from 7 April to 31 July 2016 – Space: NAVATE
Pirelli HangarBicocca presents “Doubt”, Carsten Höller’s solo exhibition. The German artist has risen to the fore of the international scene for his penetrating inquiry into the nature of human experience. The exhibition, curated by Vicente Todolí, unfolds along twinned, parallel paths, demanding sensory participation and perceptual focus on part of the viewers. The visitors themselves can choose how to approach the exhibition and which path to take.
In Carsten Höller’s view, choice is inherent to the work of art, and at the very beginning of the exhibition, the installation Y (2003), which is lined with numerous flashing light bulbs and can be walked through in its entirety, raises the question of which way to go. “Doubt” includes more than twenty large-scale works, both existent and new, aligned along the middle axis of the space. This alignment of works forms a central dividing wall, where visitors will see/experience only half of a given work, and have to remember the half they have seen until they encounter the other half on the other side. Large-scale installations, videos and photographs play with the spatial and temporal coordinates of the exhibition venue, charting a course between symmetry, duplication and reversal.
The exhibition layout alternates works that draw on optical experiments – like Upside-Down Goggles (1994 – ongoing), in which the artist invites visitors to see the world bottom-up – with others that are as playful in nature, likeTwo Flying Machines (2015), in which visitors can experience the sensation of flight or Double Carousel (2011), a merry-go-round for adults that gives a sense of euphoria and amazement.
Location: Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milano
Artist: Carsten Höller
Allestiment: curated by Vicente Todolí
Engineering: MOSAE srl
Team: Michele Maddalo, Alice Brugnerotto. Special consultant Stefano Monaco
Photo: Lorenzo Palmieri
Courtesy: Fondazione Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milano
Pictures in slideshow: from the exhibition
Y leads to Division Walls (2016), an impressive green and yellow wall that precludes the visitor from getting a complete view of the exhibition. It has two apertures allowing him or her to enter it. The wall is divided into sections – each of which measures exactly half of the preceding section – illuminated by coloured neon tubes. Based on the mathematical concept of the asymptote, an equation according to which a curve tends to draw indefinitely closer to a line but never actually reaches it, the artist creates a wall formed of crosshatches that are potentially divisible to infinity, realising what he defines as «a mathematical sublime.» The idea of division is a recurring motif in Höller’s artistic practice, which he already experimented with in the exhibition “Divided, Divided” at Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam in 2010, where the space and the artworks were divided and divided again, based on the simple mathematical formula of halving.
Milan Swinging Corridor
Suspended just a few millimetres off the ground, Milan Swinging Corridor (2016) is a structure that is part of a series of installations that Höller realised from 2004 onwards, conceived to interrogate the individual’s ability to perceive the position of his or her own body in space (proprioception). For those inside the suspended structure, an almost imperceptible shivering of the walls and the ceiling influences their sense of balance and their proprioception, as they tend to rely on visual clues to position themselves in space – one unconsciously sways with the movements of the Milan Swinging Corridor. The corridor also functions as a connecting passage between the two sections into which the exhibition has been divided, and leads visitors to the Cubo space behind.
Light Corridor (2016) is composed of two luminous walls that blink on and off at a frequency of 7,8 hz. On the top and the sides of the two walls, LED street lights and bulbs also go on and off. This induces strong optical hallucinations: one may see morphing colour fields and the external lights can be seen as coloured shadows floating freely in space, repeated endlessly. It also affects the mood of those exposed to it, as it possibly acts upon brain waves that were discovered to be influenced by external stimuli by the German physician Hans Berger (1873- 1941). Light Corridor can also be seen as a giant version of Brion Gysin’s (1916-1986) Dreamachine: a perforated cylindrical structure that rotates around a fixed light source. The flickering effect caused by the perforations produces a profound sense of calm and a light euphoria in the user.
Two Roaming Beds (Grey)
The Cubo space in Pirelli HangarBicocca is occupied by Two Roaming Beds (Grey) (2015), where Höller invites visitors to sleep and experience the exhibition by themselves at night, alone. Two single beds, remote-controlled via an algorithm and a GPS signal, move slowly but continuously in circles over the floor. Overnight guests will thus fall asleep and wake up in two different points in the space. The slow movement of Two Roaming Beds (Grey) induces an intermediary state halfway between sleeping and dreaming, echoing a meditative and oneiric dimension. A set of toothpastes is given to the guests, specifically designed to induce more vivid dreams and to remember them better. Visitors can use the toothpastes – a set consists of an activator and one evoking the realm of men, women or children – and blend them. Höller has said: «It’s a bit like the painter in Provence, sitting there with his palette and having different colours that he mixes in order to paint the landscape in front of him… you do the same here, the toothpastes are your colours and the brush is your palette. The dream is your painting.»
Carsten Höller has produced bedroom-like situations before, where overnight guests had the chance to sleep in the exhibition space. This is the case with Hotel Room (2004), a reproduction of two rooms of the Hotel Normandy in Deauville, France, which can be inhabited for eight days wearing the UpsideDown Goggles, as well as with Revolving Hotel Room (2008), a room set on three rotating discs, and Elevator Bed (2010), a circular bed that can be elevated up to 3,5 m high.
The installation Double Carousel (2011) is composed of two carousels that spin slowly in opposite directions and can be accessed by the visitors. Among the most recognisable of Carsten Höller’s artworks, carousels – like readymades – are decontextualised and inserted into an atypical architectural dimension like that of an exhibition space. They are also relieved of their body-amusing function, turning so slow. The artist examins the concept of “having fun”, by driving it to exasperation and boredom. As the curator Massimiliano Gioni affirms: «Boredom is another key element in Höller’s world… His machines move ever so slowly, caught in eternally identical repetitions. The amusement park rides, for example, no longer amuse… Making nothingness spectacular is one of the challenges that Höller tackles in his work: the tedium is the message.»
This large, movable installation is made up of seven giant mushrooms of the species Amanita muscaria (fly agaric), cut halfway down their length and reassembled in such a way that one of the two parts appears upside-down. The structure of the artwork is built like an upside-down mobile. When the lower arm of the mobile is moved, all the other arms start to move too and make the cut-in-half mushrooms “fly”. Holding a doctorate in phytopathology, Höller has long been fascinated by mushrooms and their biological uniqueness: «They are so powerful in terms of form, colour, taste and toxicity, and are so unnecessary. They are really a conundrum – we don’t know why they are like they are. Usually evolution is adaptive, but I don’t see any adaption there.» With its hallucinatory properties, Höller has also turned the Amanita muscaria into a metaphor for art and art’s power to transform and offer new visions of reality. In Flying Mushrooms (2015), the artist refers to the use of fly agarics in shamanistic rituals and access to “unknown worlds”.
Top Mode Africa (Monument à la Sape) (con Rigobert Nimi)
Top Mode Africa (Monument à la Sape) (2013) is the result of collaboration between Höller and the Congolese artist Rigobert Nimi. The artwork is a rectangular model, at the centre of which a scaled-down fashion runway is set, complete with models cut out of cardboard, with on either side two carousels with a series of coloured seats for the magnificient sapeurs – “Sape” in the Congos stands for Society of Animators and Persons of Elegance. Top Mode Africa is a model of the set design conceived but never realised for the film Fara Fara, and its double, symmetrical structure echoes the reflective set of the two screens on which the film is projected.
Rigobert Nimi has been producing artworks since 2000, drawing inspiration from cartoons and science fiction films, conceiving of them as reproductions of ideal cities that appear as «relics of an earlier future» through their use of recycled objects. When talking about his work, Nimi has underlined that «To conceive and construct these machines with rigor and precision is a way for me to make my dreams become concrete realities, to forget everyday life and its difficulties.»