A new twist at the Tate as gallery enjoys fun of the fair

Louise Jury goes along for the ride on Carsten Holler's new work in Turbine Hall
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Sir Nicholas Serota, the Tate's director, is normally the most composed of men, but even he emerged from the new Turbine Hall slides sculpture with the scatter-limbed grace of a scarecrow.

Personally, if I had fully considered the drop before throwing myself from the fifth floor of the Tate Modern into one of the five chutes which make up Carsten Holler's new work, Test Site, it is possible that you would not be getting this report.

Even then, that nervous tipping into the 30 degrees slope and the wild, arm-flailing, hair-flying stop 20 seconds later, 80 feet below, might not have been repeated for the photographer had it been realised that with every extra body polishing the steel, the slide was getting faster.The experience is extraordinary, if dizzying.

Sir Nicholas, making his slide debut from level five, said it was fantastic. "Your whole body is much more dynamic than you expected it to be," he explained. "The moment you start to slide, your fear disappears. It completely takes you over like any great work of art. You're very conscious of the whole space of the Turbine Hall as you come down, because you look out over the edge of the slide."

Well, you do if you have your eyes open.

Holler, who is based in Germany, has experimented with slides before, notably with one that descends from the fashion designer Miuccia Prada's office to her waiting car and driver.

The "intentionality" of the sculpture was different from going to the fair, Holler insisted, but he was not dismissive of the comparison. "I don't understand why we have such a low esteem for the funfair," he said. Holler, 45, stressed it was not only those who made the descent who could take part in the Test Site experience. "It's absolutely possible just to see it with your eyes."

Test Site is the seventh in the annual commissions sponsored by Unilever which began in 2000 with Louise Bourgeois' spiders and have included Anish Kapoor's huge red trumpet. The stainless steel slides with plastic covers in Test Site were fabricated in Germany. Council safety experts and German technical inspectors have all examined the construction to ensure it is safe. There are no age restrictions but height rules will apply.

But by the end of yesterday's press view, the experts realised that the protective matting would have to extend further than planned. I emerged from the experience with a bruise on my arm and a jarred ankle.

"Yes, slides are dangerous," said Holler. "You have to learn how to use them." It is clear thousands will try. Test Site opens to the public from today.