The fairground comes to the museum

I have never known what age you are supposed to lose interest in the fairground – when taking your shoes off to jump on a bouncy castle becomes frankly dull, or when the ghost train fails to frighten. I continue to be amused, with my experience on rides bound with an illusion to appear brave (e.g. the rollercoaster) or recollect the past (e.g. the merry-go-round). These sentiments therefore nicely bring me to Carsten Höller‘s work on show at New York’s New Museum.

The exhibition, tellingly entitled “Experience“, takes place over 4 floors of the museum – its main feature, a slide, jutting right through floors 4 and 3 (a fact that I failed to notice as I whizzed by). The slide takes all of 5 seconds, although don’t let this alone deter you as the speed combined with flashing white lights, steep inclines and one hard landing mat leaves you feeling the repercussions long afterwards – my mother with a bruise on one arm (a very rare case) and the rest of us high on adrenaline that helped us survive later getting lost in Chinatown and frustrated on Canal Street.

In my eyes, Höller appears to be inspired by a lot. The result being a disorientating concoction of expectations unfulfilled, a sense of unknowing/dread, surprise and the bizarre – in summary, your mature adult facade disintegrates to become a confused child. “Experience” just makes you ask questions as from the layout of the installation with no clear right of way, to a staring visage in the lift and a ride that you have to wear hard hats and sign a waiver for (only in America), you are left to handle the unexpected. Result? An experience that can only be described as inner-child meets mad scientist, with a touch of crazy aunt. Höller’s training as a scientist is evident as there is a clinical air to the four floors, with the effect that you feel like you are participating in a pyschological experiment. On one floor, a corridor of small rooms invites you to undertake a number of self-experiments, whose side-effects, findings and instructions were, sticking to the artist’s style, unclear.

However, I found the exihibit a constructive way to end 2011, even with the unearthly queues. I left thinking that I had experienced something different and putting thought to things I had never previously considered. Maybe a slide is the transport of the future? And who knew that a mirrored carousel could be quite so hypnotic?


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