Berlin biennial you don't have to use the slides, you can just as well use the stairs. That gives you several possibilities: You can enjoy the piece as a construction, even as a metaphor.(4) While Höller has produced numerous slides over the past decade, only two have been installed as permanent installations with the others produced as temporary works for an exhibition and destroyed after they have been removed from display. Conscious of the need for a commission of this scale to respond to the practical demands of a Collection work, the proposed slide has been engineered so that it can be removed after its initial display and re-installed at later date. It would the first time that a slide by Höller has been designed to function in this way. A special reusable footing would be created in the floor of the GoMA foyer and an engineer from the Josef Wiegand company would travel to Brisbane in order to oversee the initial installation and provide thorough documentation and training so that the Gallery’s Exhibitions and Display department have the expertise to manage future installations. The proposed work would be the centrepiece of the forthcoming exhibition '21st Century: Art in the First Decade'. It is considered a key inclusion as it illustrates the shift in contemporary museum practice towards participatory, visitor-focussed exhibitions and programming. Where art museums have conventionally promoted a high level of differentiation between the art work and the viewer's experience - foregrounding, above all else, the subjectivity of the artist - Höller places the viewer at the very heart of the work. As art historian Dorothea von Hantelmann has argued, 'sliding down Höller's structures, one does not communicate with the sensitivity or the specific subjectivity of the artist - as we might do when we contemplate other artworks such as e.g. a drawing - but with oneself.'(5) In an unpublished interview with the author, Höller described the slide 'as a happiness producing machine'.(6) He is interested in the potential for the unexpected experience of sliding in a museum to shift the slider's relationship to other art works on display and also to stay with them after they have left the gallery. 1. Von Hantelmann, Dorothea. ‘I’. ‘Carsten Höller: Test Site’. Tate Modern, London, 2006, p.20. 2. Höller, Carsten. Unpublished video interview with Nicholas Chambers, May 2010. 3. Bourriaud, Nicolas. ‘Ésthetique relationelle’. Les Presses du Réel, Dijon, 1998. 4. Höller, Carsten. Birnbaum, Daniel. ‘A Thousand Words: Carsten Höller’. ‘Artforum’, March 1999, pp.102-3. 5. Von Hantelmann, ibid. 6. Höller, Carsten. Unpublished video interview with Nicholas Chambers, May 2010. Biographical details: Carsten Holler was born in Brussels, Begium in 1961. During the last two decades, his works have been exhibited internationally at numerous museums and biennials throughout Europe, The United States, South America, Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region. Key solo exhibitions include those at Wiener Secession, Vienna, Austria, 1996; Sprengel Museum, Hannover, Germany, 1997; Fondazione Prada, Milan, Italy, 2000; Musée d’Art Contemporain, Marseille, France, 2004; the Tate Modern, London, 2006; and Museum Boijmans Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, 2010. In 2005 he collaborated with Miriam Backstrom on an exhibition for the Nordic Pavilion, Venice Biennale, Italy. His works have also been exhibited frequently in major group shows since the early 1990s, including exhibitions at Kunstwerke, Berlin, Germany 1998; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, United States, 2004; and the Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2008. He has participated in the international biennial and triennial exhibitions of Yokohama, Istanbul, Sao Paulo, Venice and Seoul. Works by Höller are held by prestigious institutions internationally including the Essl Museum, Klosterneuburg, Austria; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Fondazione Prada, Milan, Italy; Pichuk Art Centre, Kiev, Ukraine; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, United States. Höller currently lives and works in Stockholm, Sweden. Essay and biographical details by Nicholas Chambers (Curator, Contemporary International Art), August 2010.