Carsten Holler: Decision

By Violet India Chaudoir

When you enter into a exhibition based around the notion of liberating the ‘dictatorship of the predictable’, you know something will inevitably mess with your mind. This was how Carsten Holler described his southbank exhibition this June at the Hayward Gallery. Perhaps you’ve already had the pleasure of encountering Holler’s work, his most famous project named ‘Test Site’ which was his installation of five giant slides in the Tate Modern gallery, an exhibition which enraptured thousands.

Holler’s work continues to enrapture in 2015 with his Southbank show. It can only be understood if one conceptualises an Alice in Wonderland world combined with an amusement park. As you enter the gallery through a pitch-black maze, one is allowed to psychologically let go of their expectations and separate the reality they’ve stepped out from, into the space Holler has constructed. The Wonderland daring of ‘eat me’ is found as each attendee is encouraged to take a red and white pill from a pile of them scattered across the gallery floor. Continuing the Lewis Carrollvibe is the ‘The Pinocchio Effect’ piece, a device which if placed upon certain nerves, uses vibrations to make nose to feel as if it were growing or shrinking into your face.

However it may be wrong to consider Holler with the same trippy energy that fuelled the opium influenced Alice in Wonderland. In my opinion Holler doesn’t wish to make you forget reality but instead get in touch with its physical and psychological pleasures. One key example of this is the piece ‘Upside Down Goggles’ which is what is says on the tin. Its concept is simple, glasses which use mirrors to flip everything in your vision upside down. However, I hadn’t fully understood how much vision would effect my entire person. Being used to a world with a reliable gravitational field you are confidently familiar with how to react to the world around you. For instance, whilst in bed, without looking I can reach over to my side table for my book. Take away that bubble of reliable spacial awareness and you have the ‘Upside Down Goggles’. Looking down you see clouds where your shoes should be, with the ground hovering above you. Movement, including the act of sitting down, becomes challenging. Perhaps what I say next is a placebo side effect but my brain at moments felt strained, as if its cogs were resetting according to this new sense. Holler makes one aware of how reliant we are upon our senses and the normalcy of the world. Imagining the effects of prolonged usage of such a contraction is made clear by the American scientist, George Stratton. Holler based this artwork on the Stratton who constructed similar glasses. He reported that after wearing the lenses for 8 days, only certain parts of vision returned to the norm as his brain still was attempting to process his vision. We can only imagine the confusion. Holler’s art, whilst retaining external aesthetic beauty, allows a reflection upon one’s internal state.

Holler through his trickster art stretches logic and our reliance upon 'normal' human behaviour giving the audience a feeling of defiance as they leave the gallery. Defiance against human customs, usual sensations and even reality itself. The ability for Holler's audience to feel this artistic, escapist power perhaps where the beauty of Carsten Holler's work truly lies.