There was a point when my children were the right age for that kind of thing, that the year was punctuated by visits to Thorpe Park, Chessington World of Adventures or somewhere similar. I didn’t exactly dread these occasions but I didn’t see them as a highlight of parenting either. It always seemed a bit of a mystery why long queues to get about 35 seconds of being turned upside down should represent a birthday treat. But, given enough time, you can become nostalgic for almost anything which must be partly the reason that I took myself off to see Carsten Holler’s Decision at the Hayward Gallery. It was that and let’s be honest, wanting to fly. If you look up, you can see the people suspended from harnesses being twizzled round in a circle on the roof of the Hayward and I wanted a go. Because it was supposedly art, and you wouldn’t look weird without an accompanying seven year old, I could.
The initial decision is whether to choose the unlit passage into the exhibition. You are warned that Decision Corridors will be pitch-black and that some people might find it claustrophobic. I used to go caving when I was younger so I was not too worried about that. Although there were the occasional pin pricks of light, for much of the time you really couldn’t see anything as the path takes you up and down and around corners and your eyes start doing strange things. But some people don’t like it. I know this for a fact because the man in front kept on saying so.
There were things I found uncomfortable too. In Forests in which you put on goggles and a headset, I didn’t much like having two different images beamed into my eyes. I was also cautious about the Pill Clock. A red and white capsule is dropped from the ceiling to the floor every three seconds. The huge pile of pills proves that the exhibition has been going for some time. You are invited to eat one of the pills. I picked one up ; it looked like a cold remedy. Another visitor dismantled hers to reveal a white powder.. I decided to leave it untasted; my mind was perhaps associating the capsules with the clearly poisonous red and white flying mushrooms, Amanita Muscaria, in the preceding gallery. It seemed sensible to decide to leave them alone.
The biggest decision was whether to accept queuing for an hour to go on the flying machine. Normally it would have been no, but I was by myself and with nobody to say he “certainly didn’t want to do that,” I settled down on the wall to wait my turn. It was actually quite fun; people have very different flying skills. You wear a kind of suit which suspends you from your back and from the backs of your knees. Taller people seem to dangle more. I and the three girls in front of me started assessing people’s flying posture. “Come on, knees straight. Try not to dangle” We were reasonably polite and the objects of the comments wouldn’t have heard us.
Of course I couldn’t see myself and don’t know whether I looked like an ungainly sack of potatoes or, as I liked to think, with my arms stretched out in the air in front of me and my toes pointed, more like superman. It was great. Thorpe Park would have taken a snap and tried to flog it to me for a tenner but the Hayward missed this fund raising opportunity, so I will never know if I fly with style.
I also enjoyed the identical twins and the Fara Fara videos. But my nose felt the same throughout The Pinochio Effect. Stimulating your arm with a vibrator as you hold your nose is supposed to give you the illusion that it is growing or shrinking. I never got to try the googles which make things appear upside down as I couldn’t face another queue.
The work was intended to make you reflect on decision making. Perhaps it did. I admit to being nervous of the exit slides but decided to do it anyway reassuring myself that if I didn’t like the sensation it wouldn’t last for long. I had the slightly disconcerting experience of hearing my own voice go woo woo woo as I slid down, fortunately stopping short of the gigantic puddle on the landing mattress.
If you decide you want to try it for yourself, there is not long to do so, as the last day is 6 September. I recommend it. It might not have been terribly illuminating about art or even decision making but it has sparked in me a taste for arty theme parks. I now want to make the journey to Weston-Super-Mare to see Banky’s Dismalland.
Decisions is showing at the Hayward Gallery until 6 September