A local fisherman drops by once a day to sell his catch—usually crayfish or lobster for lunch and flatfish for dinner. The coconut trees planted by the narrow path winding down to the tropical beach are finally bearing fruit. Höller roams around with binoculars to scrutinize birds or to spot fishermen rowing by in a boat hollowed out from a tree trunk. Turtis, the handsome bush dog with a bitten-off ear they were given as a puppy by friends in Biriwa, surveys the terrain from one of the concrete decks where he likes to stand sentry, before bounding off to play with Odenbach.
Despite the house’s idyllic appearance, building it was an ordeal, legally and logistically. “We are like dilettante architects, and we made so many mistakes,” says Höller. “But since this is Africa, it takes ages to build anything, so we had time to think about the mistakes and find the right solutions.” Their amateur status, though, was only part of the problem. Even veteran architects would have struggled to construct a house a mile and a half from the nearest road on 25 acres of wild African scrubland while dodging the maze of legal obstacles facing any foreigner who tries to buy land in Ghana. “At the beginning, everyone thought we were crazy,” recalls Odenbach. “Then they started to ask: ‘When can we visit?’ But the construction went on for so long that at a certain point they stopped asking us about the house. Nobody believed we would ever finish it.”
The two men have been friends since the mid-1990s, when they met through Höller’s then girlfriend, the artist Rosemarie Trockel, a close friend of Odenbach’s. Trained as a scientist, Höller is part of the Relational Aesthetics group of artists, which includes Douglas Gordon and Rirkrit Tiravanija, and whose work involves creating experiences rather than objects. Among Höller’s past projects are giant slides at Tate Modern in London and the Double Club, a Euro-Congolese nightclub designed in London for Prada’s art foundation. He conceived his New Museum show as a series of experiences for visitors to participate in, one of which is the Giant Psycho Tank sensory-deprivation pool. “We invited Carsten to take over the whole museum, and he treated it as a place where people can have a living experience,” explains Massimiliano Gioni, the exhibition’s curator. “But for him, participation is complex and manipulative, always with an element of control.”