Magazine article Artforum International

Carsten Holler Talks about His Slides

Magazine article Artforum International

Carsten Holler Talks about His Slides

Article excerpt

The Valerio phenomenon - after which I named the two slides I showed last year in the Berlin Biennale - supposedly originated at a rock concert in Italy last summer. It's an interesting example of mass hysteria. A sound technician at the concert disappeared, and someone in the audience, pretending to know his name, shouted "Valerio!" More and more people joined in. It was, apparently, infectious, and it spread beyond the concert hall. All over the city, people were shouting "Valerio! Valerio!" It actually spread from Brindisi to Rimini and other cities. There is something about the sound of this name that makes you want to shout it out loud. You feel a little better after you've done it, just like after having traveled down a slide.

When people are on their way down a slide, they often shout for pure joy. This is related to the Valerio phenomenon. I'm interested in the aspect of letting go. Once you let go, you travel without motivation to some specific place. It's a very special state of mind. Maybe "happiness" (or "pleasure") isn't the right word, but it has to do with relief or even freedom.

I have a childhood memory that relates to this work. Everyday, on my way to school in Brussels, I would pass a large building in the middle of a park. The house was an old folks' home. Silver slides led from the top floor all the way down to the park. Those slides were fire escapes, but one could develop slides for any number of different purposes. I'm experimenting with more complex structures - for instance, a forking slide with several routes, and an extra-large slide that you sail down more freely.

The Berlin slides are prototypes for other possibilities in other places. A slide is a sculptural work with a pragmatic aspect. It can be used as a means of transportation - one that is effective, environmentally sound, and elicits happiness. You let go and lose control, and a moment later you arrive safely at another place. However, at the Berlin biennial you don't have to use the slides, you can just as well use the stairs. That gives you several possibilities: You can enjoy the piece as a construction, even as a metaphor. And you can watch other people slide down, or even slide down yourself. Once you're off, it's a relaxing way to travel.

In today's world a utilitarian way of thinking is so dominant that other forms of seeing and acting have become almost impossible. This is linked to the enormously powerful and competitive (albeit foolish) economic structure that continues to spread over the world like a contagious disease. Utilitarianism is also a kind of mass hysteria, but not one that has to do with the irrationality of freedom and joy, at least not primarily, but with cost-benefit analysis. It is the mass hysteria of cost avoidance and benefit maximization. I'm quite disgusted by this development, as it suppresses other concepts to the point of extinction - like unproductivity, unreasonable behaviors (for instance, passionate devotion), exaggeration, tranquillity, and intrepidity. To shout "Valerio" is, of course, desperate and hopeless, but it provides relief from the burden of straightforwardness.

The worldwide mass hysteria of competitive utilitarianism leads to uniformity in any area that has been contaminated. …

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