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Interview of Carsten Holler! Fondazione Prada


Pictures of the pope falling down the stairs (Coming Soon!!!) | Interview of Carsten Holler! Fondazione Prada | Maoismo


Germano Celant-Carsten Höller

gc The exhibition project conceived for the Fondazione Prada seems to be divided into various stations. It appears to be an experiential path that each spectator is asked to follow in order to undergo the effects.

ch >Synchro System< is conceived as a circuit where visitors encounter works capable of inducing hallucinations, which become more intense as they proceed. It starts with a piece that is fairly distant from us, Maison Ronquières: The Laboratory of Doubt (2000), an architectural model of a hypothetical house, the Maison Ronquières (the name refers to a construction that exists in Belgium, a ship lift located on an inclined plane that is as huge as it is useless). The building is designed in the form of a staircase; the individual rooms and their corresponding pure volumes are placed on top of each other in accordance with a mathematical principle. They are built around a central staircase, which is used to ascend, while to descend you use a slide. Letting yourself go down the slide is an experience that is similar to hallucination because, when you get on it knowing precisely what's going to happen from the entrance to the exit, this is an experience that makes you happy. That's why children, as well as adults, love it - because somehow or other it makes you happy without any reason. The next stop in the >Synchro System< is Light Wall (2000), which requires bodily involvement that's impossible to avoid when you're in this room. In this case, the hallucinatory aspect may turn out to be very strong because it entails the synchronization of the brain's activity with the flashing of the light, causing, when your eyes are shut, visual phenomena.

gc When visitors approach Light Wall, rather than frontal, their vision is lateral, so that it's inevitable that they'll see the ropes, mechanisms, structures and wires that control it and hold it up. Why are you interested in showing the back of the work? In order to reveal how it's constructed and the way it works?

ch All the works on display have in common the fact that they're machines or devices intended to synchronize with the visitors in order to produce something together with them. They aren't objects that can be given a meaning of their own - if this "meaning" exists, that is. Rather the "meaning" may be found "outside", in a place that may be reached together. I'm interested in making the structural aspect visible - in a way similar to the use of an instrument - in order to demystify the whole situation. I want to seduce, but, at the same time, I aim to clarify just what seductive mechanism is functioning, so that seduction is intertwined with awareness.

gc It seems to me that you are attempting to keep the space between art and the spectator open by adopting an open system to define this relationship, without resorting to the definition of positive and negative or of moral and immoral.

ch I try to take an imprecise approach to the problem. When all is said and done, it's only a space with something in it that I've never seen before and doesn't exist anywhere. I want to stress that this space will contain things that don't exist anywhere else. It's meant to be an experimental situation for me or anyone else who comes there. This is not in order to be "clear" or to gather some sort of "objective" information so as to make a statement, but rather to make something unique available that impresses people in a unique way.

gc You throw a stone into the water to see what happens.

ch I'd prefer to say that I produce a situation with various levels, a non-hierarchical stratification within a space that makes possible the coexistence of all the differences between people, between a child and an "intellectual", between mentalities, personalities, sexes, cultural backgrounds any difference.

gc Without wishing to resort to a banal psycholgism, every artistic experience has its roots in a primordial situation linked to the environment into which the artist is born. What are the factors linked to your childhood or education that you believe have influenced your behaviour as an "experimenter" or a raiser of doubts and questions?

ch I believe that there are many types of conditioning - not only at the beginning of life, but also throughout it - that produce what are practically unalterable forms of personality, with all the limits that this implies. And this greatly restricts personal freedom.

gc It's important not to be uncertain, but rather to seek uncertainty. One should adopt an open method and be stimulated by curiosity in order to move from one reality to another and not to create art - because I believe that no one creates art or criticism a priori - but in order to raise questions linked to the type of relationship between the question and the answer. The statement that my work consists in raising questions sometimes means creating contradictions with oneself. When you're working, are you interested in contradictions?

ch I change direction when the outcome of my work becomes too obvious. This is in order to avoid the trap that we talked about before: I don't believe in the exclusivity of the meaning inherent in a work.

gc You ask a question as a means of returning to yourself, taking courage and moving once again. When you think that this line of research has come to an end, you begin another one.

ch I feel that I must start to move before I've obtained a "result". There are already too many definite assertions, too many results, almost as if these were finished products, something at the end of a period of time, something concluded. I simply don't want to obtain something that's finished every time.

gc The idea of a flux of energy and change is part of an alchemical process that involves an effect of continuous transformation. Is it, nevertheless, possible to identify subjects and themes?

ch One may talk about the theme of safety, then children, then love, happiness (Glück), drugs, vehicles and doubt, or uncertainty.

gc You seem to oscillate between concepts and concrete reality, between mechanical beings and human beings.

ch There isn't a great deal of difference between a child and vehicles, since a child is a vehicle of genes through time and space.

gc A surprise effect is important in your way of working, for example the slides - from Berlin (Valerio I and II, 1998) to Milan (Slide No. 5, 1999-2000) - are devices that stimulate a reaction that's uncontrollable, and thus surprising, not only for those sliding, but also for those watching.

ch The surprise of the slide is that it's a repeatable surprise.

gc Light Wall and Gantenbein Corridor starts off a dialectic between light and darkness.

ch Wall is light and Corridor is, at the same time, darkness; in Wall, too, there's darkness, because the lights are turned on and off continuously. Despite this, the "turned off" moment won't be perceived as darkness because, due to the image that remains on the retina, it will be the moment of light that prevails. The impression of a room full of light is a construction: the length of time for which the lights are turned on and then turned off is identical.

gc Working on the idea of surprise or movement you raise the question of stability and certainty that lead to wonder. The last room, the Upside Down Mushroom Room, is a place of wonders and, at the same time, a Disneyesque room of monsters. Have you already worked on the theme of the mushroom?

ch The rotating mushrooms first made their appearance in 1994-1995, but they were small then because they were mobile, for use in the country. They rotated thanks to a small motor driven by solar energy and they could plant groups of Amanita of different colours.

gc Why to do this in Milan, on such a large scale and in a closed space?

ch The mushrooms are confined to an upside down room, illuminated from below - there's a reference to the Umkehrbrille (Upside Down Spectacles) (1993), but here the room appears to be upside down without having to resort to glasses. At the beginning of the twentieth century, George Stratton wore spectacles of this type for eight days running. After passing through intermediate stages in which he saw, for example, a candle upside down when it was unlit and in the "correct" position when it was burning, on the eighth day he saw everything as he did before wearing the glasses. He had adapted once again to the continuous process of adjustment that is part of sight, because the image on the retina is upside down before the brain deals with it. When you see the world upside down, you're seeing the "real" world.

From the interview in the catalogue Carsten Höller. >Registro<, curated by Germano Celant, published by Fondazione Prada, Milan.

This interview I found most interesting. One of my favorites.


Upsidedown mushroom room. Quicktime tour.