S. Worthen (owlfish) wrote,
S. Worthen


The newest installation in the Tate Modern's voluminous Turbine Hall is "Test Site", by Carsten Höller. A series of five silvery, clear-plastic topped tubes wind down through the heights of the expansive space, entertwining as they descend. The space is so large that, try as they might, many installations there do not fully relate to it. This one does a generally good job of relating to the rest of the space, although equally, the empty stetches of air suggest all the other twist and slides and spirals which could have cluttered them up. By leaving the set at five, the overall space is still streamlined. Spotlights shine at the tubes, casting curving shadows on the wide walls, more visible when the weather without is overcast than when there's sun.

A superficial glance shows that art critics are thus far divided on whether or not this is good art, or just good fun. As someone partial to good shadows and interesting light play, I'd love to come back with a camera during this installation.

Logistics: The two slides from Level 2 are first-come, first-served. The slides from Levels 3, 4, and 5 require free timed tickets, available on Level 1, which is also where all the slides end. No chidren below 0.9 meters allowed on the smaller slides, 1.4 m on the taller ones. As with amusement parks, we spent a fair bit of time standing in line before going down several of the slides - up to twenty minutes, even with the timed tickets. All bags and umbrellas and such must be left at the cloakroom pre-sliding. (UKP 2 optional donation for cloakroom use.) The logistics behind avoiding crashes on each slide made fine use of CCTV.

Keep in mind when you read this that I'm a complete wimp when it comes to amusement park rides, and I strongly dislike rollercoasters.

Level 2, west: The first slide starts with a drop, propelling me unexpectedly fast. Two full loops around and I'm out, a little dizzy, but fine. We went on this one again after L4 and L5, and it stood up well. The major downside is that the traction from shoes interferes with the experience. On the flip side, it was short enough that later irritants like vibration weren't factors.

Level 2, east: Of course this one spirals the other way. Of couse it does. Yet there I was after the initial drop, suddenly surprised that I was whirling counter-clockwise instead. It's just like the other Level 2 slide, only spiraling the other way.

Level 3:From here on up, we were given sheets to slide on, with a shoe pocket at the end for our feet. A sudden fast drop caused me brief panic, but I had to trust in the tube getting me safely down. After the initial burst of speed, the rest of the slide was a series of circles, ending precitously at the bottom. The crash mat at the slide's end was necessary.

Level 4: If you like rides, this is the slide for you. If you like art installations, take your pick, really. Level 4 was bumpy and fast. The warning sign outside called this and Level 5 "a fast and physical experience", leaving us to wonder if Levels 2 and 3 had been theoretical or metaphorical experiences instead. Level 4 wasn't just fast, it was also irregular - so smooth descending coils like the other slides. After the usual fast initial drop, this one zigged left, then right, went through a circle, straightened out, then circled again. I admit, I closed my eyes for this one. Gravity was doing all the work anyways, although it was seriously bumpy along the way in places. Level 4 was better designed than some of the others in one respect though: the last coils slows sliders down enough that no crash pad was needed at the end. As finishes went, this was relatively graceful. Except that I was somewhat dizzy from it.

Level 5: The fifth floor of the Tate Modern is really fairly high up. We looked down on the people watching the slides from the balcony on Level 2. Unlike Levels 3 and 4, there was hardly any line at all on Level 5. (The installation's been open two days. I think the Tate is still figuring out appropriate timing and numbers on the tickets.) I was nervous going in after 4, but took some comfort from the obvious regularity of the sliding tube without the glass walls. And indeed, once I was going, although it was fast, it wasn't out of control. For the first time, I could lie back and watch pieces of Turbine Hall - girders, walls of neutral tones - flash by me above as I descended. Downside: the slide was fast enough that the vibrations and the slight bumpiness of the segmented installation were noticable; indeed, this is part of why the "Test Site" is ultimately an art installation more than a series of rides.

The installation is, in part, meant to stimulate thought about the use of slides as a form of transportation. One of their biggest downsides is that they are a one-way form of transportation. We did indeed have various conversations on the uses of slides, inspired by the surroundings. We also discussed, relevantly, the Montparnasse high-speed moving walkway.

Many thanks to mirrorshard for organizing the expedition. It was also good to meet shuripentu and partner. I was really surprised when it turned out that one of the two people we were waiting for showed up in University of Toronto clothing!

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