Experience vs. Experiments: Carsten Höller - Part II

Picking up from where I had left off from the last posting, this exhibition called Carsten Höller: Experience at the New Museum investigates doubt and uncertainty vicariously through Carsten Höller's inventions, interventions and his art works. Coincidentally, as I have been reading this book called How To Live or A Life of Montaigne by a British author named Sarah Bakewell, I find this quote from Michel de Montaigne seems to also describe the artist's intent:

We, and our judgement, and all mortal things go on flowing and rolling unceasingly. Thus nothing certain can be established about one thing by another; both the judging and the judged being in continual change and motion.
Here, Montaigne is not only pointing out that we cannot possibly be certain of anything beyond our doubts, but also describing the connection between the subject and the object is simultaneously in motion while at the same time duplicitous.  This also echos the ambiguous relationship between the artist and his spectators that I mentioned in the last posting about CH's amusement-park-like interventions in the museum when this idea of who is testing whom can never quite be defined absolutely.

On the other hand, Montaigne's quote about us being mortal beings constantly moving and thus making it impossible to establish any clear relationship with one and the other is somewhat illustrated via this piece called infrared Room, 2004.

In this piece there are three infrared cameras, three infrared lamps, three video projectors, three computers with specially designed software, monitor and cables that record the visitors as soon as they enter the curtained dark room. Then, the three projectors would simultaneously show your movements in three different temporal spaces. In other words, if you were to wave your hand in front of it then one screen would show you before you wave your hand, the other would show you waving the hand and the third would repeat your motion as you are moving. When looking at it, there is this sense of delayed action and thus makes one feel a bit disoriented. Since you would expect to see your waving hand immediately reproduced on the screen but then you would see yourself standing still while the other screens show you waving.  The shuffled play of irregular temporal order disrupts our expectation at the same time betrays our ability to predict anything if were to follow the conventional cause-effect order.

With the feeling of disorientation inevitably triggers one's feeling of unease and being unstable. This piece named Swinging Curve, 2009 calls for just that reaction I described.  It is a corridor in suspension. Notice in the picture, the curvaceous structure is supported by metal wires and is not actually touching the floor. Thus, every once in awhile it tends to sway from side to side ever so slightly to give you the jitters as if you are being shaken while walking through the corridor. Since the curve is designed to bend at its mid section, it obstructs partial view of anyone who dares to walk through it. Then again, if anyone is brave enough to take the ride down the slide that I mentioned in part I of this posting then one is certainly going to reach the end without too much mental agitation. Here again, seemingly the visitors are being tested of their sense of balance while at the same time is testing CH's corridor for its ability to convincingly convey the idea of disorientation in the midst of a mild confusion.

To sum up, in order to get the real experience you must pay a visit to the museum in person. There are many more stimulating pieces that are not included in my two-part posting. For those who are curious and uninhibited, Giant Psycho Tank, 1999 invites unabashed naked participants to ponder away his or her thoughts while floating in a tub of body-temperatured salt water. Furthermore, there are small rooms on the second floor each contains a contraption or some kind of smelly potion that would alter one's sensory judgment and reveal new-found awareness. But if you are just in the mood to walk around without too much physical participation, I highly recommend trying on the Up-side-down goggles,1994/2011 through which you can get a taste of what it would be like if your whole world was topsy-turvy.


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