Test Site, as the title declares, is an experimental project. Using the given characteristics of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, German artist Carsten Höller has taken advantage of the height of the space, and the vast museum audience, to test a hypothesis he has been investigating for some time concerning the possible effects of sliding. What would be the result of sliding if it was part of the daily routine? Can slides become part of our experiential and architectural life?

Vincent Honoré
You once declared ‘A slide is a sculptural work with a pragmatic aspect’. Could you explain this?

Carsten Höller
A slide is a sculpture that you can travel inside. However, it would be a mistake to think that you have to use the slide to make sense of it. Looking at the work from the outside is a different but equally valid experience, just as one might contemplate The Endless Column 1938 by Constantin Brancusi. From an architectural and practical perspective, the slides are one of the building’s means of transporting people, equivalent to the escalators, elevators or stairs. Slides deliver people quickly, safely and elegantly to their destinations, they’re inexpensive to construct and energy-efficient. They’re also a device for experiencing an emotional state that is a unique condition somewhere between delight and madness. It was described in the fifties by the French writer Roger Caillois as ‘a kind of voluptuous panic upon an otherwise lucid mind’.

Carsten Höller Test Site installation US14

Carsten Höller
Test Site

© Tate Photography

Carsten Höller Test Site installation US13

Carsten Höller
Test Site

© Tate Photography

Vincent Honoré
The five slides in the Turbine Hall are quite spectacular, not only because of their scale, but because of the effect they produce on the person sliding. How do you expect visitors to engage with them?

Carsten Höller
The slide is an object that we associate with playgrounds, amusement parks and emergency exits. I’d like to extend the use of the slide: I don’t see any reason why slides should only be used by children and in the case of an emergency. The Turbine Hall installation is called Test Site because it enables visitors to test the functions of differently shaped slides, mainly to see how they are affected by them, to test what it really means to slide. Again, this applies both for those who actively engage in the process of sliding, and those who watch. People coming down the slides have a particular expression on their faces, they’re affected and to some degree ‘changed’. This aspect of my installation is very spectacular, as you said, because the performers become spectators (of their own inner spectacle) while going down the slides, and are being watched at the same time by those outside the slides. I’d like to suggest that using slides on an everyday basis could change us, just as other commodities are changing us. For instance, I’m convinced that the use of cars has changed our perception of time. I could imagine slides having an impact too. The state of mind that you enter when sliding, of simultaneous delight, madness and ‘voluptuous panic’, can’t simply disappear without trace afterwards. In this sense the ‘test site’ isn’t just in the Turbine Hall, but is also, to an extent, in the slider or person watching who’s stimulated by the slides: a site within.

Vincent Honoré
You’ve been working with slides since 1998, producing drawings and models and installing slides – six until now – in Germany, Finland, Italy and the United States. The Tate Modern project is the most ambitious so far. How does scale affect the work?

Carsten Höller
We conceived the Turbine Hall installation as a large-scale experiment to see how slides can be used in public spaces, how they’re received, and what they do to users and to viewers. It’s a ‘test site’ in the sense of a study using volunteers in a museum space. The tests are conducted by visitors themselves, there is no ‘objective’ authority taking measurements. It’s all personal experience.

Vincent Honoré
Do you mean that Tate Modern’s installation is a prototype or model for a potential urban-scale slide project?

Carsten Höller
Yes. The slides here are large, especially the one from Level 5, which is 58 metres long, but in fact I’m using the Turbine Hall as a small model for the whole city, for every city. There are five slides in the Turbine Hall, but there could be many more in London and elsewhere. That’s why we commissioned two architectural studies for the exhibition catalogue. One, by Foreign Office Architects, looks at the use of slides as a possible constructive element, where the walls and the exterior skeleton of a building are made out of slides. The other study, by General Public Agency, assesses the possible use of slides in London.

Carsten Höller Test Site installation US11

Carsten Höller
Test Site

© Tate Photography

Carsten Höller Test Site installation US12

Carsten Höller
Test Site

© Tate Photography

Vincent Honoré
Your work often transforms the museum environment, and invites visitors to engage in unusual ways. I’m thinking of works such as the Upside-Down Mushroom Room 2000, an installation presenting giant revolving mushrooms hanging from the ceiling of an upside down room; or works like Ball House 1999 and Frisbee House 2000, where you filled rooms with balls and Frisbees and let visitors play with them. How do you think about the art space, and more precisely the museum?

Carsten Höller
I see one function of the museum as being a space for experimentation and for testing ideas and concepts that could eventually be realised on a larger scale outside the museum.

Vincent Honoré
Light is often important in your projects. What is its function here?

Carsten Höller
By projecting big shadows of the slides – and of the sliders, for the milliseconds when they are passing through – onto the opposite walls, we’re virtually extending the slides into the city itself. It’s like showing where they could be. On a sunny day little will be seen of these shadows. That’s the world as it is now, without slides. But when it’s cloudy or dark, they’ll come out.

Vincent Honoré
The slides play on the double meaning of the word ‘transported’, both physical and emotional. You often invite the visitor to interact with your work, as in flying with Flying Machine 1996, riding on Mirror Carousel 2005, wearing Upside-Down Goggles 1994/2001 that modify vision, and even inhaling drugs.

Carsten Höller
All these works, including the slides, are exploratory sculptures. They offer the possibility of unique inner experiences that can be used for the exploration of the self.

Interview by Vincent Honoré Assistant Curator, Tate Modern
German artist Carsten Höller was born in 1961 in Brussels. Since 2000 he has lived in Stockholm.