Sliding Doors 2003 consists of five electronic sliding doors with mirrored surfaces on both sides, through which a viewer can walk in an apparently endless passage. The doors are installed at evenly-spaced intervals in a corridor-like space and are connected to motion sensors that cause them to slide open when someone approaches and close shut when the person moves away. As a result, the movements of viewers alternately break and bind the visual limits of the space, which can be entered from either end of the corridor, increasing the likelihood of unexpected encounters as the doors open and close.
Requiring the participation of exhibition visitors, Sliding Doors makes the behaviour of viewers its subject. In this sense the work takes on the character of a psychological or perceptual experiment, albeit one with no apparent scientific purpose. Describing how viewers of Höller’s installations get caught up in the ‘blurring of game, test, and experiment’, the art critic and historian Hal Foster has remarked that ‘he or she becomes a hybrid of player, datum, and analyst in an event-space in which the goal is less the understanding of the object than the intensification of the subject’ (Foster 2008, p.78).
This ‘intensification’ is magnified in Sliding Doors by the infinite multiplication of the viewer’s reflection in the mirrored glass and by the power with which each person can affect the way others perceive and engage with the work. At any one time, the movement of people through the installation causes doors in front and behind a person to open and close unexpectedly, expanding and contracting the viewer’s field of vision.
Reflection is presented here as a form of visual and social exchange, not only between a viewer and his or her own image but also between multiple individuals with multiple images. Tate curator Jessica Morgan has said of this work: ‘self-examination becomes part of a social exchange rather than remaining a private reflection.’(Morgan 2003, p.25.) The unfamiliarity of this form of social engagement in and as art, coupled with the perceptual instability of the environment, engenders what Morgan has called ‘the rupture involved in the collective’, a condition made literal by the endless splintering of reflections between two facing mirrors, or by the splitting of the self when a door opens to reveal the unexpected presence of another person. Collective engagement serves partly to eradicate the distinction between subjects. Höller himself has remarked: ‘You become indistinguishable. It is possible to forget that you have a body and communicate with other bodies. It is possible to blur these differences into oblivion because the distinction becomes meaningless.’ (Quoted in Morgan 2003, p.74.)
Sliding Doors was created for the group exhibition Common Wealth held at Tate Modern in 2003. The show sought to question ‘the assumptions of cohesiveness in normative definitions of community’ (Morgan 2003, p.16). The installation is one of many corridor-based, participatory sculptures by Höller that disorientate perceptual experience in an effort to focus attention on the act of journeying through space. Other corridor-based works include Gantenbein Corridor 2000 (Fondazione Prada, Milan) and Y 2003 (Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna).
Jessica Morgan (ed.), Common Wealth, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2003.
Hal Foster, ‘The Confusion Machines of Doctor Höller’, in Nancy Spector (ed.), theanyspacewhatever, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 2008, pp.74–80.
Carsten Höller: Experience, exhibition catalogue, New Museum, New York 2011.