Carsten Höller, Double Carousel with Zöllner Stripes. Image via Enel Contemporanea.
Well-known Belgian artist Carsten Höller is the recipient of the 2011 Enel Contemporanea Award. Now in its fifth year, the Enel Contemporanea is sponsored by the Italian power company Enel, also sponsor to the 54th Venice Biennale. In an effort to explore the connections between energy, a lifeline for contemporary society, and current art production, Enel annually commissions an original work that takes on themes around power and energy. Höller, oft associated with what Nicolas Bourriaudcoined as Relational Aesthetics in the 1990s, contributed Double Carousel with Zöllner Stripes, now on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art Rome (MACRO). Selected by a committee of curators from around the world, past projects have included The Butterfly House by Dutch duo Bik Van der Pol (2010), an open-air installation on Tiber Island by US artist Doug Aitken (2009), and a lunar eclipse by Canadian artist Angela Bulloch above the Arc Pacis (2007).
Museum of Contemporary Art Rome. Image via e-architect.
Double Carousel with Zöllner Stripes is particularly well-suited for the MACRO, a building which can itself be somewhat disorienting. An integration of contemporary architectural design with an early 20th century brewery, the sprawling five-story structure juts out and recedes in unexpected ways, creating beautifully unsettling vistas and terraces that look out onto the surrounding community in Rome. Navigating the galleries, which are somewhat unconventionally situated (following, for example, a diagonal axis line rather than a rectilinear format), is a bit perplexing—perhaps the ideal state of mind to come upon Höller’s merry-go-rounds.
Carsten Höller, Double Carousel with Zöllner Stripes. Award winning workImage via Enel Contemporanea.
Carsten Höller, Mirror Carousel (2005). All remaining images on site for Art Observed by Nicholas Wirth.
Cited as one of the most important artists of our time in the Enel Contemporanea press statement, Höller is recognized throughout the work for his immersive and interactive environments, which push normal perceptual experience far beyond its boundaries. This is made clear in his concurrent retrospective at the New Museum,Carsten Höller: Experience, inviting viewers to become participants, moving around the galleries via a three-story slide, riding a carousel, and wearing goggles that will literally flip the world upside down.
Höller’s current exhibition at the New Museum, as well as Maurizio Cattelan’s retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, have brought to the fore a discussion of the current state of Relational Aesthetics. In light of these two shows, performance is making its way into the museum, and the museum itself is reconsidering the interface between the institutional space and its visitors. Many questions have begun to be posed around the socio-political potency of such work in today’s art world, with an increasing amount of attention being given to different social practices. Moreover, the rise of social media and interactivity on virtual platforms has transformed the way that we interpret and communicate our experiences. While Relational Aesthetics may not have the same social resonance it did in the 1990s, Höller’s works still offer an intense visual and spatial stimulation—or, some might say, disorientation.
- M. Hoetger