How well do you really know London’s Southbank? The Belgian installation artist Carsten Höller is determined you get to know it intimately in a show that uses the unusual multi-level architecture of Queen Elizabeth Hall as an experiential plinth.
For the Hayward Gallery’s swan song, ahead of a two-year renovation beginning in September, the artist has turned the Brutalist building inside out, taking you to corners you might never have explored and allowing you to view it from every vantage point.
As he said to an invigorated audience at the opening yesterday, ‘This building has personality, a strong one, different from other galleries that pretend not to exist. I wanted to bring back some of the original elements from the 1960s and use them.’
Per Höller’s MO, the line between viewer and content is blurred. This survey of work from 1994 to the present day demands that visitors engage with every step – and pay the consequences of their decisions. Its name, of course, is Decision, and the game is a sort of mischievous choose-your-own-adventure.
It begins at the entrance’s ‘Decision Corridors’. Apparently there are two, but I stumbled into the only one I noticed, then spent two minutes wondering if I’d somehow wandered into the air ducts. The winding aluminium channel spit me out into a thicket of ‘Flying Mushrooms’, which I sped past like Alice (in Wonderland). At ‘Pill Clock’, a mound of accruing gelatine capsules, some visitors made the dubious decision to kneel before it and sample, like characters in Trainspotting.
Downstairs ‘Two Roaming Beds (Grey)’ glide across the floor in the manner of robotic vacuums, but there was always someone hogging them, such is art imitating life. The only way to guarantee a ride would be to book in for the night, at £300 a pop.
The excitement builds in the upper galleries. Visitors have the choice of stepping into a glorified pillowcase and shooting down one of two ‘Isomeric Slides’, landing somewhere around the gift shop – Höller says he’s never seen anyone do it without smiling, and I believe him. Or they can strap on the ‘Upside Down Goggles’ and try to stumble across the Belvedere Terrace without losing their breakfast. As a redeeming touch, Höller has inverted the neon Hayward Gallery sign so it appears right-side up.
On the Waterloo Terrace is a sluggish queue for ‘Two Flying Machines’, for which we are suited up in safety harnesses and flung off the edge like paragliders. The decision to stick it out was worth the riverfront winds for the frisson of observing the scene below as I never have – and never will come September.
Had my squeals of ecstasy upstaged the artwork itself? Everyone was too busy checking their phones to notice. Was it even art? I decided that yes, it definitely was.