Jennifer Lindblad experiences Carsten Höller and discusses the ways in which his work explores contemporary theories of body.
In 1961 Maurice Merleau-Ponty published “Eye and Mind”, his seminal essay on the role of perception in our understanding of the world. Much of the text is concerned with corporality, in asserting that the body is not only a thing in the world, but the vessel for—and condition of—experience. Carsten Höller’s exhibition Experience, which just ended at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, played on some of these concepts.
Höller himself comes from a background of science. Born in Brussels in 1961, the same year Merleau-Ponty’s “Eye and Mind” was published, Höller earned a doctorate in biology in 1988 with a specialization in Insect Communication. He subsequently embarked on a career as an artist, with his previous work in entomology informing his artistic practice. Experimenting with social and institutional norms, as well as delving into conceptions of the self, Höller employs playful, interactive installations to discuss themes of childhood, safety, love, the future, and doubt. In an October 2011 interview with The Art Newspaper, he noted, “The real material I work with is people’s experience [. . .] I think of life as an experiment on oneself. Subjective personal experience in science is a no-no. In starting to make art, I wanted to bring in what had been forbidden.”1 Without recorded data or objective results, visitors are able to experiment with themselves freely, considering complex ideas and opening them up to the realm of possibility and personal discovery.