by Rana Asfour
London - We’d already landed quite late into the afternoon and with not much energy after an eight-hour flight, we casually wandered round London’s spectacular Southbank, enjoying being back on familiar and much-missed grounds. After the recent blistering and sweltering heat of Abu Dhabi, we are embraced by the gentle warm summer breeze passing over the Thames blowing away the last of the desert sand still stubbornly clinging on.
Some encounters are serendipitous and so as if it was meant to be we found ourselves at the doors of the Hayward Gallery’s new interactive exhibition by artist Carsten Höller. What first grabbed our attention was what I can only describe as impressive massive steel appendages or intestines protruding from the side of the Hayward Gallery. However, a later more reflective discussion with Mr. Fabulous and Junior concluded that my description of what I know now are Höller’s fun ‘Isomeric Slides’ is quite unpleasant as one individual soon followed by another hurtles from its inside.
The exhibition entitled ‘Decision’ explores the idea of how much time goes by as people spend their lives deciding; big decisions, small ones, some important others trivial; What to include in an exhibition and what not to and whether visitors will opt to like what they see or not. However, where visitors are concerned, it is Höller’s decision that we are to be included in the exhibition from the very first instant, even used as part of the exhibits.
The second decision we had to make (the first being the purchase of the tickets) – was what entrance to go through (there are two) – We chose entrance A but with niggling doubts that we might have missed out on something in the process – turns out that was the point all along - Think ‘Sliding Doors’.
But, whichever door you choose, you step into a 37-meter (number offered by the exhibition helpers) stainless steel completely dark twisty corridor that you will have to navigate through to get into the exhibition space. My senses (already rattled by mild jet lag) were thrown. I kept my hand firmly on the side of the dim corridor inching slowly forward and as I questioned what on earth had possessed me to do this in the first place, it was over.
We emerge from the darkness to a fully lit space where the first thing to meet the eyes are gigantic ‘Flying Mushrooms’ fitted onto a rod that visitors are free to push causing them to whirl around the room. With my awareness and senses already heightened by the previous unsettling dark, the spinning mushrooms reminded me of the twirling dervishes I had seen in Egypt once; Both dizzying and ‘trippy’.
And there is so much more of this. In the hour and a half that we spent in the gallery, our senses and perception of our surroundings was challenged from one exhibit to the next. Junior particularly enjoyed the ‘The Forests’, a dual-screen video that visitors watch on a 3D headset. It begins by taking you on a journey through a snow-covered forest at night. A short way in, the vision is split in two, as one eye is taken to the right and the other to the left. ‘The Forests’ attempts to look at two things simultaneously.
Another we all enjoyed were the ‘Upside Down Goggles’. Höller first made these in 1994. It was again a challenge for the mind to get to grips with the fact that you were literally seeing things upside down. There is a real conflict between your perception of what you know to be real (you are upright) and what your eyes are seeing (everything except the Hayward Gallery sign to your right) is upside down. Fantastic experience and really ridiculous too! Try high-fiving your partner and burst into fits of giggles.
I recommend getting the double publication that accompanies this exhibition that you can buy from the gallery’s shop downstairs. It features six short stories about decision making by Naomi Alderman, Jenni Fagan, Jonathan Lethern, Deborah Levy, Helen Oyeyemi and Ali Smith.
The publication also includes an impressive interview with the artist by Ralph Rugoff, Hayward Gallery Director and curator of the show that sheds light not only on the artist’s fascinating reasoning behind the ideas and concepts that led to the exhibition but it also contains an exclusive photographic record of Holler’s immersive exhibition. The show runs until September 6, 2015. To book tickets, click HERE.
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