A Triple Cap of Carsten Höller's Giant Sculptured Mushrooms
A Triple Cap of Carsten Höller's Giant Sculptured Mushrooms

The Giant Sculptured Mushrooms by Carsten Höller

The Giant Sculptured Mushrooms by Carsten Höller are a sum of spatial works, the overwhelming majority of which have a solid reference to the psychotropic mushroom Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria).

Except for their size and the fact that they appear as art creations, they differ little from the natural reference mushroom as their – basically insignificant – differences are:

  1. Their ability to fly
  2. Their ability to rotate
  3. The optical hybrid diversity of each

However, whether motionless or flying and / or rotating, the sculpted mushrooms of – well or very badly – renowned artist Carsten Höller are beyond aesthetics, yet objects of thought and concern. And as objects of aesthetics they concern, as stimuli for thought they disorient, as feeders of concern they hubbub.

Following on from the good will semi-buried presentation of the artworks, we will attempt (in vain) the thorough declaration on our critical above positions.

Contents

Exhibition Titled ‘Reason’ at Gagosian Gallery (2017)
Exhibition Titled ‘Reason’ at Gagosian Gallery (2017)

Biography of the Creator of the Giant Mushroom Sculptures

Carsten Höller was born in 1961 in Brussels, to parents of German descent who worked at the then state-owned and solid building of the  then so-called European Economic Community.

He did not soon realize his inclination towards Art, so he studied Agronomy at the University of Kiel. He received his doctorate from the same University for its study titled Efficiency Analysis of the Parasitoids of Cereal Aphids (Effizienzanalyse der Parasitoiden an Getreideblattläusen).

Immediately afterwards, he was recruited to that University, and in particular the Institute of Phytopathology (Institut für Phytopathologie) where he worked as a research Entomologist.

Some of his major research projects are:

  • Holler, C., Borgemeister, C., Haardt, H., & Powell, W. (1993). The Relationship between Primary Parasitoids and Hyperparasitoids of Cereal Aphids: An Analysis of Field Data. The Journal of Animal Ecology, 62(1), 12.
  • Höller, C. (1990). Overwintering and hymenopterous parasitism in autumn of the cereal aphid Sitobion avenae (F.) in northern FR Germany. Journal of Applied Entomology, 109(1-5), 21-28.
  • Höller, C. (1991). Movement away from the feeding site in parasitised aphids: host suicide or an attempt by the parasitoid to escape hyperparasitism? In Hodek (Ed.), Ecology of Aphidophaga IV (pp.43–98). The Hague: SPB Academic Publishing.
  • Höller, C., & Braune, H. J. (1988). The use of isoelectric focusing to assess percentage hymenopterous parasitism in aphid populations. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata, 47(2), 105-114.

He remained in this work until 1994 and then he jumped into the art – which he never studied.

He is currently dividing his time between Sweden and Ghana, with his studio in Stockholm and a beach 70 miles from the capital Accra, his holiday home.

Triple Giant Sculptured Mushrooms by Carsten Höller (2010)
Triple Giant Sculptured Mushrooms by Carsten Höller (2010)

The Giant Sculptured Mushrooms by Carsten Höller

One of the most representative contributions of entomologist Dr. Höller to art are the series of Giant Sculptured Mushrooms.

The titles of the series and the time of their creation are:

  • Upside Down Mushroom Room with sculptures created in 2000
  • Mushroom Suitcase Series, with sculptures created between 2001 and 2008
  • Giant Triple Mushrooms with sculptures created in 2010
  • Mushroom Mathematics with sculptures created in 2018

But in addition to the sculptural creations, the mushrooms appear as protagonists in two series of photographs:

  • The 2003 Mushroom Print series
  • And the 2008 Soma Series

The Giant Sculptured Mushrooms by Carsten Höller are "hybrids" or, so to speak, tragelaphus, i.e. grotesque. They are made up of 50% of the  psychedelic mushroom Amanita muscaria, and 25% of two other species of mushrooms, such as Calvatia spp., Phallus spp., Coprinus comatus and Boletus edulis.

An exception to this practice are some of the giant sculptured mushrooms in the Mushroom Mathematics series, which make up 50% of the Amanita muscaria mushroom and 50% of the other mushrooms.

Fly Agaric is represented either by itself, with its brilliant red cap and white patches, or as one of its varieties, such as A. muscaria var. formosa, with yellow-orange cap.

Construction Materials

Mushroom sculpture materials include:

  • Polyester
  • Synthetic resin
  • Wired
  • Stucco
  • Polyurethane
  • Rigid foam
  • Stainless steel
  • Polyester colors
  • Acrylic colors

First Assessment

In addition to trying to impress, most of these works lack elemental aesthetics. These are clearly overpriced and inflatable elegantly bad pieces of art.

But more on this subject will be said below.

Flying Mushrooms Installation - Southbank Centre, London (2015)
Flying Mushrooms Installation - Southbank Centre, London (2015)

Carsten Höller's Selected Works, Projects & Exhibitions

The semi-buried tribute to both Carsten Höller’s Giant Mushrooms Sculptures and all of his creations continues with the presentation of some representative works and exhibitions by the distinguished Doctor of Entomology.

Killing Children I, II and III (1993 - 1994)

The so-called artworks of the series with the clearly pedagogical title Killing Children have been created over a period of four years, from 1990 to 1994.

They include inter alia:

  • The Bicycle Bomb, a custom bike with auxiliary wheels for children, consisting of a fuse, match, and petrol tank over the rear wheel rack, which is artistically ignited if children attempt to pedal.
  • The 220 Volt piece, consisting of plugs, connecting cables, and candies of unspecified flavor
  • The Komm Kleines, kriegst was Feine, an inventive trap for babies and toddlers, made up of an upside-down playpen, lures a Kinder Schokolade egg attached to fishing wire, which, if moved, causes the fall of the playpen and the enclosure of the adventurous baby
  • The Sucette aux Fausses Oranges, a special hallucinogenic comforter, containing a piece of dried Fly Agaric mushroom, is ideal for comfortable baby "trips"
  • The Three Venomous Frogs from Costa Rica in a Bottle, consisting of vicious dangerous frogs submerged in a baby’s bottle
  • Various designs such as the Killer-Bee and the Porträt, which are almost certain that Carsten Höller made no particular effort to present them poorly designed and artless.

House for Pigs and People (Kassel - 1997)

The project House for Pigs and People comprises a living highly-bred pigs, a lawn garden, a concrete box-like House structure and a sheet of glass that divides the house in the middle, defining an area for pigs and one for humans. The glass on the side of the pigs is a mirror, while on the side of the people regular glass. This "ingenious" finding has a twofold effect:

  • Pigs look not at people but admire themselves – when they do not devour the lawn
  • People are watching the pigs unobstructed

This "striking" work is a product of the collaboration of Carsten Höller with the German conceptual artist Rosemarie Trockel

Carousels (since 1998)

The entomologist Dr. Höller cares for Carousels. With additions and deductions of different material, single or double, and in slightly varied shapes, they are present over time not as organic parts of real Amusement Parks but as discrete objects in numerous art exhibitions. They also have names like:

  • Mirror Carousel, a 2005 project, consisting of seats, mirrors and white flashing lights
  • Double Carousel with Zöllner Stripes, a 2011 project, consisting of two slow-moving Carousels rotational opposite each other, with lights occupying about half of the central column and continuing up to the roof while the surroundings walls adorn the Zöllner Stripes, black-and-white arrow-shaped lines that deform the space, which are the visual illusory fruit of the discovery of German astrophysicist Johann Karl Friedrich Zöllner (Zöllner illusion)
  • Golden Mirror Carousel, a 2014 project, consisting of 24 seats that rotate counterclockwise to the lamp-mounted center of the carousel, that is based on a solid floor

Video Presentation of the Golden Mirror Carousel

Höller’s carousel is an art installation designed to confound, rather than reinforce, audience expectations of the traditional fairground merry-go-round.
Tony Ellwood
Director of Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria
Τριπλός Υβριδικός Πίλος ενός από τα Γλυπτά Μανιτάρια του Κάρστεν Χέλερ
Play Video

Test Site (London, 2006 - 2007)

The work, presented at the Tate London Gallery, consisted of 5 installed spiral-shaped, translucent tubular giant indoor playground slides. Anyone who wanted could use them to experience an interesting entertainment sliding time.

Entomologist Dr. Carsten Höller has shown that slides have been for him a privileged space for experimentation and study over time, presenting different versions of their shape, size, layout, and their integration into different indoor and outdoor environments.

Indeed, his creative pursuit of the subject could easily give him the title of Giant Slide-Maker.

Video Presentation of the Test Site

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.
Dr. Carsten Höller
Entomologist
Τριπλός Υβριδικός Πίλος ενός από τα Γλυπτά Μανιτάρια του Κάρστεν Χέλερ
Play Video

The Double Club (London, 2008-2009)

The Double Club was a real dining and entertainment place – something in Fast Food Art. And because it was trying to cite and / or blend two cultures, Western and African (via Congo the latter), it also had Ethnic elements – something in Ethnic Fast Food Art.

It consisted of 3 spaces:

  • A Western-style restaurant
  • A Congolese bar
  • A Discotheque – a ballroom with a rotating dance floor

These spaces were divided in two by various ways: for example, the restaurant served both Congolese and Western food while Western and Congolese music was played in the ballroom, live or by Dj’s.

This digestive artwork was then directed by Jan Kennedy, the man behind the Pharmacy Art Restaurants, by British artist Damien Hirst.

It was so successful that many art lovers were left with the query that why it was not attempted to be listed – eg. of Kuala Lumpur stock market.

Soma (Berlin 2010)

At the glorious neoclassical remnant of Berlin, the former railway  terminus linking the city with Hamburg, which today it serves as the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum of Contemporary Art, another infamous exhibition titled Soma by Doctor Entomologist Carsten Höller, took place.

What is Soma

Soma is one of the Sacred Drinks of the Cellar of the Gods of the great and smaller Ancient Civilizations, in this case of the Hindu Gods. Together with its relative Zoroastrianism’s ‘Haoma’, guarantees immortality to the holy drinkers.

Two of them are Indra (God of War – among many other powers) and Agni (God of Fire). For them it is written in the 8th Book and in verse 3 of the 48th hymn of the Rig Veda that:

अपाम सोममम्र्ता अभूमागन्म जयोतिरविदाम देवान
किं नूनमस्मान कर्णवदरातिः किमु धूर्तिरम्र्त मर्त्यस्य

Translated into English by Ralph T.H. Griffith (1896) the above paragraph is given as:

We have drunk soma and become immortal;
we have attained the light, the Gods discovered.
Now what can foeman’s malice do to harm us?
What, O Immortal, mortal man’s deception?

Soma’s composition remains – as it is obvious – unknown, prompting many researchers to suggest many.

One of them, the amateur Ethnomycologist and Vice President of Public Relations of the philanthropic banking institution J.P. Morgan & Co. Mr. Robert Gordon Wasson (very likely and a CIA agent), hypothesized that the basis of the Soma drink is the Fly Agaric mushroom.

The Soma Exhibition by Carsten Höller was set up and unfolded on the base of this hypothesis.

The Soma Exhibition - Installation Project

The station’s showroom had been transformed into a reindeer farm and split across into two by a central barricaded corridor.

It was included:

  • The kindly offered representatives of the Cervidae family of reindeer – 12 in number, out of 6 in each section of the farm
  • A mushroom-shaped Elevator Bed, in the middle of the hall, connected to the central corridor with two stairs, on which the romantics against a petty sum of € 1,000 could spend their evening stabled
  • A platform – clock on which giant sculptured mushrooms (Double Mushroom Clock) were installed, which horned Reindeers could rotate with their horns

Finally, 24 live canaries in two hanging cages, 8 also live field mice in two separate showcases, as well as 2 flies, from one inside a transparent small box installation – which unfortunately had the bad habit of sometimes dying, which resulted their hasty replacement

The Scenario of the Soma Project

Half of the reindeer were fed at the base of Randomness, with food containing Fly Agaric mushrooms. These mushrooms are either part of the reindeer’s diet in their natural environment, or an evolutionarily intelligent way to experience life beyond the reindeer’s Cartesian conception of reality.

In any case, both the urine of the mushroom-fed reindeers and their flesh contained sufficient amounts of pure muscimol, the main psychoactive (psychedelic or entheogen) substance of these mushrooms.

Special trainers – apparently part of the installation – were tasked with collecting the reindeer urine, which was stored in the refrigerator on-site, along with fresh or dried Fly Agaric mushrooms, and intended for use by any interested which may have a uresis paraphelia or not.

The brave or braves, the next day, could relate their authentic or placebo psychedelic experience before an audience of people and reindeer – half adequately stoned.

Video Presentation of the Soma Exhibition

I didn’t try LSD, because I was scared of it. I think I would be less scared now.
Dr. Carsten Höller
Entomologist
Τριπλός Υβριδικός Πίλος ενός από τα Γλυπτά Μανιτάρια του Κάρστεν Χέλερ
Play Video
Upside-Down Mushroom Room of Carsten Höller
Upside-Down Mushroom Room of Carsten Höller

Fly Agaric, the Koryak People & their Artistic Abuse

The Koryaks (or Koriaks) are indigenous people of Mongolic origin, currently numbering only 8,000, who live to the northern part of the Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia’s Far East.

Their historical connection to the Fly Agaric mushroom is due to a Swedish officer and Geographer of German descent, Colonel Philip Johan von Strahlenberg.

Colonel von Strahlenberg was a prisoner of war from 1711 to 1722. Residing during his years in captivity in the city of Tobolsk – the historic capital of the Siberian region – he did many geographical, anthropological, linguistic and folkloric studies concerning Siberia and its peoples.

Returning to Stockholm in 1730 he published the book Das Nord-und Ostliche Theil von Europa und Asia (An Historic- Geographical Description of the North and Eastern Parts of Europe and Asia) – the fruit of his many years of research.

The book received a warm welcome and was soon translated into French, English and Spanish.

The Koryak and the Fly Agaric

The book records for the first time, together with the way and the effects of the use of Amanita muscaria in humans, and specifically in the Koryaks.

In particular, von Strahlenberg accounts that Russian traders were supplying sufficient quantities of the Fly Agaric mushroom, which they knew that plays a key role in the social and religious life of the Koryaks.

The mushroom was exchanged with the furs of Squirrels, Fox, Hermin and Sable offered by the Korians. The richest of them took almost the entire amount of Fly Agaric to be exchanged – the poor little or nothing.

During most of the long and harsh Siberian winter and on the occasion of a Feast event, the wealthy Koryaks serve to their guests, among other things, a drink of the psychedelic mushroom Fly Agaric, which they had previously boiled.

What did the poor do? They were post themselves round the huts of the rich with a wooden bowl, and whenever one of the guests went out to urinate, they offered their bowls. They guests were urinating into the bowls pure muscimol, which was eventually consumed by the poor, but forced to drink the urine of their privileged compatriots.

Sculptured Mushrooms by Carsten Höller as Mushroom Mathematics Series (2018-19)
Sculptured Mushrooms by Carsten Höller as Mushroom Mathematics Series (2018-19)

The Issues that Arise Through Dr. Höller's Works

The issues raised by Dr.Höller’s work are many and interesting: the relation of man to art, art to play, play to perception, perception to insight, insight to reality, reality to science.

Their questionable nature cannot hide the anxiety of the Doctor of Entomology for the answers regarding the sensible and intelligible world in the context of epistemology and phenomenology.

In many aspects of his work, however, his intention is to highlight division as a concept and fact with ecological and social characteristics.

However, for those of us who follow Dr. Höller’s so-called artistic creations, a single question arises and is constantly coming back:

Why the philosophical and other issues that concern him, does he not seek to investigate them by experimenting in strict laboratory conditions, or even writing – most importantly as we believe – essays?

If he chose such a path, we are almost certain that contemporary art would not record such a choice as a loss.

Two Triple Giant Sculptured Mushrooms by Carsten Höller from Divided Divided Exhibition in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (2010)
Two Triple Giant Sculptured Mushrooms by Carsten Höller from Divided Divided Exhibition in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (2010)

The Giant Sculptured Mushrooms of Anticulture

The succession of false notes does not create a melody, just as a cacophony set does not constitute a chorus. It is obvius that the cacophonous and the discordant are by no means artists.

Many of the works of contemporary art are luxury rubbish, generating monstrous capital gains for artists and their traders. They are addressed to the most sacred person of Western culture, the consumer, who at a political, social and legal level, alone among others, enjoys full rights – as long as she/he has a big fat wallet.

Musical Farewell

From ancient users of entheogen mushrooms to Dr. Carsten Höller a Musical Farewell, or The Electric Prunes and their song I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night).

Dr. Carsten Höller
Dr. Carsten Höller
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The Electric Prunes - I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)
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