Visiting a Carsten Höller show is like (one imagines) experiencing the effects of psychedelic drugs. And from today (10 June) the Hayward Gallery on London’s Southbank has been turned into a giant, immersive adults’ playground, courtesy of the artist, in a new show, Decision.
After handing in all your worldly goods to the cloakroom, and bounding along a grey steel corridor, you hit pitch black. A small sign tells you to let yourself be guided by the tiny lights that appear in the cracks of the metal, but I had to grab the wall to stop myself becoming completely disorientated.
It was scary, but it was made better by sensing (and bumping into) other people around me struggling through the darkness, and I even started calling out directions when I overtook another person.
But that’s the whole point: Höller wants to make visitors rely on their sense of hearing and touch to reach the end, and to make them feel like they’re entering another world.
Eventually you emerge into a room featuring huge, half-eaten magic mushrooms, on a large metal mobile that can be pushed around at floor level.
From here you can see the steel corridors from the outside, dodging a pile of red and while pills on the floor (you can take one ‘and face its unknown effects’) before you decide to go up or down to the next gallery.
I spied people in the lower gallery wearing headphones and Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets and was sold. For me, this was the most disorientating experience of the whole thing: a video which you feel like you’re part of, walking through a snowy forest at night, until you get to a single tree.
From then on it gets hallucinatory, you see double because each eye is shown different images, and can ‘go around’ the trees on either side. I’ve never taken magic mushrooms, but I imagine this is something like how it feels.
If all that disorientation has exhausted you then Höller has kindly provided two hospital-like beds to relax on. But these aren’t normal beds, of course: they are robotically programmed to move slowly, in tandem, around the gallery.
And if you want to, you can even stay over night on one of them – but you definitely won’t wake up in the same place you went to sleep.
Then it was up to the Waterloo Terrace to watch people get into harnesses before ‘flying’ above the traffic on the bridge below.
Here, Höller wants visitors to have a chance to reflect and contemplate, but he also expects them to be embarrassed, suspended in the air ‘like a bag of potatoes’.
I also tried on the artist’s Upside Down Goggles, mirrored headsets that make the world look inverted, and made me feel so wobbly I needed a guide to help me walk.
Then it was down one of the Isomeric Slides (main picture), helter skelters on the outside of the gallery.
Great fun, but not as steep or long as their previous incarnation at Tate Modern, in 2006, where you could slide all the way down from the fifth floor.
Carsten Höller’s Decision is at the Hayward Gallery from 10 June to 6 September. Full-price adult ticket £15, overnight ticket £300. Full details at the Southbank Centre
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