Deciding whether or not to brave the outside world on a particularly grey London day is a big judgment call in itself. That is not the last choice to be made if you have tickets to Carsten Höller’s Decision at the Hayward Gallery. Visitors, as well as anybody with common sense, will anticipate the exhibition’s exploration of the processes of decision making. What do we do when we are confronted with two or more options?
The question itself is one that can give way to a lot of complications under close analysis. Ultimately however it is a question of behaviour and perception, the very things Höller aims to explore in his exhibition. Everything is further turned on its head when presented in a gallery environment.
What do you do when an invigilator points to a pile of pills on the floor and orders you to take one and swallow it? The break from the no-touch policy that is often the norm when art is involved makes for a very different atmosphere in the space. All of a sudden visitors look left and right, confused at the request not only to interact with the work, but to eat it.
Visitors are asked to take a leap of faith before this, as the only way into the exhibition is through a pitch-black tunnel. What follows is a series of games, installation, and interactive experiences which play with perception. Giant revolving mushrooms conjure up Alice in Wonderland parallels, whilst other optical illusions allow you to see the world upside down, and experience a temporary nose job (to name a few).
Holler’s scientific background does sometime make the experience more science museum and less art installation, however, that is not to say that the experience is not an interesting one. Perception is certainly challenged and questions are raised. Or if not, there is certainly some innocent fun to be had. The relationship between “play” and “art” is engaging.
Lastly, a note has to be made on perhaps the most important feature of Carsten Höller: Decision : the visitors. Witnessing the behaviour of people when confronted with new sensory experiences is undoubtedly at the core of this exhibition. The purchase of a ticket is synonymous with the purchase of a little bit of freedom; and that in itself, is an interesting point to ponder.
By Alexandra Constantine