Carsten Höller’s immersive experience at MAAT

On a metal panel facing the Tagus, 1100 light bulbs flash at a frequency of 7.8 Hz, escorted by sound of the same frequency. They are like a billboard for Carsten Höller’s new monographic exhibition at MAAT, curated by Vicente Todolí.

DAY begins outside the museum with the work Light Wall [Outdoor Version] (2021), a reference to Schuman’s Resonance: 7.8 Hz is the number of the frequency of the Earth’s electromagnetic field and our brain waves. This resonance causes the release of growth hormones and increases the blood flow in the body, helping us to reach a higher level of consciousness and well-being. Carsten Höller announces what happens inside the museum: an immersive and highly visual experience, able to challenge the viewer’s perception with different psychophysical stimuli.

The pace is slower inside the museum and darkness conquers the MAAT’s large oval room. Inhabited by the work Lisbon Dots (2021), this room becomes a stage where twenty coloured dots are projected on the floor, challenging the spectator to participate in a status game, where each colour contains a possibility or not. Between red, blue, green and the single white dot, the odds of success are different. But, if the visitors unite, all twenty dots can become white: they just have to manage to cluster all the red dots.

In Choice Corridor (2000), the challenge is to walk through a labyrinthine corridor that completely swallows up any beam of light. The pace of the exhibition slows down again, Höller leaves us in darkness and without any visual stimulus. With only touch and hearing, we anxiously search for light. In this corridor, there is a small secret room with a chair, where we are invited to sit and be spectators of the light-seeking visitors.

A neon green light appears at the end of this corridor, introducing a new exhibition moment: in this room, day breaks again and neon and circular shapes prevail in the works. Carsten Höller uses time as a mathematical way of making art and presents us with neon sculptures supported by the principle of division: in Divisions Wall (2016) several neon tubes, vertically displayed on the wall, follow the museum’s architecture, tapering down. Half Clock [Novial Gold, Salmon Rose and Purple] (2021), Half Clock [Lime green, Turquoise and Pink] (2014) and Decimal Clock [White and Pink] (2018) represent two ways of measuring time. But Höller is aware of the complexity of these mechanisms and explains them in detail in the exhibition’s text. In these three works, Höller complexifies the perception of the passage of time by representing it with clocks that are difficult to decode: Decimal Clock Clock [White and Pink] (2018) is a clock composed of one hundred and ten neon channels representing the time of a whole day divided into 10 hours, built on the idea of counting time in decimal units. Trying to define the passage of time is a challenge, but Höller recommends that we try it to at least confront ourselves with the subject.

As we wander through the luminous explosion of Light Corridor (2016), we encounter Two Roaming Beds and Insensatus (2015). In this installation with two robotic beds, Höller offers visitors the challenge of spending a night in the museum. Those who can take part in this luxurious experience will be able to walk through DAY in the intimacy of the night and will receive an enigmatic kit (Insensatus) composed of four kinds of toothpaste that promise to regulate the intensity of dreams, their content, and increase our ability to remember them. Sage, chamomile, lavender, jasmine and white truffles are some of the natural substances that make them up. The trail of this night is drawn on the museum floor with two markers (blue and red) attached to each of the beds, in a large-scale design that grows throughout the exhibition.

DAY shows Carsten Höller’s interest in human relationships, visible in the interactive character of his works, which often rely on the participation of several people simultaneously. In his artistic practice, his background as a scientist is blatant, there are mathematical formulas explicit in several of his sculptures. In an exhibition where the lighting of the museum depends solely on each work, Höller challenges the public to expand the places of consciousness through light and darkness.

DAY can be visited until 28 February 2022.

Laurinda Marques (Portimão, 1996) has a degree in Multimedia Art - Audiovisuals from the Faculty of Fine Arts of Universidade de Lisboa. She did an internship in the Lisbon Municipal Archive Video Library, where she collaborated with the project TRAÇA in the digitization of family videos in film format. She recently finished her postgraduate degree in Art Curatorship at NOVA/FCSH, where she was part of the collective of curators responsible for the exhibition “Na margem da paisagem vem o mundo” and began collaborating with the Umbigo magazine.

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