Monday, February 26, 2007

Carsten Höller, Sliding Doors, 2003
Tate Modern, London

Next to the monumental Test Site installation in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, Carsten Höller’s Sliding Doors is a relatively unimposing piece. Sited in a space linking two small galleries, Sliding Doors comprises five sets of double sided glass mirrored doors, spaced equidistantly and activated by discretely located motion sensors. Although among Tate Modern’s new acquisitions, the piece was originally commissioned for the Gallery’s 2003 Common Wealth exhibition and conceived with the space and scale of Tate Modern very much in mind.
Like much of Höller’s work the piece is largely dependent on the willingness of the viewer to become participant. The space can be entered at either end; mirrored doors slide apart allowing the spectator a glimpse of the interior space and a refection of themselves as spectator. Without warning the doors close as if to some unheard command and challenging the viewer to enter. The piece plays extensively on ambiguity; that of the space itself with its uncertain boundaries and the ambiguity of the role of the participant. Experiencing the piece of the first time it is unclear whether the doors open and close to their own timetable permitting one to move, or whether one’s own movements are in some way controlling the doors. This ambiguity creates within the piece a charming, illusory space in which possibilities, like the reflections to front and rear, appear endless.

Key to the experience is the opening and closing of the mirrored doors, like so many opportunities appearing and then evaporating before one’s eyes. The brilliant white of the walls and the polished mirrored surfaces belie a darker element in the design; when inside the space one has the impression of being at once alone and in the company of strangers together with the certain knowledge that both sensations are illusory. The unexpected transitions through the space recollect Höller’s Test Site and lead one to attempt continuous re-evaluations of position and perspective.

Darkness aside, Sliding Doors is a joyful experience causing even the solitary viewer to laugh our loud at its changing and perplexing form. On one of my passages through the space I saw a young girl sitting quite still in the corner of one of the inner chambers and wondered for a moment whether Michelangelo Pistoletto had been called upon for a late collaboration, so fused had my perception of real and reflected become. Sliding Doors is at once a celebration of transition and movement and a return to childhood fairground deceptions. And, like the best of such deceptions, you have to be in it to get it.

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