Seeing London Upside Down – Carsten Höller’s “Decision” on the Southbank

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Over the course of the past few weeks, our family has visited Carsten Höller’s “Decision” – an art exhibition on the Southbank, London. Mum and I visited first, and Robert and dad visited about a week later, as we thought they would really enjoy it. “Decision” is a major art exhibition intended to made the visitor think about decisions and perception, and is full of interactive exhibits to really involve the visitor.

 

Southbank Centre
Höller’s Isometric Slides spiralling down the Southbank Centre

As soon as we put our coats away, mum and I had an immediate choice to make – should we enter via door A or door B? Mum and I chose door A, and entered into a metal tunnel, which started out light but gradually got very dark. Holding hands, mum and I navigated the tunnel by feeling around for walls in front of us, and eventually made it out into a much brighter room. The tunnel had made us disoriented, and we had no idea where we were in the building.

The first room we entered was completely filled by a mushroom-shaped mobile, where the mushrooms were vertically cut in half, and stuck back together upside down. Mum cautiously pushed the mobile, making it turn around the room. The mushrooms bobbed up and down and it was cool to push and pull it in different directions, but it wasn’t very interesting.

The mushroom mobile
The mushroom mobile

I liked the next exhibit much better – the pill clock is a giant mound of pills, and one drops from the ceiling every three seconds. This was impressive, but mum and I were quite freaked out when the security guard went up to us and said that we could eat one! This was a difficult decision to make, and eventually decided to give it a go, as long as the guard ate one along with us. The pills were filled with flour, and I liked being able to interact with the “clock”.

The pill clock
The giant mound of pills formed by the pill clock

The exhibition was full of lots of unique and interesting things to see and do. I was especially excited to see “The Forests” – a dual screen video watched using a VR headset. I had never used a VR headset before, so I was really looking forward to doing so. You slip it over your head and put the headphones on, and the image changes when you turn your head; just like in real life.

The film starts with you going through a forest full of trees and snow, but soon enough, it starts changing. One eye starts travelling down one path, while another goes down a different one. Höller is “trying to break that hierarchy, or even dictatorship if you want to call it that, of the single image.” This was a strange experience, and it was really weird to see two different films at once. Although it was exciting to wear the headset, I felt that it was a bit slow and boring, and the images were quite grainy.

VR Headsets
Wearing the VR headsets

Upstairs, there was a lot to see and do. There were large dice for children to climb into, games to play and mirrors all around the walls. We found the source of the pill clock – a large glass box full of the pills, and enjoyed looking at “Twins”. This was a hallway with seven pairs of identical twins on television screens, who were saying seemingly contradictory sentences to each other. At first, mum and I thought that they were the same person, but eventually figured out the small differences between them! The exhibition booklet describes this as a “complex listening puzzle”, and I thought it was really interesting.

Dice
There were large dice for the children to climb into!

The exhibit I took part in next was one that I had been looking forward to most – the Flying Machines! It was a relatively quiet day when we went, but the queue was still an hour long. Mum and I decided to wait, but about forty minutes in, it started to rain! This meant that the queue was moved inside and the machines stopped working. After encountering a particularly rude member of staff who didn’t listen to us and started arguing with mum, it was finally time to go back outside and get strapped up.

Flying!
Flying!

I stepped into a blue full body harness, which had loops attached to my feet and various areas on my back. I climbed onto the steps, and a man slipped metal rings into the loops on the harness. I was apprehensive when he asked me to “just push off”, but felt very secure when I did so. It was exhilarating to be suspended above London and I did feel like I was flying, except for the slow speed! My go went on for about three minutes, and I really liked spinning above the busy road and the rest of the queue.

Funnily enough, it was quite relaxing! There is a video below of me “flying” on the machine:

Next, we tried on Upside Down Goggles, which were my favourite part of the visit. This was a strange headset with a mirror, which makes everything look as though it is upside down. This was hilarious – mum and I really struggled to walk properly, and we had to guide each other in the right direction! It was really cool to see the London Eye and other elements of the skyline upside down, and it was so weird to walk and look around.

Upside Down
London looked crazy upside down!

The Isometric Slides was the last part of the trip. These two metal slides wrap around the building, and juxtapose with the brutalist architecture. Although I was too much of a wimp to go down the slides, Robert loved it. He said that it was fun because it was fast, and he loved sliding all the way down the building. Höller says that a slide is both “a sculpture you can travel inside” and a “device for experiencing a unique condition between delight and madness”. I thought that it was interesting that such a novel form of entertainment could be considered art.

Isometric Slides
Robert loved hurtling down the Isometric Slides!

Overall, we had such a great time at Carsten Höller’s “Decision exhibition. I loved going on the flying machines and walking around while seeing everything upside down. Although one man was really rude, everyone else was really helpful and friendly. We talked to someone afterwards who was extremely nice to us and even treated us to a hot chocolate! She didn’t even know that we were going to write about the exhibition afterwards…

Even though I walked out of the exhibition confused about how Höller’s works were art, they did cause me to consider the decisions that we have to make every day, and the line between art and performance. Perhaps the meaning of art is to provoke interesting thoughts about the world around you, while enjoying it at the same time? If this is so, Höller has certainly achieved it.

We think Decision, by Carsten Höller is an exhibition which the whole family will enjoy. It is on at the Hayward Gallery in the Southbank Centre until the 6th of September. Tickets are £15, concessions are £11 and seniors are £13. Tickets can be booked here. The minimum height for the Isometric Slides is 120cm, and the minimum age for the Flying Machines is 14. 

Höller is also the man picked to turn the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the giant sculpture at the Olympic Park, into a slide!

More by us:

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (by Robert)

Playing Games at The National Video Game Arcade!

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47 Responses

  1. Stella

    This looks crazy and fun in a good way. I won’t be able to do that upside down stunt you are performing. Ha. I will pee in my pants, literally. Lol.

  2. Jen

    Oh I love exhibitions like this. It is a shame that someone was rude to you. I now wish we lived closer to London

    • Jess

      The exhibition was brilliant! The man was quite rude, but when we told someone about it they were very nice and said that they’d talk to him. We were even given free hot chocolate…

  3. Christine

    Oh wow, that sounds amazing. We were in London yesterday, if only I’d known about it! Looking forward to the slide at the Orbit.

  4. Emma

    This looks amazing!! When we were in London back in July, we walked past people flying in the flying machine and wondered what on earth they were up to! 😀

    • Jess

      Haha! The flying machine looks strange from a distance away, but it was quite an experience to be suspended above London’s busy streets.

  5. JuggleMum, Nadine Hill

    Decisions, decisions! What a great exhibition. It reminded me of those ‘choose your own adventure’ books we had as children! Did you ever read those? You make a decision about how the story should unfold and you get a different outcome! As your post contains video, would you like me to feature it in my next Video Round-up for BritMums? Just let me know!
    x

    • Jess

      Thanks for the comment! I do remember those “choose your own adventure” books – mum used to have a fantastic one about ice-skating which she gave to me. I spent ages trying out all the different combinations to try and win the Olympic gold medal. 🙂 We would love for you to link this post up, and we also have a longer video on our Nottinghamshire post.

  6. Charly Dove

    What a brilliant exhibition, sounds excellent. I know this part of London really well and I’m up soon so must try and catch it before it finishes 🙂

    • Jess

      It wasn’t scary at all! You feel really safe, and travel around slowly. it’s actually quite relaxing…

  7. Stephs Two Girls

    Sounds great, and I think my girls would love the interactive-ness of it, but sadly youngest would freak out at the dark tunnel on way in. Do you know what happened if you went the other way?!

  8. Kara

    I didn’t know this was there – what a great experience. Would love to be suspended over london

  9. Jess Howliston

    This looks like a really great and thought provoking day out! I think I would have to return just so I could see what was behind door B at the entrance lol! x

    • Jess

      I think that both doors were tunnels that lead to the first room! We had a fantastic time 🙂

  10. sam- happyhomebird

    Oh my! I wondered what the tubes were when I was at Southbank a couple of weeks back, I could just hear screaming from inside. It all makes me think of Willy Wonka!

  11. Sanja

    Wooow, what a place! I read a few articles lately about these modern exhibition/attraction centers and I find it super cool and interesting. Would love to see it once!:)

    • Jess

      It was a really exciting exhibition, and I liked it because it was different to the others ones I’d been to.

  12. liz

    Don’t you love it when art exhibitions make you think about life and how we perceive it?! Looks like a fabulous exhibition and I wish I could visit it as its right up my street and my nieces would love it!! Thanks for sharing!

  13. Vlad

    It sounds so awesome, now I wish I were in London to go and see it, I’m sure it was super fun for all of you. 🙂

  14. samiya selim

    There is always something fun and interesting happening at the South Bank! This one looks awesome, I bet our whole family would love it too! Love the picture of London upside down 🙂

  15. Harvey (H-Bomb's Worldwide Karaoke)

    What a cool exhibition, and I agree that some aspects of it seem more interesting than others. I would never ride the flying machine though — I’m afraid of heights, and I hate rides. (I probably wouldn’t go down the slide either).

    I’m curious how you took the photo of the upside-down view of London, since your camera would have been outside of the inverting goggles. (Or did you just take a regular photo and flip it for this blog post?) 🙂

    • Jess

      Thanks for the comment! The flying machine was actually very peaceful and relaxing, but I bet it would be horrible if you had a fear of height…
      Mum and I spent a long time trying to fit the camera lens next to the inverted goggles, but eventually managed to fit her phone in!

  16. katja - globetotting

    WOW! This looks quite incredible! I love that the exhibition is so interactive and it looks like it will appeal to a huge range of ages as well. I only wish I could go!

  17. Danielle (BubsontheMove)

    A friend of mine posted some pictures of this exhibition on Facebook. So good to hear more about it

  18. Alex

    Jess, this is a great post! I went there recently as well, and I had a great time! My favourite bits were the dark metal corridors and, of course, the slides.

  19. Cathy (MummyTravels )

    This sounds fascinating – obviously some were more effective or thought provoking than others but a really interesting mix for a day out. The slides look a lot of fun too!

  20. Mrs ATWWAH

    I love this post. It sounds like a very cool exhibition although I suspect my two boys are a bit young at the minute. I might go on my own 🙂 I quite fancy the flying too.

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