Interview: Carsten Höller, on his Prada Double Club

the-prada-double-club-miami-carsten-hooller-fondazione-prada-designboom-3At this year’s Art Basel Miami, the talk of the town was without a doubt the Double Club. Rumors spoke of a three-day party fully sponsored by Italian luxury brand Prada in an old film studio on the city’s mainland—with a surreal bi-chromatic decor where even the bartenders were rendered black-and-white. Others spoke of a tropical neon paradise with performances by Wyclef Jean and Princess Nokia, and celebrities lurking in practically every corner. The space in question was the latest immersive installation from conceptual artist Carsten Höller, who long has investigated the politics of play and the spectacular. His 2006 Tate Turbine Hall commission saw Höller install floor-high slides inside the famous museum, which he has re-staged in galleries and museums around the world several time since. His Miami edition, commissioned by Miucca Prada (a prolific art collector in her own right), was in fact an extension of a work first realized in an old warehouse in London, speculating the assumed dichotomies through which we understand societies and its people. Accelerating this sentiment, Höller produced to diametrically opposite spaces, one mono-chromatic (even the alcohol was black and white), and another poly-poly-chromatic lush garden party, resonant of Miami’s iconic visuality. We sat down with Höller to hear more about the realization of his project, his relationship to Miucca, and how to approach a beast such as Art Basel Miami.
What is your relationship to fashion – as a concept, an economy, as an experience? Like art, it is a producer of cultural spectacle, but one that works in very different ways.
I always thought people should be their own fashion designers, but I changed my mind after having had a show at Fondazione Prada in 1999/2000. At this time, Fondazione did art exhibitions between the men and women fashion shows, in the same place in the center of Milan. To make an exhibition there was quite different from more conventional art spaces, as there was no time but a good production budget. I started to like the speed of fashion, the volatility of it, the excitement. But if you want me to critique fashion, the list is going to be very long …

You often produce spaces and constructions that facilitate amusement, play, and joy – but there is also a darker tone to your work, be it through its atmosphere or its direct sociopolitical thematic. Your spaces are never easy. How do you navigate these different modes of engagement?
I wouldn’t describe it as navigation, as such. The amusing aspect, the entertainment aspect, is a necessary condition. It is in the context of play that the underlying thematic elements are thrown into relief — those discordant notes are much more jarring in a context where you’ve been primed not to expect them. So there is no need to find some middle ground between the two, as they function best together. And finding the balance, how many of those discordant notes to include, is like most things, something done by feel.

With Fondazione Prada in Miami, you debuted the second iteration of Double Club. How did this particular project come about?
Much of my work is conceptually akin to the Double Club, so it was a natural extension.

When did you first meet Miucca?
In 1999, when we did Synchro System at the Prada premises with Fondazione.
What kind of site is Miami – and how did you approach it conceptually? What were your first impressions of the vast film studio complex you were provided?
Miami is obviously very distinct from London, but is also an incredibly diverse city. That was especially the case during Basel, and the international influx that accompanies it. It’s very hyperbolic. My approach to the site was tempered by that — a particular version of Miami, a polyglot whirlwind at the intersection of North and South Americas and the global art world. I wanted to speak to the very local concerns of Miami, but with an eye to that environment. As to the space itself, I was thrilled. It was a huge, malleable space, and that kind of flexibility was a necessity.

You highlighted the saturated color visuality of Miami by juxtaposing it with a completely grayscale space. In which way does color, do you think, affect the way we interact with a space and each other?
Color does so much to define a space. Our understanding of our surroundings is based in large part on gradation — identifying a difference in perceived color to be a shadow, for example, and so gaining a sense of the relative location of objects in three dimensions, and the lines that divide them from one another. This is common sense. The colors in a space point us subtly toward comfort or anxiety, excitement or placidity. That is reflected in the way we interact with one another in those spaces. And it functions as metaphor, of course.

Art Basel Miami Beach is full of contradictions and paradoxes. What dichotomies did you try to flesh our in this edition of Double Club?
Much of my work could be conceived of as, functionally, a double club. I’ve been doing this sort of thing for some time now. It’s been interesting approach this club, in contrast to the London club, as an aesthetic division — monochromatic and hyper-polychromatic — elaborated upon by cultural elements, and not the other way around. I take particular note of the details: even the bottles at the bar are monochromatic, for example.

How was the opening night – and what were initial reactions? 
It was an extremely diverse and large crowd— busy until early morning. Wyclef’s performance was spectacular.
For more information, see Prada and Carsten Höller