Berlin Diary: Soma and the Reindeer

     |    Saturday, der 11. December 2010


Maybe the Soma exhibition at Hamburger Bahnhof had more of an effect on me than I care to admit. When I first entered the hall and saw that there really was a herd of live reindeer living inside I was shocked.  The first thing I photographed was not the deer, not even the exhibition itself really (everything in the hall that belonged to the exhibition was meticulously written out on a list), but the electric fence warning signs seen here:

You can see the live deer there in the background.  “What makes art any better than a circus?” I ask myself…

Well, let’s go on… the whole exhibition is about this mythical elixir called soma. A drink that sends you to nirvana. Some sort of good-for-you, mushroom-based hallucinogen. The artist has a hunch that the real soma recipe contains urine from deer who have eaten a certain mushroom.  A mushroom that is poisonous to humans. The deer don’t die from the mushroom. Instead, they digest the mushroom for us and transfer all the magical goodies to the lucky people who get to drink their pee… At least that is the dream that the artist hopes we all can participate in – and he even put a bed in the reindeer stall that you can rent for like a couple thou a night. You can dream and groove on the reindeer aura at the same time. Back to the pee. As you can see here, the artist has workers who meticulously collect the reindeer pee and store it in the fridge. (Something about this picture reminds me of the samples that professional cyclists offer up to authorities to prove that they aren’t doping.. Yep, another kind of soma I guess.)

My dream is: the deer drink the soma, kick over the fridge with the urine bottles, free the mice and flies, stampede the exhibition hall, and beeline it all the way to Norway or Sweden or some other place far, far away.

The street art of the deer breaking out of their caged world at the start of this post is also a dream – and it echoes very precisely the dream of Soma artist Carsten Höller, only the street art dream is the dream of the animals themselves. This large mural piece can be seen in Wranglestrasse near Kaiser’s.