Back in 2003, many people interacted with Olafur Eliasson’s fascinating mind for the first time. The monumental arena of the Turbine Hall of London’s Tate Modern was turned into an interactive exhibition space thanks to The Weather Project, one of Eliasson’s seminal works that changed the nature of contemporary museum spaces. Instead of being intimidated by the vast area, over two million visitors laid on the concrete floor as they looked into the mirrored ceiling enrobed in the orange light of a shining sun. For seconds, minutes, hours… This was a time before the selfie or social media, but the Danish-Icelandic artist obviously anticipated the change in how we consume art. Forget about the artist – it’s all about us. Actually, it’s all about Olafur Eliasson, as he opens In Real Life, his most comprehensive solo exhibition and his first major retrospective in the UK.
‘Model Room’ by Olafur Eliasson in collaboration with Einar Thorsteinn (2014); Stina Malmborg and Gunnar, Höglund Foundation; Photo: Anders Sune Berg
An activist, a scientist, an artist. The Copenhagen native is best known for his interdisciplinary approach to creativity. Informed by architecture and design, his grand pieces extend above still objects created with the purpose of appreciating beauty. First and foremost, Eliasson creates in order to spur conversations. Real, serious, society-informing conversations. In 2012, he launched Little Sun, a social enterprise producing solar-powered LED lights. In the West, the yellow flashlights reminiscent of the Teletubbies sun baby were sold as editions of Eliasson’s work, with those sales then subsidising the lower price providing underdeveloped African countries with the same objects, there used for their actual purpose. Urging for change continues into his focus on the environment too. Ice Watch was set up on the bankside in front of Tate Modern last year, with large, melting icebergs mimicking the global warming effects in the polar areas. Even a restaging of The Waterfall Project, which was originally set-up in NYC in 2008, has found its space in the back of the Tate. Repurposed scaffolding sees water cascading against the steel backdrop of London’s skyline, once again proving a point of Eliasson’s spacial awareness.
‘Cold Wind Sphere’ by Olafur Eliasson (2012), Photo: Jens Ziehe at Centre Pompidou, Paris
In Real Life combines around 40 works spanning over the past three decades while following the evolution of Olafur Eliasson from a global thinker into a global artist. His ideas were always bigger than life, but it’s the growth of his understandings of the world that allowed him to make real change. Each installation or the group of works captures a key theme present in his opus. Starting with early experiments of testing space, motion and nature, the story evolves into more elaborate ventures with more artificial variations of elements such as light, colour, geometry, perception and participation.
Without a doubt, Eliasson is one of the greatest contemporary artists of our time, and In Real Life is an accumulation of reasons why. However large some of his installations might be, the importance of thoughts behind Eliasson’s work trump size. He’s a man on a mission, and we can’t look away.
by Dino Bonacic
‘In Real Life’ by Olafur Eliasson is on display at the Tate Modern until January 5th 2020.
Waterfall by Olafur Eliasson (2019); Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles; Photo: Anders Sune Berg