Carsten Höller: Soma
We have drunk Soma and become immortal; we have attained the light, the Gods discovered. (Rigveda, 8.48)
Soma is a „divine within“ drink that’s frequently praised in the Vedas, ancient Hindu scriptures. Soma sets you in a state of mind where anything can happen: deep metaphysical insight, enlightenment or face-to-face encounters with your other selves. Soma is also the name of an already highly bespoken exhibition by the „mad scientist“ and artist Carsten Höller, opening this Friday at Hamburger Bahnhof. It is about 12 living reindeers, singing canary birds, bustling mice, two flies and some giant mushrooms and the possibiliy to spend a night with all of them in a floating bed under the roof of the Hamburger Bahnhof.
Carsten Höller: Hamburger Bahnhof
Let’s zoom back to a Wednesday evening at Sohohouse Berlin two weeks ago. White wine, mashed potatoes, arty people invited by the Verein der Freunde der Nationalgalerie and the promise of an insight in a secret art project which should be reveiled as the Soma exhibition two weeks later. It was the „Carsten Höller Cocktail“ where the scene took place. In the middle of everything, Udo Kittelmann, the unconventional and rhetorical gifted director of the Nationalgalerie Berlin, was about to start the unveiling of the well kept art secret which at the end of the evening left a little aftertaste of a highend sales show. Maybe this is why Carsten Höller himself could not make it to his own cocktail.
Here is what you will experience at the end of this week at Hamburger Bahnhof: Get ready to enter Carsten Höller’s museum world which is a psychedelic vision, a fantastical place with mushroom replicas both giant and small, songbirds and reindeer. But let’s stick with the facts: we see a typical AB experiment situation. The same amount of reindeers, canary birds, mice and flies on each side of the split exhibition hall of Hamburger Bahnhof. And that is where the mushrooms come into play. The story says that Soma is part of the fly agaric mushroom which in tun is part of the reindeers’ daily menue. Apparently the effect of the Soma drug is enhanced when being digested by, for example, a reindeer. Digestion also reduces the toxic side effects of the mushroom. If you run into Carsten Höller at one of Berlin’s night spots, ask him, he can tell you how this side effects feel like…
Anyway, the reindeers appear on stage, eat the mushrooms, digest and deposit them. Their urine will be dribbeld on the food of our other animals and then you might become witness of the biggest animal rave you have ever seen…
Of course we don’t know yet if this really might happening, and if yes, then maybe only during the nights as reindeers are night active animals, Udo Kittelmann was eagerly telling us. Well, that’s why the Sohohouse crowd some minutes later was invited to treat themselves with one of the limited 1000 € nights in the giant bed, rising above a tableau vivant scene on a mushroom shaped platform.
And, yes, we have seen this before. Carsten Höller got famous by creating this kind of museum hospitality with his installation called Revolving Hotel Room at the Guggenheim in NYC. It is known as his major contribution to “theanyspacewhatever,” a show devoted to the amorphous non-movement known as Relational Aesthetics. In fact it was NY Times‘ art critic Jerry Saltz who spend a night there, pretending to fulfill his dream of having sex in a museum.
In the corner of my eye, I could see the first people start approaching Katrin Hansch, the nice lady who would sell one of the 80 nights or better „an experience you will only share with very few other people“. Although „everything might only be an illusion“, as Udo Kittelmann mysteriously smiling answered my question, if one could tell for sure that the soma experiment would really take place. But maybe this is not the most crucial point of Soma. Carsten Höller wants you to use your imagination and very own perception to judge the things you might see or not. It is not about pure science, it is not about pure art , it is just about you.
Win a night. As far as I know the museum’s nights are already sold out but for those of you who want to get the sleepover museum experience for 0 €, there is a photo contest which get nine lucky winners in.
Carsten Höller: Biography
Carsten Höller belongs to the best known contemporary Europpen artists. He got exhibitions at Documenta (1997), at Venedig Biennale (1993) and he realized the „Turbine Hall“ at Tate Modern (2006). He is represented by the famous Gagosian Gallery in London/New York and in Berlin by Esther Schipper.
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