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Psychedelic Berlin art show hosts live reindeer, canaries and mice

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Photo: DPA
17:12 CET+01:00
A fantastical exhibition by renowned artist Carsten Höller featuring live reindeer, canaries, mice and flies opened Friday at Berlin's Hamburger Bahnhof contemporary art museum. “Soma” also offers the chance for a limited number of guests to overnight in a bed suspended above the animals for €1,000.

Höller's exhibition directs the real-life quest to rediscover the ingredient of a mythical drink into the realm of art, the museum says.

The artist was inspired by a verse in the ancient Hindu text, the Rigveda, which reads: “We have drunk of the soma; we have become immortal, we have seen the light; we have found the Gods.”

In the 20th century, philologists, ethnologists and botanists have tried to identify the main ingredient of the enlightening beverage, the ingredients of which were lost over the years, the museum said in a statement.

But in 1968, American banker and hobby mycologist Gordon R. Wasson made the highly-disputed suggestion that the red and white poisonous fly Amanita mushroom may have been the ingredient, and that it may have been absorbed through the urine of reindeer, which eat the plant as part of their natural diet.

With this in mind, Belgian-born Höller, who studied agricultural sciences, has created a massive dual-sided “experiment.” Here 12 reindeer and other animals exist in two halves of the museum's large hall – one side reflective of the “normal world,” and the other a scene from the psychedelic “realm of soma.”

“It's about pondering,” he said on Wednesday.

The reindeer, brought to Berlin from Brandenburg's Uckermark region, are reportedly relaxed and accustomed to human contact.

Other parts of the exhibition include mushroom sculptures and the limited possibility for visitors to spend the night alone in the museum with the live animals. Almost all of the available nights have already been purchased, the museum reported.

Each week the museum will hold a lottery drawing for one free overnight stay, though.

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Stockholm-based Höller was born in 1961 in Brussels. He is best known for his 2006 work “Test Site” at London's Tate Modern.

"Soma" runs from November 5, 2010 to February 6, 2011.

The Local/DPA/ka

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