The exhibition at the Tate Modern
The exhibition on Eliasson at the Tate Modern was the perfect opportunity for me to rediscover an artist that I already knew, but of whom I had only seen a couple of works in person. It is an anthology exhibition, in practice a solo show where the artist’s most significant works are exhibited. There are 40 works from the 90s to the present day. Through his installations, sculptures, and paintings, Eliasson makes us reflect on our relationship with nature and the influence we have on the world around us.
The exhibition at the Tate is, in my opinion, very well organized, and from the first room, you have the feeling of living in the artist’s studio. It is told that Eliasson’s studio in Berlin is characterized by two elements: the models he uses to design his installations and long tables on which he and his collaborators attach newspaper articles and research materials, useful for developing new ideas. The feeling you immediately have is that of entering the artist’s mind. An artist who knows and uses proportions and geometry and loves studying the rules of nature.
Olafur Eliasson Tate Modern. Artworks
Eliasson’s early works date back to the early 1990s when he was a student at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and won a scholarship to spend time in New York. It was there that he truly began to develop some of his most interesting projects, working as an assistant for other artists but also studying the psychology of art.
The interaction of the viewer with the work is certainly one of the main characteristics of his pieces, which are often conceived as real installations. Olafur Eliasson believes that art can have a strong impact on society, not only through museum exhibitions but also outside them, bringing people together to experience his work.
This principle is applied from his earliest works, such as Window Projection from 1990, which consists of a fake window on which the viewer looks out to present themselves to the world. But it is actually an illusion created by an intense white light projected onto the wall. The work changes with the viewer, every time a new person interacts with it.
I grew up in solitude and silence
Also from the early 1990s, there are works that tell of a more introverted and solitary personality, such as I grew up in solitude and silence from 1991, which consists of a single candle on the floor that burns indefinitely before the viewer’s eyes.
Among the works that captured my attention the most, I have to tell you about Beauty. At the Tate, an entire room is dedicated only to this work, which Eliasson completed when he was still a student. The beauty of nature is celebrated in one of its most poetic forms: the rainbow. This is recreated thanks to a spotlight that illuminates a mist of water droplets released into the air through tubes. An effect that captures in the darkness and truly leaves one speechless.
And the rainbow is not the only natural phenomenon recreated in his works. In Waterfall, a waterfall constantly falls and returns. Its sound is calming but remains in stark contrast to the force of the water. And the greatness of this work for me is also in the fact that it is exhibited for everyone outside the Tate, where it can be experienced and known not only by those who pay for a ticket but also by those who pass by for other reasons. This underscores the artist’s desire to bring art outside of museums.
Olafur Eliasson Tate Modern The Water project in 2003
Returning to natural elements, fog is a recurring element in Eliasson’s most well-known works. For example, in The Weather Project of 2003, a fake sun recreated in the Tate’s Turbine Hall prompted us to re-evaluate the importance of the primary source of energy for the Earth and the most important natural element for our survival: the sun. A sun brought indoors to be experienced and positively revalued.
Eliasson’s name has become associated with this work over time, as it was the inspiration for one of his philanthropic actions for the development and aid of the planet. Through the creation of a portable, sustainable, solar-powered lamp, Eliasson has committed himself to bringing an alternative source of lighting to 1.2 billion people who do not have regular access to electricity. I’ll leave the link in the description if you want to learn more about this initiative.
Your blind passenger
Another work in which the theme of fog returns and which is really becoming the protagonist of this exhibition is Your blind passenger. A corridor of about 40 meters in which one can hardly see anything unless just a few steps away, creating in the viewer both curiosity and a sense of anxiety and constraint, perhaps partly caused by the sweet atmosphere breathed in through an element used in the creation of fog. A work that does not leave anyone indifferent and allows us to live a shared experience. But it also sends a strong message about stepping out of one’s comfort zone and being able to explore the world to know it and recognize it.
As I was saying, all of Eliasson’s works are based on this need to create an experience that is not solitary but shared. We all live on the same planet, which has precise and at the same time wonderful rules that we must respect together. This is Eliasson’s message, and just a couple of days ago he was appointed Ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme.
Olafur Eliasson Tate Modern. Works related to Iceland
And his attention towards nature certainly comes from his connection with the places where he was born and raised. Eliasson was born in Copenhagen in 1967, but he spent all his summers in Iceland as a child. An entire series of works is dedicated to his relationship with this territory, which he believes has a particular characteristic: to be truly experienced, it must be discovered through climbing and long walks. Having lived in these places firsthand, he has also had the opportunity to witness over the years the climate change that has been depicted in some of his photographic shots.
The drive that Eliasson wants to give is always linked to improving not only the place we live in, but also ourselves. For this reason, works related to kaleidoscopes are born. Objects that create new images through the entrance of light. We must be able to always see the reality that surrounds us with new eyes, and we must be able to doubt ourselves and the world in order to contribute to its development. This is, for example, the meaning of a work like Your spiral view from 2002 or In Real life from 2019, from which the exhibition takes its name.
Your uncertain shadow
And since we live in society, it is through interaction with others and with the space that surrounds us that we manifest ourselves. Works like Your uncertain shadow from 2002 make us reflect on this theme. Our shadows are projected onto a wall. And as you may have noticed, light becomes an increasingly recurring theme, perhaps also due to the experience in Iceland and the difficulty of having light coverage for more than a certain number of hours.
I left the Tate exhibition with the idea that each of us is an indispensable pawn not only in safeguarding the planet but also in telling our passage. Eliasson’s work shows how behind every statement we make there is a person, their fears, and their limits. We are in the society in which we live, and we must be a part of it.
If you enjoyed my account of Olafur Eliasson’s work through my visit to the Tate Modern in London, don’t forget to check out my YouTube channel. There will be new videos dedicated to contemporary artists, and I can’t wait to take you with me.
So thank you so much for your company, and see you soon!!