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Trip out on "Soma"

Some call it brilliant and beautiful, and others the most boring case of animal exploitation ever. Love it or hate it, Carsten Höller’s “Soma” is an impressive feat of installation art/living museum exhibit. Situated in the train station turned gallery space at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, “Soma” explores the myth of the drink of the same name that originated amongst the nomadic tribes or Northern India around 2000 BCE. The main ingredient is the fly amanita mushroom (those are the ones that look like red and white polka-dotted fairytale toadstools), which supposedly possess healing properties and give the drinker access to enlightenment and “the divine sphere.”

Höller explores the experience of drinking soma with a kind of futuristic, super-modern barn/laboratory, stocked with 12 reindeer, 24 canaries, 8 mice and 2 flies (2 flies, seriously?), who either roam free or are engaged in experiments. The huge space also holds five large mushroom sculptures, representing the fly amanita in various stages of growth. These sculptures are also rotating clocks that can be operated by the reindeers’ antlers.

During normal museum hours, visitors are limited the walkway that borders the exhibition, but serious art-goers can book a night on the round ‘elevator bed’ and experience Höller’s “Soma” from the inside.