Carsten Holler @ Hayward Gallery


Of course, the London sky decided to have a torrential downpour on the day that I had booked my ticket to see the Carsten Holler survey at the Hayward Gallery. The rain led to the slides and flying machines being closed and the friends who had booked to go in the same slot as me decided to exchange their tickets. However, I was not going to let a little rain stop me from taking a peek inside.

The exhibition begins through a series of pitch black passage ways, which you are told to feel your way through before entering the show. This was not a pleasant experience for me at all. Due to the weather, very few people actually went through with visiting the show on this particular day and I was therefore walking in darkness alone. It does not sound terrible however, it was extremely unsettling and after walking around at a snails pace for what seemed like eternity, a museum worker took pity on me and came to rescue me and guide me to the light.

This light was the beginning of the show and revealed a series of giant mushrooms. These structures could be pushed around in circles by the viewers but I do not see why doing such a thing would appeal to anyone. Further around the corner lay another strange occurrence in the form of a pile of pills lying on the floor with more adding to the heap as additional tablets were released from the ceiling every three seconds. The security guard in this part of the exhibition was encouraging us viewers to pick up a pill from the floor and consume it, directing us to a water fountain behind the installation. I kindly told the security guard that I don’t eat things off the floor and that even if I did, I wasn’t one to take medicines from strangers. He told me that they were just filled with flour, yet to his frustration, I could not be swayed to try the lozenge.

Moving further through the exhibition I was confronted with more strange occurrences. These included wearing space helmets which turned my vision upside down as well as videos of twins repeating each other in different languages. At one point the viewer was encouraged to touch their nose while holding a strange vibrating gun-like shaped machine to their arm. Apparently the experience was supposed to make you feel your nose become either smaller or larger. To be honest my perception of my nose did not alter during the experience, however, my perception of myself did in the way that I felt utterly ridiculous throughout the ordeal.

The show at the Hayward was strange to put it lightly. I can’t help feeling that Carsten Holler is making fun of his audience. I really am not quite sure what I made of my experience. Perhaps I would have felt different if I were able to go on the slides (the main reason I took an interest in the show in the first place). That being said, I did not enjoy the majority of the show and I would definitely advise people not to visit alone. The Hayward Gallery were kind enough to refund me with a voucher to book again when the weather permits viewers to use the slides, however, I am not sure yet if I will take them up on their offer.

Carsten Holler: Decision is on display at Hayward Gallery until 6 September

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer with a special interest in contemporary Middle Eastern Art. She has a BA in Art History and an MA in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Asia and Africa from the School of Oriental and African Studies. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and also writes for After Nyne, Ibraaz and Reorient.

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