Exhibition review: Carsten Holler’s Decision

Date Posted: 30/06/2015

Pictured: Carston Holler's Isometric Slides, 2015 during installation of Decision at Hayward Gallery. Courtesy the artist and LUMA.

Sarah Holt reviews the show that has people stopping in their tracks outside London’s Southbank centre, where two of the art works are visible from outside.

People are bumping in to each other all over the Southbank thanks to a new exhibition called Decision by Carsten Holler. The reason for the collisions is a set of distracting 100-foot tall helter skelter-style slides that sprout from the upper floor of the Hayward Gallery, transporting exhibition visitors to the ground below. 

These slides, officially titled Isomeric Slides, are just one of the pieces of installation art that forms the exhibition, which I visited at the end of June.

According to Holler, Decision was created to ask visitors to reflect on the process of decision-making and the pleasure of indecision. His intention was to create moments of ‘not knowing’ in his audiences.

After visiting the exhibition, I can say that – on the whole – he has achieved his goal. A sense of unknowing can be experienced on multiple occasions during a visit here. In fact, the feeling begins as soon as you enter the show through one of two Decision Corridors. These tunnels are pitch black – you can’t see your hand in front of your face – and you have to negotiate your way around them using any sense but sight. I found myself walking into dead ends and feeling like the roof was sloping in, as I made my way through my tunnel of choice.

Carsten Holler's Pill Clock

Pictured: Carsten Ho?ller, Pill Clock 2011/2015 © Carsten Ho?ller. Installation View Carsten Ho?ller l Decision, Hayward Gallery, London 2015. Courtesy of the artist, Photo © Linda Nylind.

Inside the gallery, 22 different art installations have been created to encourage the visitor to contemplate, either by interacting with each individual work or by watching how others interact. At Pill Clock, you are given the option of swallowing one of hundreds of red and white pills that drop from the ceiling onto the floor at regular intervals. I swallowed mine. It tasted like plastic. But it made me physically feel the making of a choice, in a way I haven’t felt before.

The Phi Wall, meanwhile, invites you to question your own perception. This wall of flashing lights demonstrates the Phi phenomenon. First investigated by psychologist Max Wertheimer in 1912, the phenomena means that, when two separate light sources go off at millisecond intervals to each other, the human observer perceives the change of light source as movement. It’s something you can’t help. It shows that you don’t always have control over your thoughts.

The exhibition does have its weaknesses. There are works that didn’t offer what they promised for me. The Forests display, which takes you into a virtual 3D forest using a headset before splitting your vision, did not have the rupturing effect on me that Holler envisaged. In fact, it just made me feel a little queasy.

And the magic of the Two Flying Machines piece was diluted for me by the hour and a half-long queue that came with it. This exhibit is a metal structure with a harness attached, which gives individual exhibition visitors the opportunity to experience flight, on the outer roof of the gallery.

Overall, complete dislocation from reality wasn’t possible, due to the number of other visitors at the gallery. I couldn’t lose all sense of volition, just in case I ran in to one of the other visitors doing exactly the same thing – but maybe that’s what Holler intended and I’d missed out.

Regardless of whether the exhibition is totally enlightening or not, doesn’t really matter. Unless you’re on an existential quest, any group will enjoy a visit to this exhibition. The interactive elements are enjoyable enough solo, but I imagine the fun is magnified when experienced as a group.

Just make sure you book to go on a quieter weekday, rather than a busy weekend.

Decision runs until 6th September. To book tickets visit www.carstenholler.southbankcentre.co.uk.

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