Sophia visits The Southbank Centre to see Carsten Höller, ‘Decision’ – the Belgian artist’s largest UK exhibition to date…
Before arriving at the Hayward Gallery, I knew very little about Carsten Höller’s latest exhibition. My reason for wanting to visit – and I suspect I am not alone in this – hinged almost entirely on one single factor: I had it on good authority that there was going to be a giant slide.
A big kid such as myself needed no more convincing. An art exhibition at which visitors are allowed – nay, encouraged – to play? I was sold.
So, as I made my way through the entrance at the Southbank Centre, and was instructed to place my belongings in one of the lockers lining the walls, my head was filled with notions of a kind of Alice in Wonderland-esque, adult play centre.
I wasn’t far wrong!
With my valuables stowed securely away, I was faced with a choice of two blacked out doorways, each one flanked by a set of instructions that might be more appropriately termed ‘warning’ signs.
Reading on, I discovered that the area I was about to enter consisted of very dark, confined spaces, and that I should proceed with caution, placing both arms out to the sides to guide me. With these considerations duly noted, I stepped out into the void.
When they said it would be dark, they really weren’t kidding, as, for the next five or so minutes, I felt my way gingerly forwards, my hands brushing against the cool aluminium surface of the walls, all the while trying not to fall flat on my face, or cry – or both.
Eventually, I was able to make out what was – quite literally – the light at the end of the tunnel, as I was all of a sudden expelled into a bright, white room that looked as though it was filled with giant, flying mushrooms. I felt like I’d fallen down the rabbit hole, and kept expecting to bump into the Cheshire Cat at any moment.
Past the mushrooms and up an immaculate white staircase, I saw a space that seemed to be empty but for a load of red and white pills arranged in a circle on the floor.
“Pick one up” said a voice from behind me. Take one. Go on, eat it. Have an energy pill.”
My first thought was ‘Wait. What’s going on? Am I being offered drugs?
Up another staircase, I found myself in a room containing two rotating hospital beds, with a queue of people standing along one side of the wall. At the far end, was a bench with funny looking goggles and headphones attached to it, and a sign that read: ‘Queue Here for The Forests.’
Obediently, I joined the line of people, noticing as I got closer, that everyone looked just as confused as I felt.
Carsten Höller intends to bring about ‘moments of not knowing’, to destabilise his audience and liberate them from the ‘dictatorship of the predictable’
Visitors to Carsten Höller’s ‘Decision’ are not unlike participants in a social experiment. As I made my way from room to room, past darkened corridors, flying mushrooms, ‘energy pills’, and giant dice, I felt as though, somehow, I was being put through my paces; my every move scrutinised and noted down as part of some analytical report.
The Carsten Höller, ‘Decision’ Exhibition is on at The Southbank Centre until 6 September. For more information and to book tickets visit Southbankcentre.co.uk.
Until next time x