In his latest collaboration with Phaidon, Olafur Eliasson has created the most comprehensive collection of his portfolio to date. To pigeonhole Eliasson as an installation artist is to do him a disservice; his work is kaleidoscopic is scale, medium, and thought.
The Icelandic landscape is where the Icelandic-Danish artist awoke to the idea of perception and orientation in spaces, and he strikingly recreated it in his 2014 installation Riverbed at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark. The shear scale, and diversity of elements has the ability to reflect the emotional needs of the viewer and it’s this that his work aims to emulate, even as his inspiration has grown to encompass the world, be it physical, human designed or scientific.
The book catalogues his work since he started in 1990 and chronologically details it up to 2018, allowing an insight into the way that Eliasson’s work has evolved as new ideas and issues have taken his interest. Over this time his studio has grown to just over 100 members, including architects, metalworkers and even specialists in geometry. The studio even has it’s own cookbook. This has enabled the interdisciplinary nature of Eliasson’s work to grow ever wider and more encompassing.
Michelle Kuo, a curator at MOMA in New York, opens the book with an essay exploring the key aspects of Eliasson’s work and its constant themes such as geometry and geology, expressionism and empathy. It is however the short conversation between Eliasson and his long-term collaborator Anna Engberg-Pedersen that gives the most insight into the work, thought, approach and process that Eliasson undertakes with his work.
Eliasson explores, and makes us explore, togetherness through interaction with each other, objects and places. The collective experience is as important as the individual, because you rarely see or experience his work, or any work of art, one on one. This means that others are intrinsically part of your experience and thus feeling and reaction to it. But just as important in his work is Eliasson’s profound belief that our interactions, even as a group are individual ones. We don’t see even a new artwork through new eyes, our perception, view and understanding of it is shaped by our own unique experiences. He believes art doesn’t tell you what to think or feel, but gives you space to think and fill it yourself. At it’s core therefore his art is about presenting a work that links us, makes us think about it, but allows us to come to our own views and judgments on it.
The Weather Project (2003) commissioned for the Turbine Hall or Tate Modern is, perhaps, the best exemplar of his approach. This was a work on a huge scale that saw the Turbine Hall housing a fake sun that shimmered with a red orange heat haze and fog machines releasing various amounts of fog to create different weather patterns. The more than 2 million visitors experienced this climate change inspired piece together but will have had individual responses. Eliasson went further though. He spoke with Tate employees about how extreme weather had affected their lives and published the results, along side scientific date and images for visitors to read. He then took this on another step with a campaign in London taxis where users were asked similar questions. This was thus a piece that was both emotional and intellectual, you could interact with one part or both, but Eliasson left viewers to have their own reaction and come to their own views on what they saw and felt. It was a conversation piece, not a piece telling you the reaction and answer you should have.
Olafur Eliasson – Experience with its bright yellow fabric binding provides and an unparalleled insight into the man and his work. Each artwork is catalogued with an accompanying full-page illustration (some 500 of them) and writing on the piece and its theme. This, with essays on and by Eliasson makes the book a supreme and illuminating work on one of the leading interdisciplinary installation artists of our time. An Eliasson fan would be delighted to own it, as would anyone with an interest in modern art and its place in our world.
Olafur Eliasson – Experience
Published by Phaidon