Crazy corridors, a snowy virtual forest, upside-down goggles and a twirly whirly slide that whizzes down to the South Bank. Welcome to the wonderfully weird and wild world of artist Carsten Höller
Taking children to an art gallery – and getting them to actively enjoy the experience – can sometimes be a challenge. And so it was with my 10-year-old son, Joe, whose nose wrinkled up with disapproval when I told him we were going to the Hayward Gallery for an art exhibition.
When he spied the eye-catching Isomeric Slides that cascade tantalisingly down the side of the building then noticed someone suspended in the air like a wannabe Superman, he quickly changed his tune. “I never knew art could be so awesome!” he exclaimed.
A few minutes later, Joe was leading me through the darkened higgledy-piggledy Decision Corridors that mark the start of Carsten Höller: Decision, my hesitant piegeon steps in contrast to Joe’s bold strides into the unknown. It’s a bit like a hall of mirrors – except that you’re in the dark – but we used the same technique of feeling our way, slowly but surely, with our hands. And even then we still managed to bump into walls!
I was glad I had substituted my wedge sandals for more sensible footwear, but I wondered how babies and toddlers would find it. Later, inside the exhibition, we saw a mother carrying her baby, and I asked how she managed to navigate the dark tunnels. “They give you this hip seat carrier so your baby is safely secured and close to you, so it was fine,” she explained. Any visitors who don’t fancy the unusual entrance can request the alternative way in to the exhibition that skips the tunnels.
Interaction, exploration, discovery and challenging perceptions are
key elements to Höller’s exciting exhibition transforming the Hayward Gallery into part art gallery, part laboratory, part playground – and entirely fun. The kid’s verdict?
All art should be like this!
The exhibition, which sprawls across Hayward Gallery and erupts beyond its roof and walls, explores perception and decision-making, and there’s plenty of hands-on interaction that the grown-ups enjoy as much as the kids.
Joe loved setting the giant Flying Mushrooms into action, and was surprised when the guard told him he could keep one of the red-and-white pills that drop every three seconds in Pill Clock to create a Valley of the Dolls mountain.
There was some queuing involved for The Forests, where visitors don virtual reality goggles for a journey through a snowy forest but with the uncanny sensation of your vision being split in two. As a distraction while we waited, we watched Two Roaming Beds, whose patients had gone awol, moving eerily around the room.
Upstairs in the Half Mirror Room came disappointment for Joe, who was looking forward to clambering through the giant Dice, but discovered that there was a height restriction (under 1.2metres) and he was too tall!
Instead, we queued for the Upside Down Goggles (be warned: our wait was around 40 minutes so factor this into your schedule) where you move out onto the Hayward Gallery terrace, pop on your goggles and hey presto! The world is a very different dizzying place, with the Shard dangling from the sky like an icy stalactite and the London Eye is suspended in thin air.
As one who doesn’t really like heights, Joe was pleased he didn’t make the grade to sample Two Flying Machines, but brave parents (minimum height 150cm/4ft 11in, minimum age 14 and maximum weight 100kg/15st 11lbs) might like to show their steel by taking flight.
And those slides? Well, they’re not just for decoration, you know. They provide the perfect helter-skelter exit from a truly inspiring – or as Joe would say “Awesome” – exhibition.
Why go? To be part of London’s most talked-about exhibition of the year.
Who is it best for? Those who like their art edgy and highly interactive.
Top tip If you’re worried about navigating the tunnels at the main entrance tunnels which contains sections of dark confined space, or if you are claustrophobic or children don’t like the dark, an alternative entrance is available.
Our favourite bit It has to be the slides and the strange sensation of seeing the world upside down.
Don’t go If you prefer your art static: this show can make you dizzy!
While you’re there Explore the rest of the Southbank Centre’s Festivals for the World, make a splash in the fountains or dip your toes in the sand in the urban beach. And if all this off-the-wall topsy-turviness has got you in the mood for strange happenings, there are more curiousities to be found at Adventures in Wonderland, which is nearby at Waterloo Vaults.
About Carsten Höller Born in Belgium in 1961 to German parents, Höller trained as a scientist, gaining an advanced degree in agricultural entomology, before becoming an artist. Over the past 20 years, Höller has created experiential installations, participatory artworks and immersive environments, often featuring disorientating architecture and perception-altering devices, which Höller refers to as “artificial limbs for parts of your body that you don’t even know you’ve lost”. Believing that “people are often more powerful than artworks”, Höller sees his work as incomplete without visitor interaction. Carsten Höller lives and works in Stockholm. His 2006 installation Test Site saw the artist install a series of giant slides in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. His solo shows include Experience at the New Museum, New York (2011), Carrousel at the Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria (2008) and Half Fiction at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2003).