Could we be sliding from place to place in the future? Artist Carsten Höller experiments in the 'Magic of Slides'
German installation artist Carsten Höller has been working with slides since 1998. His interest in slides ranges from their use as a practical and alternative means of transportation and the effect of sliding itself, which involves a loss of control, momentarily madness, vertigo and an emotional response from the sliders (often delighted).
Höller sees his installations of slides as exploratory sculptures. Each individual slide experiments with the functions of different shapes. He is interested in how these affect both those who actively engage in the process of sliding and those who watch. They test what it really means to slide, as both a personal and collective experience.
Höller's vision is to realise these experiences on a larger scale, outside the context of a museum or even a public art installation. He wants them to be part of our infrastructure: our offices, supermarkets, schools, residential buildings, public parks and train stations.
Imagine taking a slide from your office's floor down to a floor below for a meeting? How would you feel upon arrival and how would this affect not only yours but everyone's experience of the meeting? Would it influence the outcome of the conversation?
The slide is one architectural approach to inviting more 'play' into our everyday adult lives. Here at A/UK we are strong advocates of play. Check out the blog Why it's good - for health, prosperity & a new politics - for grown-ups to play, co-initiator Pat Kane's bog The Play Ethic: Advocating the power and potential of play and a general search for 'play' on our site will give loads more to explore.
In a recent article on artsy Höller unfolds some reasons why we as adults should take slides 'seriously':
Conceived as recreation and mostly associated now with childhood, the slide has remained in the popular imagination as a frivolous thing. The exception is the emergency slide on planes and, sometimes, buildings, which makes explicit its vertiginous mix of fun and danger. It was four of these, attached to a home for the elderly that I passed on my way to school every day as a child, that first attracted me to slides. The slides made perfect sense as a practical means of escape and were visually striking, curving out onto the grass.
But this evident practicality has been undercut, in every other application, by the slide’s supposed childishness. The result is that we have difficulty reconciling our stolid workweeks with the feeling of madness a slide can inspire; a sensation the French sociologist Roger Caillois described as “a kind of voluptuous panic upon an otherwise lucid mind.” That this is a bad thing, or somehow out of keeping with an adult’s day-to-day existence, is an assumption we take for granted. There is something that frightens us in the madness of sliding, compelling us to shy away; I propose, however, to embrace it.
As part of my 2006 installation Test Site, in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern in London, we commissioned a feasibility study from the consultancy firm General Public Agency exploring what slides might look like as a feature of the urban landscape. Anywhere there’s a difference in height - and our cities are growing up as quickly as they’re expanding outwards - slides provide an opportunity.
Imagining them in this context, as integral to our architecture, is not as difficult or strange as it might seem. Slides are a uniquely efficient mode of transportation. They are safe, fast, and cost-efficient to construct. As they require no energy to operate, they’re uniquely environmentally friendly. And, of course, they are fun. As the globe continues its rapid urbanization, our understanding of what a city looks like will naturally evolve. Whether or not that includes the use of slides is a question worthy of experiment.
Around the same time, we asked Foreign Office Architects to collaborate with me on the conception of a house entirely built out of slides—where the slides are the walls, a sort of exoskeleton. In every space the walls would have holes, functioning as accesses to different slides that bring their users to different parts in the building, or out of it.
For a new project that opened this past December at the Aventura Mall outside Miami, Florida, I’ve constructed two slides which spiral in mirror image of one another from a central clocktower. The clock, in a public context, has always indicated a place of some importance: a government building, a church, or a transit hub. My hope is that, while these slides don’t connect two disparate spaces, they imply the possibility of it. For those who’ve never ridden a slide before, they have a specificity to them; the experience of riding any one slide is particular to that slide. When I discovered this, I started constructing slides that were almost identical, but inverse mirrors of each other, and which have remarkably different effects—they not only bring you to a different place, but the feeling each inspires is slightly different; an inkling of the possibilities they hold.
As we hurtle ever deeper into the Anthropocene, itself a concept many of our leaders have yet to fully grasp, we’ll have to challenge more and more of our assumptions. The slides I construct in my work are art objects—with them, I hope to inspire, to induce questioning, to recalibrate a person’s understanding and experience of their self. The madness of a slide, that “voluptuous panic,” is a kind of joy. It is an experience with value far beyond the confines of a museum, or a playground. It might be time, for all our sakes, to begin to explore exactly how far that might be.