Belgian-born artist Carsten Höller recalibrates the experience of contemporary art by playing with conventional binaries, such as the flimsy line that divides art from entertainment. Lucy Rees speaks with Höller about his installation Golden Mirror Carousel, currently on show at the NVG International.
Lucy Rees: Drawing on social spaces outside the museum, your work often re-imagines the mental and physical experience of viewing art. Your installation of Golden Mirror Carousel in the Federation Court has been slowed right down to one rotation every few minutes. What are the reasons behind this?
Carsten Höller: The first carousel I did in 1998 was more of a ready-made where we only changed the motor, slowing it down to the point where it took 12 hours to make a complete rotation. We changed the speed here once it was installed to best suit the space. The mirror reflects the surroundings and the movement means that what is reflected is constantly changing. If you are sitting inside it you see that it is reflecting itself. It’slike a periscope into different viewpoints you wouldn’t normally have access to. The word ‘reflection’ also has a double meaning because it produces a very meditative state.
LR: There seems to be such a heightened expectation for interactivity within the museum today. What is your view of art galleries or museums? What role do they play?
CH: One of the very reasons I do the carousel is to reflect upon the idea that the museum has become an amusement park. Of course contemporary art is a very sensitive thing. You need to have some kind of loneliness with the artwork. A crucial moment for me was when I visited a Mark Rothko show at the Tate and there were all these people trying to look at it with their audio guides – it’s really not the way art should be seen. But as we know, we are mostly interested in looking at other people. Could you call it a ‘mainstreamisation’?
LR: Does it matter that people with no interest in art might come and ride the carousel purely for the spectacle and might not take anything more away from it?
CH: No, the opposite. The only way to deal with this situation now is to make people see the work with the other people. They become the integral part.
LR: You have a doctorate in agricultural entomology specialising in insects' olfactory communication strategies. Is there a connection between the way you approach your art and the way you conduct experiments?
CH: Science is just one attempt to try and explain the world. It’s based on a certain methodology, which has produced some fantastic results, but I’m interested in what could come before science or after science. There is a much larger world out there than one that we can grasp.
LR: A lot of your works are ongoing series, such as the slides you have been installing in museums since 1998. Are your artworks ever finished in the way a scientific experiment produces a definitive result?
CH: Before it was like the artist had to express some kind of vision or a way of looking at the world. Seeing the world and then expressing this through a painting or some kind of representation. We have done this; it’s time to move on. I don’t think there is this artist’s view of the world anymore.
LR: You are part of a generation of artists born in the 1960s including Maurizio Cattelan, Douglas Gordon, Pierre Huyghe and Rirkrit Tiravanija, to name a a few. Do you associate yourself with a movement?
CH: We are like a movement without wanting to be one. That’s not my term. We have been called the last avant-garde but nolens volens. We are working in such different ways but it’s still somehow the product of a time, you can feel that. The ‘90s was a time when there were more possibilities than now. Not just in art, but in science. An article was recently published called ‘Scientific Genius is Extinct.’ The gaps are being filled and there are no more discoveries to be made – except maybe quantum physics. When was the last time something truly groundbreaking happened?
Carsten Höller, ‘Golden Mirror Carousel,’ National Gallery of Victoria, 10 October 2014 – 1 March 2015.
This article was published by Art & Australia.