Marie Le Fort
“With technology and the digital age, art is increasingly disconnected from our bodies, our senses…and the world. Olafur Eliasson is refusing to accept this trend and always returns, so viscerally, to an emotion that exists in the present,” explained Madeleine Grynsztejn, curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA).
Of Danish-Icelandic origin, Olafur Eliasson is, in typical Scandinavian fashion, embarrassed when it comes to his success and fame: he agrees to few interviews, possesses no airs and graces, and lives a simple life. Despite being an accomplished artist of light, he is nevertheless incredibly discreet.
Brought to the attention of the general public with The Weather Project (2003), he transformed the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern in London into a slightly hazy futuristic universe, bathed in the rays of a fake orange sun. A monumental installation that lit up the lives of more than one million visitors with over 200 bulbs (identical to those used for public lighting)… it was brilliant, you might say. However, he refused all commercial compensation for his work, and was firmly opposed the prolonging of the exhibition, which would render it at odds with his original intentions.
With Olafur Eliasson, humility seems to be the number one rule of conduct. Rule number two could be summed up as the staging of atmospheric phenomena. The weather, rain curtains and ethereal mists turn into timeless symbols that he sticks to as a signature.
We visited Olafur Eliasson’s “laboratory” in Berlin to take stock of his ongoing projects. It is a very busy space in deed, with fifteen engineers, architects and technicians constructing models and murals of prismatic mirrors. There are countless projects about to be born on site! After designing the temporary pavilion at the Serpentine Gallery during the summer of 2007, the studio constructed waterfalls the under bridges of Manhattan in 2008 before creating a permanent art installation on one of the walls of the Oslo Opera House.
The latest project to date, designed by Olafur Eliasson in late 2011, is the translucent honeycomb structure of the Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre. It is intended to be a reflection of Icelandic nature – from its volcanic rocks, to the blue glaciers of winter, and the way the crystalline landscapes evolve with changing light – the shell of the building has been designed to shift, like a luminous vibration, depending on the weather and the sun’s reflection on and around the walls. Once again, the atmospheric phenomena are there to narrate the work of Olafur Eliasson.
“We must lose our bearings in order to find them, to have an experience, like watching a train cross through the mountains. Feel before thinking. Keep your senses awake and your spirit critical.”
“Iceland and its changing shadows taught me that everything was uncertain, that it was a struggle to define its borders.”