July 8, 2016

Carsten Höller
A Slide in London

Last month, at the Olympic Park in Stratford, London, the world’s tallest and longest slide opened. It’s a creation by the artist Carsten Höller, attached and intertwined into Anish Kapoor’s ArcelorMittal Orbit, a tower that zooms 376 feet into the air. Derek Blasberg sat down with Höller to talk about his lifelong obsession with slides, the reactions that he intends from his creations, and the concept of fun.

<p>Carsten Höller, <em>The Slide at the ArcelorMittal Orbit</em> © Carsten Höller; Anish Kapoor, ArcelorMittal Orbit © Anish Kapoor. Photo: London Legacy Development Corporation</p>

Carsten Höller, The Slide at the ArcelorMittal Orbit © Carsten Höller; Anish Kapoor, ArcelorMittal Orbit © Anish Kapoor. Photo: London Legacy Development Corporation

Carsten Höller, The Slide at the ArcelorMittal Orbit © Carsten Höller; Anish Kapoor, ArcelorMittal Orbit © Anish Kapoor. Photo: London Legacy Development Corporation

Derek BlasbergLet’s start at the beginning. Do you remember the first slide you ever saw?

Carsten HöllerWhen I was a boy growing up in Brussels, I took a bus to school, and the bus would drive by a home for the elderly. It was a freestanding red brick building in the middle of a green lawn, and on all four sides it had a super shiny steel slide that ended on a large picturesque lawn. Obviously, it was to save the elderly in case of a fire. But I just thought, “That’s brilliant, why isn’t this everywhere?” It stuck with me since. As a child you see it from a different perspective: “Wouldn’t that be fun to go down?” But sometimes I wonder why we only think slides are for fun and just for children. When I make slides and someone tells me that their children enjoyed it so much, I want to say: “You know, it’s not for children!”

DBHow did this particular commission come to you?

CHAnish asked me. I think, after they built the tower, [the former mayor of London] Boris Johnson was looking for a way to increase the revenue it generates. Anish and I met at the opening of the Prada Foundation in May 2015 and he asked if I would be interested, and I said I would be. What’s interesting for me, though, is that this is not a real collaboration. He did his part, which was to build the tower and then I did my part, which was to build the slide connected to it. It’s more about putting two things together, like a three-dimensional collage. This is intertwining ideas: we use the word “grafting,” which is a better word than collaboration. The slide is a new element that is both symbiotic and parasitic to the tower. It’s not fusing two artworks together, it’s about one holding the other, like a skeleton holds the body’s intestines in place.

DBDid you say yes immediately or did you take time to think about it?

CHI have been building slides since 1999 in many different contexts, and I’ve never said no to building one because I didn’t like the building. The opposite, actually, I find it interesting to make a statement about using slides everywhere. And this is a very good statement: it’s the tallest, longest slide in the world. It proposes the idea not only of the slide as a means of transportation, but also as a tool for introducing a moment of real madness into daily life. If slides were everywhere—if architects would listen to me and stop building only stairs, escalators, and elevators—it would be a different world.

When I make slides and someone tells me that their children enjoyed it so much, I want to say: “You know, it’s not for children!”

Carsten Höller

DBTell me how you conceived this design.

CHThe first thing I had to look at was the entrance and exit, and from there on you start to build it: the slide comes out and projects away from the structure and then comes back again, like a slightly deformed bed string from a used bed. At the beginning, it’s almost like an intimate relationship, where it pierces through the structure, then it leaves as far as you can possibly go, and then you come back for a tighter grip and an exit. There are a couple of “S” curves, which means you change direction and don’t come down too dizzy.

DBYou estimate that it will take roughly forty seconds from top to bottom. That sounds fast, but it will be the longest slide in the world.

CHThat’s quite long. It’s 178 meters [584 feet]. But, I haven’t had a slide experience where I thought, “That was too long!”

DBYou said earlier that slides should not just be for children. Do you think that this work will appeal to a large demographic?

CHThere are some technical restrictions: You have to be 1.3 meters high [51 inches tall] and there’s a weight limit. But, in principle, I like the idea of having as many different access points, artistically speaking, as possible. It’s not just a connoisseur artwork. It can be approached and used in multiple ways, by a child or someone with a different cultural background or someone who is into architecture more than art.

DBDo you think people will be scared?

CHTotally, yes. Strong fear and fun will be amalgamated in a way that leaves no space for anything in between. At the same time, in all its predictability, the slide has something comforting, prenatal, transformative. That’s why it’s different from rollercoasters, which I hate.

DBYou’re kidding!

CHNo, I hate those things! They scare me to death.

I haven’t had a slide experience where I thought, “That was too long!”

Carsten Höller

DBWhen did you start creating slides?

CHI had made an exhibition in 1996, that was called Glück, in Cologne, which is a word that translates into “happiness, luck and fortune,” in German. I wanted to make an exhibition that altered people’s mood in such a way that they all come out synchronized. Like when you go to the movies, and you see a group of people come out of the cinema who all look happy, or they all look sad. I always found that utterly fascinating. So, that show was an attempt to equalize people’s moods, and it had a hut with a roof that people could slide down from. But for that first slide they used a sled, so it wasn’t an independent slide like this one.

DBYour first real slide debuted in 1999.

CHYes, because I started to think about the combination of a slide’s functionality and the potential for madness. When it comes to using a slide, my favorite quote is from the French writer Roger Caillois. He speaks of vertigo as being “a kind of voluptuous panic upon an otherwise lucid mind.” I think that fits the experience of sliding.

DBWith a slide, you know what’s going to happen. You see where it goes.

CHThere’s absolutely no surprises, it’s almost technical as an experience. But you have to let go and give up all possible control to the powers of gravitation and construction.

DBI’m so fascinated to hear that you don’t like water parks. I thought it would be the dream job for you.

CHIt’s interesting to talk about fun, which I find a severely neglected topic in philosophy and all other mindful domains of our culture. It’s sort of discredited as something unintellectual or dirty, like watching soap operas and putting your intellect on hold. But fun is such a governing force in our lives and it has shaped evolution of human culture and society to such a degree that I think our attitude to it needs to be revisited. That’s the point of what I do, revisiting the idea of fun. Personally, I believe there’s something uncanny to it, since we clearly obey fun but fun itself seems to be governed by other forces.

Black-and-white portrait of Derek Blasberg

Derek Blasberg is a writer, fashion editor, and New York Times best-selling author. He has been with Gagosian since 2014, and is currently the executive editor of Gagosian Quarterly.

See all Articles

Around and Around and Around: Federico Campagna and Carsten Höller

Around and Around and Around: Federico Campagna and Carsten Höller

Philosopher Federico Campagna and artist Carsten Höller came together, on the heels of Höller’s exhibition Clocks in Paris, to consider the measurement of time, the problem with fun, and the fine line between mysticism and nihilism.

Brutalisten: An Interview with Carsten Höller

Brutalisten: An Interview with Carsten Höller

This spring, Carsten Höller launched Brutalisten, a new restaurant concept in Stockholm and the latest embodiment of his long-term culinary and artistic project called the Brutalist Kitchen. The twenty-eight-seat restaurant features a menu overseen by chef Stefan Eriksson that adheres to three classifications: “semi-brutalist” dishes (using oil or minimal ingredients), “brutalist” dishes (using salt and water), and “orthodox-brutalist” dishes (no additional ingredients). For the Quarterly, Höller speaks with Gagosian directors Serena Cattaneo Adorno and Mark Francis about this terminology, the importance of experimentation, and the fortuitous side effects of brutalist cuisine.

Carsten Höller

Carsten Höller

Daniel Birnbaum speaks with the artist about the “unsaturated” in his work.

On Anselm Kiefer’s Photography

On Anselm Kiefer’s Photography

Sébastien Delot is director of conservation and collections at the Musée national Picasso–Paris and the organizer of the first retrospective to focus on Anselm Kiefer’s use of photography, which was held at Lille Métropole Musée d’art moderne, d’art contemporain et d’art brut (Musée LaM) in Villeneuve-d’Ascq, France. He recently sat down with Gagosian director of photography Joshua Chuang to discuss the exhibition Anselm Kiefer: Punctum at Gagosian, New York. Their conversation touched on Kiefer’s exploration of photography’s materials, processes, and expressive potentials, and on the alchemy of his art.

The Art of the Olympics: An Interview with Yasmin Meichtry

The Art of the Olympics: An Interview with Yasmin Meichtry

The Olympic and Paralympic Games arrive in Paris on July 26. Ahead of this momentous occasion, Yasmin Meichtry, associate director at the Olympic Foundation for Culture and Heritage, Lausanne, Switzerland, meets with Gagosian senior director Serena Cattaneo Adorno to discuss the Olympic Games’ long engagement with artists and culture, including the Olympic Museum, commissions, and the collaborative two-part exhibition, The Art of the Olympics, being staged this summer at Gagosian, Paris.

BRONX BODEGA Basel

BRONX BODEGA Basel

On the occasion of Art Basel 2024, creative agency Villa Nomad joins forces with Ghetto Gastro, the Bronx-born culinary collective by Jon Gray, Pierre Serrao, and Lester Walker, to stage the interdisciplinary pop-up BRONX BODEGA Basel. The initiative brings together food, art, design, and a series of live events at the Novartis Campus, Basel, during the course of the fair. Here, Jon Gray from Ghetto Gastro and Sarah Quan from Villa Nomad tell the Quarterly’s Wyatt Allgeier about the project.

Fashion and Art: Mondrian’s Dress

Fashion and Art: Mondrian’s Dress

Nancy J. Troy, Victoria and Roger Sant Professor in Art Emerita at Stanford University, recently published Mondrian’s Dress: Yves Saint LaurentPiet Mondrian, and Pop Art (MIT Press) with coauthor Ann Marguerite Tartsinis. The book examines the confluence of modern art and fashion, with a particular interest in consumerism, circulation, and the emergence of Pop art. The Quarterly’s Derek Blasberg met with Troy to discuss.

Jane Fonda: On Art for a Safe and Healthy California

Jane Fonda: On Art for a Safe and Healthy California

Art for a Safe and Healthy California is a benefit exhibition and auction jointly presented by Jane Fonda, Gagosian, and Christie’s to support the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy California. Here, Fonda speaks with Gagosian Quarterly’s Gillian Jakab about bridging culture and activism, the stakes and goals of the campaign, and the artworks featured in the exhibition.

Laguna~B

Laguna~B

An interview with Marcantonio Brandolini d’Adda, artist, designer, and CEO and art director of the Venice-based glassware company Laguna~B.

Frank Stella

Frank Stella

In celebration of the life and work of Frank Stella, the Quarterly shares the artist’s last interview from our Summer 2024 issue. Stella spoke with art historian Megan Kincaid about friendship, formalism, and physicality.

Hold a World: Lucinda Chua

Hold a World: Lucinda Chua

Multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, and composer Lucinda Chua meets with writer Dhruva Balram to reflect on the response to her debut album YIAN (2023).

That Carousel of Thought: Lonnie Holley

That Carousel of Thought: Lonnie Holley

Lonnie Holley’s self-taught musical and artistic practice utilizes a strategy of salvage to recontextualize his past lives. His new album, Oh Me Oh My, is the latest rearticulation of this biography.