Super slides are the slippery slope into art's babyish new era
I went sliding on a mountain in the holidays. In mud. My family and I set out for a gentle Christmas walk in Wales that became an unplanned mudbath after we climbed a rocky riverbed in search of fossils and ended up stranded and soaking on a steep mountainside. We were trying to pull ourselves up by tree trunks but kept sliding down again and again as the sun started to set. It was hilarious and slightly terrifying.
A new attraction in the offers a similar experience – but one that is planned and safely designed and won’t leave you covered in mud. The Dolní Morava Skywalk on the Králický Sněžník mountain includes a giant slide that’s clearly inspired by the artist Carsten Höller. Not only can you see spectacular vistas of the surrounding peaks while making your way nervously along a glass-bottomed skywalk, but you can slide in the sky.
It’s a big year for art slides, it seems. Höller himself is wrapping a giant slide around the spiralling Orbit tower in east London. He was invited to do so by its co-creator Anish Kapoor. Doubtless it is hoped that an exciting art slide will help increase visitor numbers at the attraction, where it has been claimed .
If in doubt, install an art slide. From the Czech mountains to Stratford, slides are now defined as both fun and cultural. Art is turning into play, and play now seen as a noble cultural goal for adults as well as children.
But the rise and rise of the art slide (last summer also saw Höller’s creations turn the South Bank into a funfair) shows how some of our deepest cultural values are changing. High art has always been an introspective affair, from looking silently at paintings in a museum to sitting quietly to listen to a symphony. It is about contemplation and absorption. Two people can read the same book and talk about it afterwards, but the act of reading will still be a solitary experience.
Today, we seem to fear such solitude. Art slides are typical of the age of oversharing. It’s not enough to look quietly at art. We need to slide on it, climb over it or talk to it, then share selfies of the experience with as many online friends as possible. The privacy or shared tranquility of artistic contemplation is being trashed by an age that can’t stand being alone. Even for a second.
A mountain is not a museum, yet the skywalk and giant slide in the Czech wilds typify this huge and disturbing cultural change.
When we got in a spot of bother on that mountain we had a laugh, but we were also genuinely outside the civilised world. It was an adventure that taught us to respect nature’s power. By contrast, the Czech skywalk seems to insulate people from a natural experience. It claims to be environment-friendly, but pictures make it look like a massive unnatural pollution of the skyline.
Going into nature for real, or at Tate Modern, are the kinds of cultural adventures that take us to new planes and new places. They can be shared, but mustn’t be overshared. When all our most intense experiences are reduced to art slides and skywalk selfies, I’d rather be lost in the woods.