Last week I mentioned that for Tony’s Birthday, I organised a surprise and it was to take him to the Southbank Centre where CARSTEN HÖLLER’s biggest show (in the UK to date) was on. The exhibition is called: DECISION
It’s experiential art so you get to actively participate and interact with the artwork and in so doing, you become part of the exhibition. People can either watch and contemplate the scenarios they’re put in and other people’s reactions to it, or they can actively participate. In the end, it’s your decision. 😉
Carsten Holler actually did a show at the Tate Modern a while back (2008) where there was a giant slide. I missed it and so was happy to see that he had another show on with 2 slides AND a flying machine! I was sure Tony would love it.
Although it was meant to be a surprise, the unveiling didn’t go to plan. He saw the slides, got excited and then as we were entering, “Guys, as it’s raining today, the flying machine won’t be working. So you can either go in now and see the whole exhibition except for the flying machine, or, you can exchange your tickets and come back another time when the flying machine will be on.”
Disappointment and more importantly, decision time. Couldn’t get more experiential than that. We decided that even though it was Tony’s bday that day, we’d go back the following week instead.
Lesson 1: We make decisions based on what’s most important to us. In this case, getting the most out of our experience was more important than doing this specifically on Tony’s birthday as planned. We instead enjoyed the rain.
So the following week, it was sunny and we went back to the exhibition.
***I WILL INSERT A SPOILER ALERT HERE. Do not read any further if you intend to go to the exhibition and experience this yourself. It is best experienced without any preconceptions. Come back here after you’ve gone and see if we had similar experiences 🙂 ***
OK, now I will start.
As soon as you enter, the halls are pitch black and it reminded me of dinner at Dans Le Noir. The only difference was that I was expecting the pitch black at Dans Le Noir and we were pretty much led into the restaurant holding onto each other, whereas this entrance to the exhibition took me completely unexpectedly. One minute you’re walking into an entrance, the next, it’s completely pitch black.
That was the point.
According to the leaflet, “Holler intends for his work to bring about ‘moments of not knowing’.” and boy did it do that!
To be honest, I freaked out and on reflection, I actually do freak out every time I am uncertain. Stepping deeper and deeper into darkness and not knowing when it would end was pretty scary.
The freaking out didn’t last for long. Immediately my hand reached out to grab Tony’s shirt. He was walking ahead of me and I started talking to him so he would talk back. Interesting how the immediate loss of sight made me find reassurance through touch and sound only seconds after. My other hand reached out to the wall so I could feel if I should walk straight and when it was time to turn.
With that little bit of certainty (Tony and the wall), I was OK and started walking a bit faster. Eventually my eyes adjusted and I could see tiny holes of light (the daylight that was filtering through the joints of the metal tube we were walking through) which showed the way. Not all of it had specks of light and at times it seemed to never end, it was just eternal darkness.
When I was a kid, my parents took us to El Caballo Blanco and all I remember from there was a giant black water slide. Basically a water slide made of a big black cylinder twisted in different ways rather than your normal open top, half pipe, blue slides (they had them too). So everything was dark, black and you wouldn’t be able to see when the next turn or dip would be. You’d pretty much be sliding around with no visual reference. It was also the largest and steepest slide in the park, meant for the big kids. All of it was completely scary to me, after all I wasn’t yet a big kid myself. I made my brother go first even though he was smaller and told him to just yell out and let me know it was OK and then I’d count to 10 and follow him.
Me: “Are you OK?” while he was setting himself up and edging slowly forward.
Him: “Yeah, I’m O Kaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyy!!!!!!!!!” and then dead silence.
The first dip obviously took him by surprise but it completely freaked me out. I was standing there staring at the black hole until he had managed to slide all the way down and climb all the way back up again with a huge grin on his face ready to go again because he had so much fun.
I refused to go down the slide. It took a lot of coercing and my dad having to go down the slide, with me on his lap and for me to come out alive before I’d go again and even then I didn’t go by myself, I went in there with my brother on my lap and my dad waiting for us at the bottom and by that point, I’d had enough!
Some people like high levels of fear and death-defying adrenalin rushes. I’m not one of those.
So there we were in that long, dark, tunnel.
Tony kept bumping into people ahead of us. Either we were walking quickly or they were walking really slowly. It turned out there was a lady who was walking so slowly (she must’ve been really freaking out) that she was holding everyone up. She was clinging to the walls and not saying a thing, so I assumed people just started walking around her. I’m sure that would’ve been me if I wasn’t holding onto Tony. We eventually saw her come out of the exit a little while after us – she looked completely dazed and confused. I was relieved for her.
I didn’t feel like I passed anyone though. At one point, I felt Tony turn left with the hand I was holding onto him with but my other hand felt the fold in the wall which suggested we turn right. He was walking fast, I almost lost him (his shirt left my grip) and although I kept telling him to stop and wait, “Are you sure you’re going the right way? ’cause I think we have to turn right.” He just kept on walking left, “Yeah, this is the way”.
He ended up farther away than I’d hoped and I had to make a decision. I either had to let go of what I was certain of (the wall) and find and follow the voice of he who was more certain, or ignore him and stick with the wall. I decided to let go of the wall and follow him. We turned left. In the end, both ways would lead to the same exit but when you’re in there, you just don’t know!! That lady must have turned right.
Lesson 2: He who has more certainty, rules the game. This made me realise that I always question myself before I question others and I put a lot of faith in what I can see and question everything I cannot.
So, first stop out of that weirdly dark but enlightening entrance was the human turned mushrooms ie. a machine that was turning because humans were pushing it at the base and it had mushrooms all over it. I was fascinated how everyone just kept spinning it exactly the same way. I said to Tony, “You know, it’ll spin the other way too, You just have to push it the other way. I wonder why people just keep pushing it this one way (the same way as those who have pushed before them).”
He replied, “Well, you can go in there and spin it the other way if you want.”
My response was, “Nah, I can’t be bothered.” I opted instead to take pictures and move on.
Lesson 3: Inaction or action (for whatever your reasons), are both decisions and both have consequences. In that moment, I didn’t want to rock the boat but in so doing, I didn’t show others who might not have seen or thought about it, that there was another way.
Next stop was the pile of pills. I’m sure everyone joked about taking the red pill or the blue pill but you couldn’t because they were all red and white pills.
“Don’t mess with the exhibit.” the guard says. I think someone was picking handfuls of pills up and swishing their hand around in the pile.
I squat down and try to take a picture of the pile of pills and notice it moving. “Why is it moving?” I ask Tony. He says, “It’s not.”
“No… I’m sure it is” I said and just as I say that, tick! it moves again. The ticking noise is coming from a pill falling from a hole in the ceiling. Every 3 seconds another pill falls, hits the top of the pile, making a singular noise… tick! then a few pills topple down from the top. This piece of art was called the “Pill Clock”.
“You can take one.” the guard says. I stare at him a little because I was sure he just told us not to touch it… and now he’s telling us we can not only touch it but we can take and walk away with a piece of it? I stare at him some more while I contemplate whether or not he’s part of the exhibition.
Everyone that was there, picks up just one pill. There’s a bubbler (drinking fountain) near by and so Tony takes the extra step and he actually “TAKES” the pill ie he puts it into his mouth, has a sip of water and swallows it. He is cheekily excited about what he just did. Grinning from ear to ear. I stare at him in disapproval and say, “I can’t believe you just did that. You don’t even know what’s in the pill. I’m sure that’s not what he meant when he said “You can take one”!”
Convinced that I’d have to look after him afterwards while he was hallucinating about mushrooms, I decided to open up the pill to see what, if anything, was inside (like I’d know what it was by looking at it!).
There was white powder, I put it to my nose, it smelled like nothing, I licked a tiny bit of the powder, it didn’t taste like much, almost like a mixture between fibre and cardboard with no taste but then I felt slightly dizzy, probably placebo but it was enough to convince me not to trust it. I threw the pill in the bin which was underneath the bubbler. Seeing so few pills in the bin, it seemed either many had taken Tony’s route and swallowed it or they’d put it in their pockets to take home as a memento?
I found it interesting how when faced with the same decision, Tony went with it with complete trust and I went into it with complete distrust.
Lesson 4: I learned something about myself and that is, I am always suspicious and do not trust easily. I evidently never played the trust game like this clever girl…
Next came a whole bunch of other things but I can’t go through each the same way as above, or we’ll be here forever. So instead, here are some pictures.
The flying machine wasn’t adrenalin-pumping type fun, it was more contemplative. How do you behave when people are watching you? What does it feel like to be hung like a sack of potatoes? What do you do when you’re completely bored waiting for an hour? You could always decide to leave the queue… or, you could decide to wait….
There are 2 slides, how do you decide which one you’ll go on? The slide made Tony really dizzy but not me (must’ve been the pill he took).
The upside down goggles made me feel queezy – I reckon if you get vertigo, these are not the goggles to be putting on! Seeing the world upside down not only gives you a headache because your brain keeps trying to turn it the right way up but it also affects your balance (how do you walk when the ground is up?) The weird thing is when I wanted to see the ground I still had to tilt my head down and when I wanted to see the sky, I still had to tilt my head up just like normal, except what I saw was upside down. Everything you feel is the right way up and yet it contrasts with everything you see and because I wouldn’t or couldn’t decide which to go with (what I felt or what I saw), I was left feeling very uncomfortable indeed. There was a lesson in there somewhere I’m sure!
I actually thought that when the ticket said entrance between 11.00am-12.00pm it meant that you go in at 11 and you come out at 12 but we were there for hours!! Turns out it just means enter any time between 11.00am and 12.00pm, you pretty much stay for as long as you like! Well, it was really fun, enlightening and well worth going to! Especially if you’re internally contemplative like me or enjoy doing different and interactive things like Tony.
This exhibition definitely made me think about all the decisions we have to make in a day and as a result, in our lifetimes. We are making decisions ALL THE TIME!! What to eat, what to wear, what to do. Do or don’t? Now or later? If later, when? What day? What time? If you don’t decide exactly, it will be “some day” (which is the equivalent of “never”) and that too is a decision. If not now, what do we do instead? Again, if you don’t decide the alternative, then you’ve decided on whatever comes your way ie, to be at the receiving end of other people’s decisions.
With or without? Before or after? Yoga or art exhibition? 😉 What are the consequences of our decisions? Some decisions, seemingly have no consequences but what we must remember is that our lives now are the cumulative results of all the decisions we (and those before us) have made in the past! Our decisions now are forming our futures.
Lesson 5: Decision making happens all the time. I have been told and reminded by my guides, that “The world was not built on indecision.” What world do you want to build? What will you decide?