Carsten Höller invites us to slide, all the way from the 5th floor down to the turbine hall, passing through five floors stocked with contemporary art and straight to the Tate’s shop and cafeteria. On the way out, just make sure you buy a poster or a mug in case you need to prove your presence at the next diner party. The thin line between a powerful aesthetic experience and the lack of one is camouflaged with what Höller calls the inner spectacle. The spectacle is present but not inside.

Höller in a recent interview with Vincent Honor argues that Test Site offers "the possibility of unique inner experiences that can be used for the exploration of the self" and also to forget about the self, I have to add. Test Site is not about an inner experience it is about the lack of an inner experience. The work does not allow it and neither the environment, consequently whichever inner experience that arises from sliding or watching someone else sliding, is independent of the work, at the most, can be about previous sliding experiences, which are only conditioned by the observer’s predispositions.

It could be argued that at least we have to deal with the fear of sliding, but even that, is controlled by health and safety reasons, which are important reasons. Nothing can go wrong with the experience; it has to be exciting but not threatening, polish but not raw. The question is not about if sliding is art but is more about what remains of that sliding. The Tate experience remains, carefully constructed to satisfy and provide a sense of achievement. Tate provides it all, from the artwork to the cafeteria passing through the seminar rooms, the cocktails bar and the members room, and now the joy ride; you can have fun, buy gifts, seduce your date and enjoy the view, but there is one thing that you are not allowed to experience at Tate, and that is getting bored.

There is an idea that needs to be addressed and that is one of time, or the lack of it. None of the available sliding experiences in the Turbine Hall allows the observer enough time to experience anything besides the thrill of sliding. Robert Irwin and James Turrell talk about a specific and crucial moment in relation to their work, which is a good example of work that contributes to the development of inner experiences, a moment that allow us the possibility of catching ourselves perceiving. In Höller case, the possibility of catching ourselves sliding, is not contemplated. There isn’t time for it, we either slide or we watch someone sliding.

Olvier Grau, From Illusion to Immersion, claims that the more visible an interface is, the more prone to an inner reflection the observer becomes. In Test Sites the interface is gravity, or what Einstein called the distortion of space-time, and not five different slides; the interface is invisible. Although, inner questions are most unlikely, external questions are most likely. Questions about the role of the observer and his or hers quiet presence, participative but not active, can be raised in relation to the Tate’s context, and consequently questions about the institution’s need to embark in a fast-digesting approach. Test Site addresses art institutions but more important it addresses the role of the observers, and the observer’s responsibility while establishing a relation with an artwork, which cannot be reduced to being, that is the unavoidable requirement to establish any sort of relation.

Miguel Santos

 

Grau, O. (2003) Virtual Art, From Illusion To Immersion, MIT press.

Image courtesy and copyright of the artist and Tate Photography.