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Carsten Höller

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Title: Carsten Höller  
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Subject: Tate Modern, Installation art, Venice Biennale, Ferran Adrià, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Carnegie International, Rosemarie Trockel, Gagosian Gallery, Doug Aitken, Philippe Parreno
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Carsten Höller

Carsten Höller
Born December 1961
Brussels, Belgium
Nationality Belgian
Field Contemporary Art
Movement Relational Aesthetics, installation art

Carsten Höller (born December 1961) is a Belgian artist.[1] He lives and works in Stockholm, Sweden. Today, he also shares a house in Ghana with colleague Marcel Odenbach.[2]

Early life and education

Born to German parents working for the European Economic Community, Höller grew up in Brussels.[3] He holds a doctorate in agricultural science, specializing in the area of insects' olfactory[4] communication strategies, from University of Kiel;[5] the title of his dissertation is "Efficiency Analysis of the Parasitoids of Cereal Aphids".[6] Only during the late 1980s did he first begin making art. However, he has been working as a research entomologist until 1994.[7]


Höller came to prominence in the 1990s alongside a group of artists including Maurizio Cattelan, Douglas Gordon,[2] Pierre Huyghe, Philippe Parreno, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and Andrea Zittel who worked across disciplines to reimagine the experience and the space of art.[8] In his work, Höller creates situations which question familiar forms of perception and allow exhibition visitors to experiment on themselves, often inviting the public's active participation in so-called “influential environments”.[9] In their form, Höller's works are occasionally reminiscent of scientific laboratory arrangements, allowing the viewer to become the subject of an experiment.[5] His work since the early 1990s has encompassed buildings, vehicles, slides, toys, games, narcotics, animals, performances, lectures, 3D films, flashing lights, mirrors, eye-wear and sensory deprivation tanks.[10]

Among Höller's well known works is a series of corkscrewing tubular metal slides made from 1998 that is an ongoing project.[11] Not only are slides a practical means of transportation, but the act of sliding down one produces a loss of control, inducing a particular state of mind related to freedom from constraint. His most famous slides include that made for the office of Miuccia Prada in Milan (2000) and the first slides made for the Berlin Biennale in 1998.[12]

Höller's artistic practice reflects the interaction between work and public in various ways, sometimes chemically analyzing the nature of human emotions. His avid interest in the double harks back to the start of his career, when Höller designed a series of works with his then girlfriend,[2] the artist Rosemarie Trockel, actually doubling himself up in another creator. Other examples include an exhibition in which Höller and Maurizio Cattelan presented a series of identical works at two different Paris galleries, removing all differences of style or ownership;[13] and his exhibition "One Day One Day" (2003) at Färgfabriken in Stockholm, where two works were shown opposite each other and changed every day without the public’s knowledge.[14] His explorations often involve playful elements such as in Sliding Doors (2003), a series of electronic sliding doors with a mirrored surface through which the audience passes in a seemingly endless passage.[12] In 2008, Höller installed The Revolving Hotel Room, a hotel room for two, as part of an exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, New York.[15] At his 2010 show at the Hamburger Bahnhof, visitors could pay 1,000 euros ($1,370) for a night on an exposed circular platform perched above 12 castrated reindeer, 24 canaries, eight mice and two flies.[16] In Psycho Tank, which can be used alone or with others, visitors float weightlessly on the surface of a sensory deprivation pool, providing a strange out-of-body experience[8] Equally encouraging visitors' participation, Pill Clock (2011) is an aperture which emits a white pill into a growing pile of the same every 15 seconds.[17]

Mushrooms became a regular feature of Höller's work from 1994.[18] He has since realized several works with the fly-agaric mushroom, including the Mushroom Suitcase series (2001/2008) and the Upside Down Mushroom Room (2000), which was shown in 2000 at Fondazione Prada in Milan and in 2005 at MOCA in Los Angeles. His fly-agaric replicas are large-scale and often spin or hang upside down from the ceiling. The artist has also created photographic works based on the fly-agaric, entitled Mushroom Print (2003) and Soma Series (2008).[19] In a series of giant sculptures of funghi – Giant Triple Mushrooms (2010) –, two quarters of each sculpture replicate the looks of two random fungi; half, a very specific species: the large red-and-white fly agaric fungus, Amanita muscaria, occurring wild in Eurasia. A fungus with psychoactive, hallucinogenic properties, it was used, it is thought, by Siberian shamans as an intoxicant.[20]

Animals have figured largely in Höller’s work, most prominently at his exhibition Soma at the

Select works, projects, and exhibitions

For the seventh commission in

Earlier slide works include Valerio I and Valerio II, which were installed at

In an essay about Test Site, Dorothea von Hantelmann compares Höller’s slides to Nietzsche’s ideas regarding art and science as two different powers that inform culture in distinct ways. “When Nietzche speaks of art’s potential to create intensities and vital energies, for him these creations are extraordinary—but they need not be true. While the scientist deals with truth and its cognition, the artist, after Nietzche, creates and transforms reality.”[24]

In his exhibition Experience at the New Museum in New York in 2011/2012, a slide was installed inside, spiraling straight through the third and fourth floors of the museum, ejecting the sliders on the second floor.[25]

House for Pigs and People
The project House for Pigs and People, for documenta X in Kassel in 1997, was one of several collaborations realized by Carsten Höller in cooperation with the artist Rosemarie Trockel. It consisted of a box-like house structure with a concrete surface. Inside, the space was divided by a sheet of glass, separating two sections of the house—one side for pigs, the other side for people. The partition was one-way mirror glass, enabling the people to see the pigs, but not the other way around. The piece is a metaphor of ecological and social division, as well as an epistemological critique.[26]

In a book produced for the project, Höller and Trockel contribute a text that consists of a series of questions involving the relationship between humans and animals. Some of the questions ask: “Does not human consciousness originate primarily as a project of the sociological conditions of its coming into being? Doesn’t animal consciousness have to be something quite different, something we cannot imagine? Or is there a basic measure of consciousness, which is part of man’s biological makeup and also occurs in animals?”[27]

Upside Down Mushroom Room
Upside-Down Mushroom Room was shown in Carsten Höller’s exhibition Synchro System at

Upside Down Mushroom Room was also exhibited in the exhibition Ecstasy: In and About Altered States, at MOCA, Los Angeles in 2005.

The Double Club
The Double Club was a project in the form of a bar, restaurant and nightclub produced in collaboration with Fondazione Prada. It was installed in a warehouse in Islington, London, and was open from November 20, 2008-July 12, 2009. The club was divided into equal amounts of floor space representing the “Congo” and the “West”. Each division contained exclusively elements from each culture, including the furnishings and wall decors.[29][30]

The Double Club restaurant served two menus in parallel: authentic, family-style Congolese dishes; and a Western offering that focused on simple European bistro classics. On Thursdays, London DJ's exchanged 30-minute sets with resident Congolese DJ's. The DJ played on a circular rotating dance floor which slowly revolved at about one turn per hour. When the DJ was in the Western part of the room, "Western" music was played, while in the Congolese part it switched into Congolese Rumba, Wenge or Ndombolo.[31]

Höller’s interaction with the culture of the DR Congo began when he started making regular visits to Kinshasa since 2001, interested in the role of music on public opinion and in turn in effecting politics. In an interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist in 2009, Höller also explains that the impetus for the Double Club was also drawn from a fascination with the phi phenomenon, “…phi was of course interesting in a double sense…the jumping to and fro between two points, the eternal back and forth. And in that way this third form arises, which is an illusion and which moves, while the two other forms, by contrast, are fixed.”[32]

The phi phenomenon was explored earlier in Höller’s Flicker Films, (2004 and 2005) which took footage from Congolese musicians and dancers presented on overlapping projections, which created a sculptural, quasi-holographic effect.[33]

The exhibition Soma was installed at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin in 2010. Its main element were 12 reindeer in two pens running the length of the former railway station. Half of the reindeer were fed the fly agaric mushrooms in their food, which are part of their customary diet in the wild, and turn their urine into a hallucinogen. The reindeer urine was collected by handlers and then stored in on-site refrigerators for use. The experiment was extended to canaries, which were housed in two hanging cage pieces, to mice, and to flies. A mushroom shaped Elevator Bed was installed in the middle of the space, and visitors could spend the night on the premise for a fee.

The title Soma comes from the name of the sacred libation drunk by the Indo-European followers of the Vedic religion, Hinduism's 5,000-year-old parent. Its ancient text, the Rigveda, contains 114 hymns to "creative juice", supposed to offer immortality. The recipe was lost, but in the 1960s researcher Robert Wasson hypothesised that soma was based on the fly agaric mushroom.[34]

Although the piece is modeled after a scientific experiment, Soma does not address pure science, but our imagination and capacity for thinking about modes of experience and states of consciousness available to us.

Killing Children
Carsten Höller’s Killing Children works are discreet objects made between 1990 and 1994. Some consist of such things as a comforter containing a piece of dried fly agaric titled Sucette aux Fausses Oranges, a trap made from an upside-down playpen baited with a Kinder Schokolade egg attached to fishing wire titled Komm Kleines, kriegst was Feines, a bicycle for children rigged with a fuse, match, and petrol titled Bicycle Bomb, a piece titled 220 Volt consisting of plugs, connecting cable and candy. Three Venomous Frogs from Costa Rica in a Bottle is a piece that is just that: dangerous frogs submerged in water in a baby’s bottle. The works in this series have been usually installed on bright bubble-gum pink carpet.[35]

In an interview with Daniel Birnbaum, Höller describes the works; “They are all presentations of methods of capture, torture and killing of children. On the one hand they are observations about the production of offspring in humans. On the other hand, they are observations from the perspective of the child of the foreign, incomprehensible and threatening world. At the moment of becoming aware of the Self, a child must design a concept of the world in which he or she takes on the status of observer and actor simultaneously. We all share this development even if it is submerged.”[36]

Flying City Tableware (Geschirr der Fliegenden Stadt)
An edition of tableware created in 2010 for the venerable Bavarian porcelain manufacturer, Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory. Carsten Höller was the first artist to participate in the series that first included product and fashion designers such as Konstantin Grcic, Hella Jongerius, Vivienne Westwood, Christian Lacroix, and Gareth Pugh.

The tableware comprises a combination of a service plate, a dinner plate, a side plate, and a teacup and saucer, each decorated with a design relating to two fundamentally different sources: on the one hand, Georgy Krutikov’s design for a FLYING CITY (1928) and, on the other, the rotating Benham top or disc (1894–95), eponymously named after its inventor, Charles Benham.[37]

Carsten Höller’s carousels (sometimes spelled carrousel, with two R’s, intentionally like the original word in French) and amusement park works, are some of his most well-known projects. Dating back to 1998, the key feature with Höller’s carousels are that they are modified in some way than what we expect from an amusement park ride, either most often through speed, or sometimes rotational direction, or surface material, as is the case with his Mirror Carousel (2005). For the viewer, the alterations introduce a sense a doubt, confusion and disorientation. In his exhibition Amusement Park at MASS MoCA in North Adams, 2006, the degree of slowness and direction changed every day. A local fairground operator, Art Gillette, engineered the changes, and in an interview said that "...We're trained to always think about faster, louder, brighter, more exciting…This was so simple it was difficult…As we were installing and people were walking through, I began to understand what Carsten's doing…you see the reactions these things bring out in people, like, I remember this, but it's not quite what I remember. Was that a dream or maybe this is the dream. It's a strange, fantastic experiment."

In a catalogue essay for Carsten Höller’s 2008 exhibition at Kunsthaus Bregenz, Carl Roitmeister writes of the carrousel works, “This is the age-old artistic ploy of defamiliarizing the commonplace in combination with the age-old artistic ploy represented by the Duchamp-style readymade. But two age-old ploys do not add up to a new one…The title of the carrousel, R B Ride, doesn’t get us anywhere, because R B merely stands for Robles Bouso, the name of the now-defunct Spanish company that made the fairground device. The year of manufacture is 1969, the year of the failed revolution.” Roitmeister goes on to make comparisons of the failure of the revolution with the action of the carrousel, the revolution of a clock, or time passing, in relation to the fact that the carousels move at a reduced speed, another failure—the failure to produce amusement. He goes further to say that “the carrousel resembles a huge clock—that is, a time-measuring device rather than a time-diverting machine…”

For Carsten Höller’s exhibition in 2011 at MACRO, he showed Double Carousel with Zöllner Stripes (2011). The pair of carousels anthropomorphically suggests a couple, “I thought it would be nice to have two [merry-go-rounds] interacting as if they were in love or something. To bring people together and then further away ... It is romantic and tragic at the same time.”[38][39][40][41]

Dolphin, 1995, is a soft polyurethane replica of a baby dolphin. A Black Dolphin (Schwarzer Delphin) was subsequently produced in 1996. White Elephant (Weisser Elefant), 1998, is a soft polyurethane replica of a baby elephant (African elephant). These were the first in a series of baby animals. Artificial human eye replacements have been used for the eyes, and all of the animals are soft and squeezable. Crocodile (Krokodil), 2002, was made with a translucent polyurethane, making it look not too dissimilar to gummy candy.[35][42]

Light Wall and Lichtraum
Light Wall I (2000), Light Wall II (2001), Light Wall III (2002), Light Wall IV (2007), constitute a series of variable Light Walls consisting of at least nine panels. Each panel holds a grid of light bulbs flickering at a frequency of between seven and twelve hertz, combined with a clicking stereo signal that continues back and forth between two audio speakers. This induces optic and acoustic hallucinations: viewers experience modulating fields of color with their eyes open or shut, or perceive themselves or what is said by others around them in altered ways. The incessant turning on and off of the lights—in contrast to strobe lights—primarily induces, due to the slow illumination rate of the filaments, an erratic state of mind caught “between” poles of light/dark, awake/asleep, I/other, etc. Lichtraum (2008), as installed at Kunsthaus Bregenz, consisted of four walls of the exhibition space, each covered by thousands of LED lights. Since given the imposing scale of the surfaces, the lights are always seen out of the corner of the eye, one’s proprioception is affected so that one forms an “intuited” revolving.[42]

Lesser known works

Vertigo-Bells (Vertigo-Glocken)
A piece from 1997, where two large sturdy bronze bells hang from opposite ends of a steel cross-shaped structure that turns around on an axis with an electric motor. The centrifugal force hinders them from ringing.[35]

Amokkoma – Journal Oriental
Volume 1 (1992–1996), Volume 2 (2007–2010),

Game Boards (Spiele Buch)
A book depicting games, and a series of eight boards derived from the book. None of the games requires materials such as dice, paper, etc. as all involve the body or are psychological in nature. The activities are divided by “Games that are played alone”, “games that are played alone, around others”, “games that are played in pairs”, “games that are played by two others”, “games that are played with several others”. The book titled Carsten Höller’s Spiele Buch was edited by Hans-Ulrich Obrist, and published by Oktagon in 1998. An example of one of the games, The Golden Look, reads “Engage a person in an intense conversation. Either right away or after a period of time, avoid looking into the person’s eyes, instead focusing on a place nearby (eg., the left temple). It is important to not let your partner know you are avoiding their eyes. This needs concentration, because your partner is still looking into your eyes and moving his or her head.” “Split Self” reads, “Hold hands with somebody else so that the two hands are folded together in a praying position. You and your partner should then stretch your middle fingers straight up, touching their tips together with the fingers bent away from the hands. With the thumb and index finger of your other hand, stroke both the middle fingers up and down. Because one of the fingers being stroked is yours and the other one isn’t, a Split Self is evoked.”[35][45]

Warnwestenverkauf (Safety Jackets Sale)
1988, for an exhibition at


Carsten Höller had his first solo exhibition, curated by Nicolaus Schafhausen, in Cologne in 1993. That same year, he was invited to Aperto '93 at the Venice Biennale. His work has since been the subject of the following solo exhibitions:

His work has also been a part of major group exhibitions, including:
Hide and Seek, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2010), Catch Me!, Kunsthaus Graz, Universal Museum Joanneum, Graz (2010), 10,000 Lives: The Eighth Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju (2010), Les Pormesses du Passe, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2010), Altermodern: Tate Triennial 2009, Tate Britain, London (2009), Fare Mondi / Making Worlds, 53rd Venice Biennial, Venice (2009), theanyspacewhatever, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2008), In Living Contact, 28th Bienal de São Paulo, São Paulo (2008), The Future of Futurism, Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporea, Bergamo (2008), True Romance, Kunsthalle, Vienna (2008), Generational Issue, CGAC, Santiago de Compostela (2007), Surprise Surprise, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (2006), Into Me / Out of Me, P.S.1, New York (2006), Ecstasy: In and About Altered States, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2005), Performa 05: New Visual Art Performance, New York (2005), Experiencing Duration, Biennale d’Art Contemporain de Lyon 2005, Lyon (2005), La Begique Visionnaire, Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels (2005), Modus Operandi, Thyssen Bornemisza Contemporary Art, Vienna (2005), 2004 Carnegie International, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (2004), Delays and Revolutions, Italian Pavilion, 50th International Exhibition of Art, Venice Biennale, Venice (2003), Utopia Station, 50th International Exhibition of Art, Venice Biennale, Venice (2003), Spiritus, Magasin 3, Stockholm (2003), Auf Eigene Gefahr, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt (2003), I promise it’s political, Museum Ludwig, Köln (2002), MEGA-WAVE, International Triennale of Contemporary Art, Yokohama (2001), Synchro System, Fondazione Prada, Milan (2000), Over the Edges, SMAK, Gent (2000), Dream Machines, National Touring Exhibition: Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee (2000), Konstruktionszeichnungen, Kunst-Werke, Berlin (1999), Kant Park, Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum, Duisburg (1999), Site Santa Fe, 3rd International Biennial, Santa Fe (1999), 6th International Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul (1999), Berlin Berlin, 1, Berlin Biennale, Berlin (1997), Manifesta I, Rotterdam (1996), Hybrids, de Appel, Amsterdam (1996), Moral Maze, Le Consortium, Dijon, France (1995) How Is Everything? Wiener Secession, Vienna (1995), Surface de Réparation I, FRAC Bourgogne, Dijon (1995), L’Hiver de ‘Amour, ARC Musée d’Art Moderne de Ia Ville de Paris, Paris (1994), Sens et Sentiments, FRAC Languedoc-Roussillon, Montpellier (1993), E, Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin (1993), Die Aussebung der Sie-Form, Kunsthalle zu Kiel (1992), D & 5, Kunstverein in Hamburg (1989).[46]

Höller is represented by Gagosian Gallery, London, New York, and Los Angeles.

Artist's Books


  • Carsten Höller Over There, Skira, 2011
  • Experience, Massimiliano Gioni, Gary Carrion-Murayari, and Jenny Moore, New York: Skira Rizzoli, 2011
  • Soma: Dokumente, Udo Kittelmann and Dorothée Brill, Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz, 2011
  • Carsten Höller: 2001-2010 : 184 Objects, Experiments, Events, Barbara-Brigitte Mak, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2010
  • Dopplereffekt. Bilder in Kunst und Wissenschaft., Petra Gördüren, Dirk Luckow (eds.), Kiel, Germany: DuMont Buchverlag, 2010, ISBN 978-3-8321-9295-2.
  • Carsten Höller, Carrousel, Carl Roitmeister, Eckhard Schneider, Kunsthaus Bregenz, Köln: König, 2008
  • Carsten Höller, Francesco Bonami and Caroline Corbetta. Milano: Electa, 2007
  • Carsten Höller: One Day - One Day, Jan Åman and Nathalie Ergino, Cologne: König, 2006
  • Carsten Höller: Test Site, London: Tate, 2006
  • Carsten Höller: Logic, Daniel Birnbaum and Jennifer Allen, London: Gagosian Gallery, 2005, ISBN 1-932598-20-0
  • The Last Image, Moderna Museet, 2004
  • Register, Germano Celant, Milano: Fondazione Prada, 2000
  • Production: Birnbaum, Höller = Tuotanto, Helsinki: Kiasma, 2000
  • Carsten Höller: Ny Värld, 1999
  • Carsten Höller's Spiele Buch, Hans-Ulrich Obrist (ed.), Cologne: Oktagon, 1998
  • Carsten Höller. Neue Welt, Theodora Vischer (ed.), catalogue, Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel, 1998
  • Carsten Höller/Vadim Zakharov - Peter Mertes Stipendium 1995, catalogue, Bonn, Bonner Kunstverein, 1995


External links

  • [2] for the source of the orientation of the talk)
  • Article on Carsten Höller's 'Double Club'
  • biography and list of exhibitions at
  • Article on Carsten Höller and the "Amusement Park" installation at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Interview with Carsten Höller on 'Divided Divided' Installation at Arttube (Boijmans)

Template:Relational Aesthetics

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