An art show with live animals where visitors can sleep over and take drugs is all about changing perceptions.
WHAT could be more festive than spending a night in an art gallery with a dozen reindeer and a fridge full of psychedelic drugs? Soma, Carsten Holler's installation in a former railway station in Berlin, purports to offer exactly that. A pen running the length of the Hamburger Bahnhof, the city's contemporary art museum, contains 12 reindeer, 24 canaries, eight mice and two flies. Giant toadstool sculptures are planted on a mushroom clock that the reindeer can turn with their antlers, and at the centre is a mushroom-shaped ''floating hotel'' - a bed on a platform complete with minibar, yours for €1000 ($A1320) a night. (There's also a raffle for free places.)
The point of all this, beyond a theme park experience, is 'soma'. Höller has explored the history of this mythical narcotic, which apparently contained the secret to happiness, knowledge and wealth. Poets waxed lyrical about it in Hindu verse written 4,000 years ago. But the recipe has been lost. It is believed to derive from a mushroom (the fly agoria) and was at its most potent when consumed via the urine of a creature, which had eaten the mushrooms. Reindeer ate the mushrooms in their Siberian habitat, and hence their urine was prized. It induced a trance of extraordinary power and insight. Soma was liberation, and maybe it was escape.