This is the seventh essay in the series, where TCG Nordica every week introduce a famous Scandinavian artist’s life and work.
Danish-Icelandic Olafur Eliasson is the first artist alive today whom we write about in this series, and his career is no finished yet. Actually, he is somewhat of an art rock star in the world today. He exhibits at the most prestigious places all over the world; he works with exorbitant budgets that among artists, only architects and stage and film directors would recognize; and he brings art directly into the life of a large and varied public audience, with his installations outside classic art venues.
Eliasson was born in 1967 in Copenhagen as the son of two Icelandic parents who had moved to Denmark the year before to work. After a separation when Eliasson was eight, his father moved back to Iceland and Eliasson grew up spending summers and holidays there. Though having some drawings exhibited in a gallery already at the age of 15, Eliasson himself considers his break dancing in the mid 1980’s as his first art. This perhaps shouldn’t surprise us, as spatiality is a central focus in all his later work.
Looking through Eliasson’s massive oeuvre, it quickly becomes clear that despite great variety, his art is always able to strike an immediate resonance with any audience. In his works the space is not only visual but also acoustic, social, chronological and more, and through this many-faceted approach his art overwhelms the one experiencing it, often with blatant political and/or environmental agendas behind.
Green River is a series of 6 rather ephemeral works spanning 1998-2001, where Eliasson without prior notification added uranin, a non-toxic but highly colouring powder, into rivers from Oslo to Tokyo. Allegedly, the reception was “mixed”.
The Weather Project
The Weather Project, one of Eliasson’s big early successes, was a 2003 installation at the Tate Modern in London, where he installed a large semi-circular disk of monochromatic lamps in one end of a hall. An enormous mirror in the ceiling of the hall completed the “Sun”. A mist was created in the room with the help of humidifiers, and the work was made complete by the visitors themselves appearing as little black figures in the ceiling.
Feelings are Facts
Feelings are facts was an installation made for Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing in 2010 and was Eliasson’s first (but not last) exhibition in China. It is one of a number of works where Eliasson through a dense coloured mist creates a room with extremely low visibility. The effect on the visitor is quite perplexing, if not a little frightening.
In 2011 in collaboration with Henning Larsen Architects, Eliasson and his studio designed the façade of Harpa, the new concert hall of Reykjavík. For this stunning building they were awarded the prestigious Mies van der Rohe award.
Riverbed was a 2014 installation in the Lousiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark, where, by creating an almost dried out riverbed was taking up an entire wing of the museum, Eliasson brings the outside inside.
Waterfall was one of a number of installations made in 2016 for the Versailles Palace and Gardens, outside Paris. This impossible waterfall emphasises the man-madeness of the surrounding gardens. Seen from the right angle the water appears to be falling out of nothing, a pillar of continually falling water.
Still River was a part of a larger exhibition Eliasson had at Long Museum, Shanghai, in 2016. Here five large cubes of ice made out of the water from a Shanghai River, continually melts and gets replaced, thus creating an ever-changing pattern. The melting water dripping through the grill the blocks are placed on creates an mesmerizing sound.
Fjordenhus, finished in 2018, is the only building designed trough-and-trough by Eliasson and his team. Placed in beautiful surroundings at the bottom of Vejle Fjord, Denmark, the at-the-same-time soft and hard shapes of the building rise organically out of the sea.
As with all spatial art it is impossible to fully convey the effect of Eliasson’s work through pictures, and anyone interested in experiencing it first-hand should check out his website, where they also can explore his catalogue, as only a very small part of his work could be presented here.
Text: Skjold Andreas Arendt