While some have criticized his artwork as kitsch, superficial, a fraud even, but crowds continue to come and experience Carsten Holler’s signature stainless steel slides that spiral down dozens of metres, flying machines, saline floating pools, and an assortment of lighting or visual effects that produce or reproduce an intended particular feeling.
The problem is that these feelings can sometimes be found in other non-artistic places, something as simple as a slide or a swing in a park, which leads to some confusion as to what the big deal is about.
Holler belongs to a group of artists that recognize the limitations of the modern art museum in catering solely to the visual and sometimes auditory senses; that to attain ‘nirvana’, the other senses have to be involved as well. This ‘full-bodied’ experience would become to what’s being known as relational art, where not only are the senses of sight, sound, smell and touch involved; the visitors have a chance to effect change in the artwork by interacting with it, and in doing so, actually become the artwork.
This interaction between subject and object is most evident in Tino Seghal’s work, where the artwork is actually a conversation between visitors and performers, but in Holler’s case he’s just focusing solely on the total sensory experience, or lack thereof in the case of Psycho Tank (2011) which is a ‘sensory deprevation’ chamber that mimics floating in the Dead Sea.
On the subject of moving bodies through space (and time) Holler also produced Two Flying Machines (2015), to mimic flying through the air like superman, and Twin Roaming Beds (2015) 2 beds that moves around by itself and avoid bumping into each other and the surroundings through hi-tech sensors, allowing users to experience a momentary disorientation or what it feels like to ‘wake up not knowing where you are’.
With the stainless steel slides, Holler has been producing them since the 1998 Berlin Biennale which is almost 2 decades ago.
Which so impressed Miuccia Prada that she wanted one in her office.
In addition to putting various slides in the Tate Modern Museum in 2006, Holler also built a 30m high viewing tower and slide for the Vitra furniture company at their Weil Am Rhein campus in Germany.
He did it again at the Haywood Gallery in 2015, and again at the ArcelorMittal Orbit Tower in London’s Olympic park in 2016 which at 176m has set a world record for being the longest.
Which leads to the question: where does it come from and what is the meaning of it?
In a model/sculpture Holler did in 2006 called High Rise Sculpture, he depicted a building in which these slides would be used as a primary mode of travel between levels in addition to staircases. And in other depictions, these slides were used to travel between adjacent buildings.
The origins of this idea can be traced back to a proposal for a new type of museum by the visionary architect Cedric Price called Fun Palace (1964), in which people could do all sorts of recreational activities within the museum, on demand, while the museum itself was a large ‘shed’ with no exterior walls enclosing the building, which allowed maximum public interaction.
As Holler has stated in an interview, these slides are actually a study on the emotional and other responses of human beings on the act of sliding, what it does to people emotionally, both to travel in them and to watch from the outside, and in that respect these slides have turned the museum into a laboratory for experimentation, much like Cedric Price’s proposal.
It is the momentary loss of control, the paradox of simultaneously having feelings of delight and madness when one as an adult travels down these slides, that so intrigues Holler to want to not only build these slides over and over again but to have them built as one of the primary ‘means of escape’ or travel within a building and also between buildings.
The experience of which incidently, also looks like the cockpit view of a WW2 fighter aircraft.
Or the cockpit view of Hans Solo’s spacecraft during ‘hyperspace’ travel.
Which is probably why Miuccada Prada wanted one in her office in the first place; it is also a means of ‘escape’ that recreates the mind both for participants and for observers outside the slide looking up, wondering what its like to go down it.
But then if they became ubiquitous in a city, people might begin to find them annoying and then they become undesirable.