Having entered with an apparently unshakable sense of trust in myself, I left the exhibition with newfound doubt in the decisions I make and a discovered trust in stranger’s voices and huge metallic arms. I will explain.
I entered Carsten Höller: Decision through a long, winding tunnel. I was immersed in complete darkness – the pitch of which is almost unknown to Londoners – and was forced to succumb to the direction given by the nervous giggles and involuntary screeches of my fellow exhibitioners. With my most trusted sense taken from me, I fumbled through the darkness for what I was beginning to think would be eternity, until I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. While an insanely bright room did greet me, it was not heaven. A huge pile of red and white pills cluttered the white space. One by one, the capsules fell from the ceiling to spill before my feet.
‘Take one’, urged the usher. So I did.
In hindsight, I regret the aloof attitude I took when consuming the unknown substance with a sip of water and no second thought. Fortunately, it was only a sugar pill, yet the bitter taste of stupidity lingered.
Another room presented two robotically engineered beds that scattered the crowd. Their off-white sheets and steel frames recalled scenes of wartime hospitals wards. The beds roamed endlessly, day and night, as though possessed by two insomniac poltergeists. Keen to leave the haunted space, I made my way through rooms cluttered with screens of twins who imitated one another, past enormous dice and mirrored walls that forged endlessness, until I reached the rooftop.
Harnessed to a rotating arm, I was carried off the edge of Hayward Gallery to dangle my feet over London. I secretly hoped the pill had nothing to do with my churning stomach, yet convinced myself it was the drop below me that set my tummy a-summersaulting and my knees a-knocking.
With my feet back firmly upon the ground, a large helmet was strapped to my head and I was told: ‘Walk’. The helmet held a structure of mirrors around my eyes. Höller had turned the world upside-down. With a heavy head that wobbled with the weight of the helmet, and uncertainty with every step I took, I followed the instructions and made my way to the edge of the roof. There I was, with the sky below me and the city above me. Un-easing sense of dizziness aside – the experience was liberating. I looked up to see miniature people scurrying through the streets of London that now hung like dolls houses strung from the sky, and down to see clouds blanketing the ground like a huge duvet.
The exhibition had immersed me into an environment of experimentation, which I left assessing the decisions I had made. I had trusted in stranger’s voices to guide me through darkness and was beginning to wonder how well I could trust myself. I went home with a mixed sense of pride in facing my fear of heights, an exhilarating feeling of seeing a topsy-turvy London, and a stern word with myself about pills that fall from ceilings.