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Carsten Höller | SOMA

July 7, 2011

A visitor to Carsten Höller’s SOMA is greeted by a literal tableau vivant.  The faint smell of fermented grass and animal musk fills a living picture that is part laboratory experiment and part dream.  A menagerie of 12 reindeer, 24 canaries, 8 mice, 2 flies, and refrigerators of neatly organized psychedelic mushrooms and hallucinogenic reindeer urine are readily surveyed from a mushroom-shaped “floating hotel” on a platform that can be rented for €1,000 a night.

The installation explores the fable of ‘soma’ a mythical narcotic commonly used in rituals to access divine spheres and glimpse enlightenment.  This sacred libation was whispered to be most potent when drank via the urine of a creature that had consumed fly agaric mushrooms.  Half of the reindeer in Höller’s experiment have been fed the psychedelic mushrooms, half have not and yet all of their urine is collected by handlers and stored in fridges.  By day the contents are locked but by night guests staying over can sample the contents.  However, because only half the reindeer are fed the mushrooms, it’s impossible to know which bottles contain the hallucinogenic urine and which do not.

 The unfolding of events in Höller’s experimental field are the progeny of myth and reality, perception and imagination.

Carsten Höller | SOMA | Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin

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