The Inventory: Carsten Höller

Carsten Höller’s 2006 “Test Site” installation for the Unilever Series at Tate Modern, which filled the gallery’s Turbine Hall with slides, attracted worldwide attention. Höller, 49, has shown his work internationally over the past two decades.

What was your earliest ambition?

To be a scientist and an artist. I was a scientist until 1993.

Public school or state school? University or straight into work?

My father worked for the European Economic Community in Brussels, so I went to an EEC school there. My parents are German, so I was in the German section, but I learned French and English. I studied agricultural sciences at university. I specialised in phytopathology, like veterinary science for plants, and agricultural entomology – insects and how they communicate. It feels like a different life now.

Who is your mentor?

Apart from my parents and my peers, two people: Winfried Noll, my biology and art teacher, and Urs Wyss, a professor at university who came in when I was doubting my vocation for agricultural science. He really helped me and was also culturally interested; I’m still very close to him.

How physically fit are you?

I run.

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?

One is the motor and the other is the vehicle.

Have you ever taken an IQ test?


How politically committed are you?

I’m trying to cultivate a certain doubleness in how I think, not just in my work. Linear thinking brings a lot of difficulties.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

Yes. I use a lot of aeroplanes but I only have one child. We don’t think about many things because they’re taboo, and one question is how many we are. If you have a lot of children, they’re going to be consumers. You can think what you like about the Chinese, but the one-child model is very valid.

Do you have more than one home?

I live in Stockholm and Ghana. I want to have two different lives.

What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?


What’s your biggest extravagance?

Probably the house in Ghana.

In what place are you happiest?

Happiness is a combination of things, it’s very personal. I was a very unhappy boy, especially between 18 and 22. Happiness is a very tricky thing.

What ambitions do you still have?

I would like to get further with my work, see how it can influence my life and that of others.

What drives you on?

I can’t put it into words; a lot of things that come together.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

I’m not saying my daughter; too obvious. To have overcome my deep unhappiness.

What has been your greatest disappointment?

Life is full of disappointments, I can’t make a ranking.

If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?

That was when I was unhappy, so he would think, “Well – not so bad.”

If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?

I would go to the library and read; it would give me the free time I’m always looking for. Even if I lost my memory, if I still had my experiences, I think I could manage.

Do you believe in assisted suicide?

Of course I do. It should be like in Switzerland.

Do you believe in an afterlife?


If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?

Maybe 7.5.

Carsten Höller’s most recent work, ‘Double Sphere Hanging’ was produced for Belvedere Vodka to commemorate its partnership with (RED)

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