Carsten Höller received a PhD in agricultural science in 1988, and translates his background in the natural sciences into participatory and relational works of art that explore logic and perception, the body and interactions, and the ways in which we experience, engage with, and understand the world around us. From sculptures of animals and fungi to immersive installations that recall playgrounds, amusement parks, and zoos, a central element in his practice is the notion of play. As we interact with or attempt to understand these works, we become both scientist and subject, observer and observed. Höller’s Octopus appears like an aquatic visitor that has wandered in from the Pacific, or a misplaced specimen from a natural history museum. The polyurethane cephalopod, whose appearance is hyperreal, seems to be both a specimen and a toy (the work is made with the same spongy material as stress-relief balls and squeezable children’s toys). As it elicits a childlike urge to prod and pull—actions in direct opposition to the protocols of an exhibition: look, don’t touch—Octopus invites us to consider our behavior in the larger ecosystem.
Octopus, 2014; purple-colored polyurethane and brown glass eyes; courtesy of the McEvoy Family Collection, San Francisco
Carsten Höller studied agricultural science at the University of Kiel, earning a PhD in 1988. He applies his scientific training to his work as an artist, creating large-scale, immersive installations that explore and engage with experimentation, the body, natural science, and human behavior and relationships. Based between Sweden and Ghana, his works have been exhibited worldwide, including at the Venice, Gwangju, Lyon, and Sharjah biennials.