'We have drunk the Soma: we have become immortal, we have seen the light; we have found the Gods!'
This is not the latest Red Bull advertisement claim, this is a quote taken from the RIGVEDA - a Sanskrit text dated 2,000 years BC. There is also a long lasting mystery about the core ingredient for this ancient energy drink (Soma) towards divine enlightenment, wealth and victory. In 1968, Gordon R. Wasson, American Wall Street banker by profession with a passion for mycology, cited the urine of reindeer, which eat fly amanita mushroom as the core ingredient for Soma. (Bankers seem to have a long lasting tradition for strange hobbies...)
The Internationally renowned artist (Documenta X, Venice Biennial 2005) Carsten Höller now focused on this 'scientific' problem for his show at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum für Gegenwart in Berlin, Germany. His habilitation in Phytopatology makes him the perfect man for this endeavor.
For the Hamburger Bahnhof, he developed a complicated scientific experimental design to investigate this Indo-Germanic myth: In the large historic hall, he installed a double blind experiment with
- 12 reindeers,
- 24 canaries,
- 8 mice and
- 2 flies.
I think, it was a good idea to see this show not right at the opening, when the installation still was somewhat 'white-cube'. A month later, it has the full aroma of a bawn at Berlin' s zoo.
The reindeer eat these magic mushrooms as part of their regular diet. Their urine is collected in scientific fridges. Then half of the canaries, mice and flies drink this urine. The visitors can walk through the experiment and 'study' if the animals of the soma group behave more enlightened than the control group.
Even more, in the middle of the hall, there is a mushroom like platform with a king-size bed and a minibar on it. It is managed by Air Berlin and InterContinental Hotels. For € 1,000.--, you can spend a night at Carsten Höller's experimental zoo: www.airberlin-binoli.com/soma
This piece reminds me about the title of a Damien Hirst installation, I saw at the last Frieze art fair: 'The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths.'
Mr. Höller never seems to be all too serious about his experiment - he only pretends to be 'scientific'. I think Carsten Höller wants to question the way we come to conclusions. He points out the limits of science. He may ask, 'How could a myth work today?'
So, will Soma give you wings?
Carsten Höller: 'Soma' at the Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum für Gegenwart in Berlin, Germany.
Through 6th February 2011