carsten höller: soma
original content
dec 14, 2010
carsten höller: soma


carsten höller: soma
hamburger bahnhof – museum für gegenwart, berlin
on now until february 6th, 2011

twelve male castrated reindeer
image © designboom

within the hamburger bahnhof in berlin, belgian artist carsten höller (b. 1961) has created his most complex
and elaborate installation to date.

as one enters the former railway station (now used to house exhibitions of the museum für gegenwart),
they are greeted by the sounds of singing canaries, whose songs fill the hall, the faint smell of farm stables
lingering in the air. these sensory impressions, hardly what one would expect within a museum space,
create a fantastical scenario that will slowly unfold over the course of the winter months.

set against this
backdrop, höller has devised a scene that stands at the
crossroads between art and science,
laboratory and dream, supposed
objectivity and heightened subjectivity…


image © designboom

within the exhibition, höller explores the myth of ‘soma’ – a drink with healing properties
known among
verdic nomads in north india in the second millennium BCE that
promised enlightenment and access
to the divine sphere. commonly used in
rituals, the drink’s main ingredient is no longer exactly known to us;
ethnomycologists and philologists generally posit the fly amanita
mushroom (amanita muscaria) as the
substance responsible for its effects. in 1968, gordon r. wasson, american wall street banker by profession
with a passion for mycology, published a compendium, citing the fly amanita mushroom as the sought-after
soma plant.

the protagonists of the scene include twelve reindeer, twenty-four
canaries, eight mice and two flies,
each ready to enact a comparative
study between the normal world and the realm of soma which is to be
administered to one of the two halves. it is a hypothetical experiment,
whose completion not only lies
within the viewers imagination, but those
whose evaluation depends entirely on the viewers own powers
of
observation.


‘elevator bed’
steel, wood, LEDs, cotton sheets, various furnishings
commissioned by thyssen-bornemisza art contemporary

for the duration of the exhibition, the ‘elevator bed’ serves as overnight accommodation in which visitors
can be booked for the night by one or two guests. you can find more on how to spend a night at the
museum here.


view from the bed


‘elevator bed’


the ‘elevator bed’ raise high above the scene, offers an alternative view of the exhibition
image © designboom


‘double mushroom clock’
polyester, synthetic resin, acrylic paint, wire, putty, polyurethane, rigid foam, stainless steel, fir wood
courtesy esther schipper berlin

image © designboom

set within the space is the ‘double mushroom clock’ which consists of five double mushroom replicas.
each one represents fly agarics in different growth phases in combination with other edible, inedible
or poisonous mushrooms native to europe. the extensions allow the reindeer to rub the ‘velvet’ from their antlers,
behavior stimulated by essential oils in the fir wood. the animals are able to rotate the double mushroom clock
via the four tree extensions.


‘double mushroom clock’ up close
image © designboom


image © designboom


reindeer resting near the clock
image © designboom


detail
image © designboom


eight freezer cubes are found within a laboratory setting, refridgerating fly agaric mushrooms and reindeer urine
image © designboom

there are refrigeration units stocked with fly agaric mushrooms (frozen and dried) set within a laboratory setting.


image © designboom


image © designboom


tools for mixing and concocting soma
image © designboom


reindeer urine is also stored within the fridge
image © designboom


monitors show the activity of two houseflies of indeterminate sex
image © designboom


‘mice square’ (black)
acrylic solid surface material (Corian®), pressed wood, wood shavings

courtesy of esther schipper, berlin and massimo de carlo, milan
image © designboom

two versions of ‘mice square’ (black / white); each with two mice (black / white), are made from
an acrylic solid surface material (Corian®). the ‘mice squares’ are miniature replicas of a playground in
l’hay les roses (south of paris) that was built in 1958, based on designs by pierre and vera szekely.


‘mice square’ (white)
acrylic solid surface material (Corian®), pressed wood, wood shavings
courtesy of esther schipper, berlin and massimo de carlo, milan
image © designboom


view of the mice playing within
images © designboom


‘canary scale harzer roller’ (front of the exhibition hall)
harzer rollers, six males and females each, two aviaries on beams made out of powder-coated metal, wood, sand, water, birdseed

image © designboom

how do the birds chirp in one field as opposed to the other?
are there any notable differences between the two?
how do they fly?
can we detect changes in the interaction between the reindeer, and are we able to pinpoint such changes
with any degree of certainty?

the soma installation includes two scale aviaries – ‘canary scale harzer roller’ (found at the front of the exhibition hall)
and ‘canary scale timbrado espanol’ (located at the back) – both of which are identical in construction, weight,
fittings
and occupants. the indicator panel shows shifts in weight.


left: ‘canary scale timbrado espanol
right: view from the spectator’s ‘box’

images © designboom


view of the visitor’s platform located at the front of the exhibition hall
image © designboom


special dining area reserved for hotel guests offers the best view of the exhibition
images © designboom

visitors can observe höller’s experiment from a raised platform. others are invited to continue making their
observations from the comfort of a raised hotel bed, placed in the middle of the laboratory set-up,
from where they can spend the night in the museum and delve into the world of soma.


images © designboom

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