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Into Orbit: High-Art Helter-Skelters

Posted 01.09.16  - Culture

Carsten Höller is on the slide again.

The acclaimed German artist has won popular, if not always critical approval for his enduring enthusiasm for putting the playground ride into a gallery - or at least a grown-up setting. Most recently, he has added one to the ArcelorMittal Orbit - the Anish Kapoor mega-sculpture and viewing platform built to celebrate the 2012 London Olympics.

Why are slides - a quick, safe, inexpensive way of transporting people down increasingly tall buildings – not an everyday part of our cities' architecture?

Back in 2006, Höller exhibited his Test Site slides in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall, their scale and perhaps silliness drawing huge crowds, and went on to create slides at the city's Hayward Gallery too, as well as other art institutions internationally. In 2014, he created his first free-standing slide for the headquarters of the German design company Vitra.

Those of a practical disposition might be inspired to ask just why slides - a quick, safe, inexpensive way of transporting people down increasingly tall buildings - are not an everyday part of our cities' architecture? Those more artistically minded might be prompted to enquire whether the little thrill Höller's slides offer can be integrated into our otherwise typically humdrum days. The answer? Ask any child. Or your inner child, if you can still locate him or her.

'A slide is a sculpture you can travel inside,' as Höller has explained it. 'They're a device for experiencing an emotional state that's a unique condition somewhere between delight and madness. I don't see any reason why slides should be used only by children and in the case of an emergency. However, it would be a mistake to think you have to use the slide to make sense of it - looking at the work from the outside is a different but equally valid experience.'

'[Slides] are a device for experiencing an emotional state that's a unique condition somewhere between delight and madness.' – Carsten Höller

Clearly, while Höller thinks of his slides as opportunities for spectacle - to watch people move through these forms, but also what he has referred to as the 'inner spectacle' enjoyed by the person on the slide - he shares a fascination that goes back at least 100 years. Although the inventor of the very first playground slide is disputed, it seems the turn of the 20th century was when the first examples were installed - in New York in 1900, Philadelphia in 1904 and, of course, at Coney Island in 1905, becoming more commonplace in parks during the 1920s. Since then, they've offered kids and big kids alike the thrill of controlled panic and a joyful appreciation of gravity.

These days, slides are, so to speak, on the up. KI Design Studio recently unveiled the interior of an apartment it has designed for a client in Kiev, with the two floors connected by a slide, and similar ideas have been employed by architects in both Tokyo and Berlin. Meanwhile, Fránek Architects' Sky Walk, a giant steel-and-timber structure perched 1,100m above sea level on a mountainside in the Czech Republic, offers a 101m coiling descent to the base. Perhaps most excitingly - make that terrifyingly - of all, is the Skyslide, a 14m transparent slide connecting the 70th and 69th floors of a skyscraper in New York. And that's on the outside of the building. It may not be art, but that's the kind of slide guaranteed to get gets anyone's attention.

Image: The Slide at the ArcelorMittal Orbit

Credit: Vibrant Pictures / Alamy Stock Photo

Josh Sims - Writer for the Financial Times

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