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Indepth Arts News:

"Carsten Hoeller: Synchro System"
2000-11-22 until 2001-01-07
Fondazione Prada
Milan, , IT Italy

On Wednesday 22 November the Fondazione Prada inaugurated an exhibition conceived by Carsten Höller, an artist who was born in Brussels in 1961 and now lives and works in Stockholm. By stimulating unusual and surprising reactions, his works are intended to raise doubts and elicit questions regarding the system underlying our existence.

The title of the exhibition >Synchro System< refers to the attempt to create an effect of synchronization between the works and the visitors, who follow what might be described as an experiential path. According to the artist, The premise of the exhibition is that all the works comprise features capable of causing hallucinations. They involve the possibility of inducing a change, which increases progressively as one proceeds through the exhibition.* The aim is to make the visitors willing to accept a limited individual transformation when they come into contact with the works and try them out on themselves. The result may be a sensation of perplexity and overturning of certainties: All the works on display have in common the fact that they're machines or devices intended to synchronize with the visitors in order to produce something together with them .... Rather their 'meaning' may be found 'outside', in a place that may be reached together with the observer.* In fact, >Synchro System< is also the title of a song by King Sunny Ade and the whole exhibition may be regarded, says the artist, as music without music.

The exhibition begins with Maison Ronquières: The Laboratory of Doubt, 2000, an architectural model in acrylic glass of a house-cum-slide in which six different floors are linked by a central staircase inside the building, while eight slides (seven serving as connection within the house and one leading from the interior to the exterior) allow visitors to reach floor level. This is a hypothesis for a house that, because of the presence of the slides, recalls the work entitled Slides constructed by the artist from 1998 onwards. Their dynamic unleashes a particular sensation in the public: Letting yourself go down the slide is an experience that is similar to hallucination because, while you get on it knowing precisely what's going to happen from the entrance to the exit, there is a moment of letting go, of 'loosing yourself' in the course of the ride.*

The exhibition continues with Light Wall, 2000, a huge, spectacular installation approximately 19 metres in length, consisting of a wall made up of 3,552 25W incandescent light bulbs that emit flashes of light with a frequency of 8.5 Hz per second. An acoustic background is synchronized with the continuous turning on and off of the lamps, so that the whole space is dominated by the rhythm of the intermittent light and the sound. This process has an effect on perception when the spectators close their eyes, producing visual hallucinations (for example, colours and a sensation of swaying) and subsequent reactions (for example, euphoric moods). The discovery of brainwaves, made by the German neurologist Hans Berger in 1926, has revealed that the brain, like an electric circuit, synchronizes with the stimuli coming from outside. While the wall of light bulbs represents a way of travelling beyond what already exists,* the sight of all the technical equipment behind, consisting of cables, dimmers and mixers, brings visitors back to reality: I'm interested in making the structural aspect visible - in a way similar to the use of an instrument - in order to demystify the whole situation. I want to seduce, but, at the same time, I aim to clarify just what seductive mechanism is functioning.*

The Pinocchio Effect, 1994/2000, is located in a room where there are two chairs fitted with small tables on which explanatory drawings and instructions for using electric vibrators (of the type used for medical purposes) are displayed. After sitting down, visitors are asked to place the vibrator either on their biceps or on their triceps, as shown in the instructions. When using the device, if they shut their eyes and touch the tips of their noses, they will have the impression that the length of their noses has changed. If the vibrator is placed on their triceps, their noses will seem to grow, like Pinocchio's; if it is placed on their biceps, their noses will seem to retract into their heads. Furthermore, thanks to the mental activity that controls this virtual deformation of the facial features, it is possible to deliberately add a particular characteristic to one's nose, such as the round form known as a button nose, or else create other imaginary forms for one's body.

The next stop is the Gantenbein Corridor, 2000, a passage about 30 metres in length in which visitors gradually proceed from light to darkness, obliging them to deal with a loss of visual control before re-emerging into the following space. The work's title derives from the protagonist of Max Frisch's book Mein Name sei Gantenbein; pretending to be blind, he observes the difference between what people say and what they do when they are convinced they are not being watched.

After the Gantenbein Corridor is the Upside Down Mushroom Room, 2000, a brightly-lit room that consists of an upside down environment where the floor has become the ceiling and vice versa, creating what is truly a place of wonders. Suspended from the ceiling by their stems and with their caps - the diameters of which vary from 65 centimetres to about 3 metres - facing downwards, are twelve gigantic reproductions of poisonous mushrooms, known as fly agaric, with red or orange caps, white stems and gills. The mushrooms of diverse colours and heights - from 60 centimetres to 3 metres - rotate at different speeds, heightening their hallucinatory effect. Since they hang down from the ceiling to below eye-level, when visitors move inside the space, passing between the monstrous forms of the mobile circular caps of the mushrooms, they will tend to lose their bearings, experiencing a sense of physical and psychological disorientation. In this work, the artist is making a reference to the experiment conducted at the beginning of the twentieth century by George Stratton, who for eight days running wore upside down spectacles. After passing through intermediate stages in which the position of the image was radically different from its real one, on the last day, although still wearing the glasses, he saw everything as he did before starting the experiment: He had adapted once again to the continuous process of adjustment that is part of sight, because the image on the retina is upside down before the brain deals with it. When you see the world upside down, you're seeing the 'real' world.*

As in the case of Light Wall, when visitors leave the Upside Down Mushroom Room, they will be able to see the exterior of the installation, consisting of a large structure in metal and the various materials used for its construction. Yet another perceptual revelation, this concludes an exhibition the aim of which is to shake the foundations, in the sense of not looking any longer at things in the usual way, but as if one were under the effect of drugs, or under the influence of a particular environmental situation.*

Registro is the title of the catalogue; published by the Fondazione Prada on the occasion of the exhibition entitled Synchro System, it seeks to document the whole of Höller's output to date. Of an analytical nature, it goes back in time from the present day to the late beginning of his artistic career in the 1980s. This account is illustrated with pictures of his works and installations created over the years, as well as those realized specially for this exhibition; in addition there are projects, works executed in collaboration with other artists and publications. The volume contains a hitherto unpublished interview of the artist by Germano Celant, as well as texts - other interviews, statements, extracts from publications, quotations from critical essays - and brief descriptions of a number of works by Höller and his character Baldo Hauser. * Interview of the artist with Germano Celant in the book of the exhibition.

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