Trained as an entomologist in Germany, Belgian artist Carsten Höller often treats visitors to his mind-bending exhibitions like lab specimens - offering them a 'love drug' or the option to relax in a flotation tank, for instance. At the current Venice Biennale he takes a slightly different turn however…
A slowed-down carousel offers a surreal ride, swapping the usual theme-park thrills and spills for sluggishness and stateliness. More interesting still is a rare photography exhibition which showcases a series of architectural prints and the ghost of those famous art slides he's become so popular for. The same stainless steel chutes he installed in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in 2006 that once sent Miuccia Prada plummeting from her office down to her car. In the case of the photographs however, the slides are fictional; drawn on to the prints of modernist buildings in tropical settings like ghosts or thoughts, ephemeral yet lasting. The buildings pictured are mainly monuments from African cities such as Accra and Kinshasa, incorporating the high-rise towers of Singapore here and there.
'It's architecture you use to get from one place to another,' says Höller of the slides. 'They're very fast, very safe and not expensive. I would like them to be everywhere - why people use elevators and escalators, I just don't get it?' For his forthcoming London exhibition a new pair of 'Isomeric Slides' are actually being built, entitled 'Decision' at the Hayward Gallery. These two helter-skeltering flumes will be just two of the four possible exits planned for the show. There will also, intriguingly, be two different entrances. Höller says would have liked to give the viewers no decisions to make at all, creating a mindless sense of confusion, but instead admits that 'some are taken for you and some you have to take yourselves. It starts with a punishment and then you get a reward.'
Another work in Venice, a film called 'Fara Fara' from 2014, depicts a sound clash between two rival African musicians and doubles as a love letter to Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital. (Höller's legendary Double Club of 2009, his half-Congolese, half-European nightlife experiment is still fresh in his mind. He's since built a magnificent beach-side home in Ghana.) Next he wants to stage a re-match between these two musicians - Werrason and Koffi Olomidé - in the same stadium that hosted Ali and Foreman's famous 'Rumble in the Jungle'.
What, if anything, connects all these disparate elements of his practice together? Höller doesn't have an answer, but there is one word that he keeps repeating as if it were a mantra: 'Freedom'.