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A Study on Carsten Höller’s “Laboratory of Doubt”

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ABSTRACT

Exhibiting actively in New York and European cities, Carsten Höller (b.1961) is a German artist whose comprehensive work encompasses a multitude of genres. In 1987Höller embarked on his artistic career with an unusual combination of art and science present throughout his work, which was actually quite a natural path for him, as he had obtained a doctorate in phytopathology. In particular, Höller’s idiosyncratic approach toward art, which breaks from academism in art history, has provided motivation for this research. By employing the imagery of mushrooms, birds, insects, etc, which he had specialized in while in college, and installing mechanical devices, Carsten Höller induces the viewers to an experience of visual illusion or trickery. The foremost task in the thesis was set to classify and analyze a wide spectrum of Höller’s work and thus gain a closer understanding of his view of art and to comprehend it. Höller’s work, where communication and participation from viewers is considered a significant factor, has been importantly noted in Relational Aesthetics by Nicolas Bourriaud and Participatory Art by Claire Bishop. These two influential critics,having proposed critical theories to explain artistic phenomena since the surfacing of postmodernism, have had a great impact on categorizing and discussing highly convoluted and ambiguous principles of contemporary artists. Test Site, 2006 exhibited at Turbine Hall of Tate Modern exemplifies a piece of art that becomes complete only with the experience of the viewer and also creates a sense of “specific sociality”between the piece, the exhibition space and the viewers. In addition, I as the researcher paid special attention to the complex aspect of Test Site as being both aesthetical and playful. Höller has sought, through his art, to observe the viewers and focus on the process and outcome of their experiencing and reacting to his work. Among many concepts applicable, I as the researcher employed the concept of “doubt”, which I found intriguing in studying his work. This intrinsic characteristic, lead to “an expansion of 132autonomy” in the viewer; that is to say, the unusual experience and inflicted confusion,Höller argued, incite the viewers to develop their autonomy. Claiming that when a firm belief is broken, one’s self expands; Höller has experimented in a variety of ways of breaking such beliefs. Drawing a conclusion that doubt-making is the main theme which touches upon the entirety of Höller’s work, I took the title of Höller’s Laboratory of Doubt, 1999 as the subtitle of this thesis. In the contemporary art world where the matter of consilience has come to the surface and artists step outside of their traditional role and act as curators, filmmakers,or activists, to address their interests and issues, Carsten Höller has aspired to express not only optimistic feelings, like “happiness” with love for life, but also rather ambiguous concepts like “doubt” or “perplexity”. Overall, his work maintains an optimistic attitude toward the future and also evokes the issue of an establishment of each individual’s self and autonomy.

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