carsten höller: soma
carsten höller: soma
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…

carsten höller: soma 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.

carsten höller: soma ‘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.

carsten höller: soma view from the bed

carsten höller: soma ‘elevator bed’

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

carsten höller: soma ‘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.

carsten höller: soma ‘double mushroom clock’ up close image © designboom

carsten höller: soma image © designboom

carsten höller: soma reindeer resting near the clock image © designboom

carsten höller: soma detail image © designboom

carsten höller: soma 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.

carsten höller: soma image © designboom

carsten höller: soma image © designboom

carsten höller: soma tools for mixing and concocting soma image © designboom

carsten höller: soma reindeer urine is also stored within the fridge image © designboom

carsten höller: soma monitors show the activity of two houseflies of indeterminate sex image © designboom

carsten höller: soma ‘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.

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

carsten höller: soma view of the mice playing within images © designboom

carsten höller: soma ‘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.

carsten höller: soma left: ‘canary scale timbrado espanol right: view from the spectator’s ‘box’ images © designboom

carsten höller: soma view of the visitor’s platform located at the front of the exhibition hall image © designboom

carsten höller: soma 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.

carsten höller: soma images © designboom

  • go to zoo and have fun!

    Zoooloogy says:
  • You have to just love this guy! C’est sublimement parfait, j’adore!!

    Pier Lalonde says:
  • I saw the giant mushrooms and the birds in Rotterdam – but what a backdrop is the Hamburger Bahnhof for this project! Marvelous!

    cybergabi says:
  • ‘Animal exploitation! These humans and this stable are so boring, it’s sending us to sleep…’ commented a reindeer

    JAH says:
  • the world is our big lab — and we’re ruining it

    agnieszka says:
  • this show is an overblown pseudo scientific mess: the exhibition statement is trite and the installation drips with money. 1000 euros a night to stay in a bed that seems to have no purpose aside from the revenue it, no doubt, rakes in.

    ps–hey designboom, do you think you could put some MORE pictures of this thang up!!?

    f.stachio says:
  • Excelente replica!!! me quiero comer uno de esos hongos! Amanita!!

    Micaela de Argentina!!!

    Micaela says:
  • All I have to say is WOW. That is a very elaborate art exhibit. I also like the concept of integrating live animals into it.
    [url=] ipod touch tutorial [/url]

    itrix says:
  • how much extra a night does it cost to have Woody Allen wander around in there as in Sleeper-what a rip off and exploitive of animals…

    Mary St. John says:

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