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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Response to the Work of Olafur Eliasson

David Stanley Aponte
25 Febuary, 2009

Olafur Eliasson, Succession, 1998

In the book, Olafur Eliasson, (Madeleine Grynasztejn, Daniel Birnbaum, Michael Speaks, Phaidon 2002) Daniel Birnbaum asks the artist about the way he brings the bystander into the work. Eliasson says that the moment the viewer sees the mechanics of his illusions, it creates an “aha” moment. This is the point in which the observer is reminded that they contribute to the experience in a unique way. All the meaning of the piece depends on who the viewer is and their location within the piece. 

When a work of art can draw in a viewer and cause them to interact with it, some kind of education occurs. Even though Eliasson is not a philosopher, his work evokes a philosophical response. He invited the observer to consider the environment in a different way by controlling the perspectives from which they will view. 

A good example of a piece where Eliasson relies on illusion is in “Succession” (2002) displayed at the Art Institute of Chicago. The viewer sees a grassy lawn on the second floor of the Art Insitute. Inside the museum it looks like a nice lawn is growing outside. But at the next window, the viewer sees that the lawn is not really there but is suspended on the train depot. The viewer may say that the lawn is unreal, but Eliasson considers this the most real part of his work.
In the same interview with Birnbaum, Eliasson expands his idea of what reality is by referring to the reconstruction of the early 20th century skagen village (like Williamsburg, VA) is less real than the Legoland copy of a skagen. The Legoland skagen village does not claim to be “real” and therefore is more real. The display of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, for example is less real than the postcard of the liberty bell that is in the shop.

In “F for Fake,” Orson Wells offers a documentary about an artist who forges famous paintings and sells them to collectors as authentic. Wells pointed out that Picasso was known to claim that his “real” work was forged and that forged work was his “real” work Wells investigates whether or not it is important to determine authenticity. If a curator determines that a work is “authentic” then the work is considered genuine. But this determination in some sense is arbitrary. Once again, reality is contrived.

Eliasson helps people understand that the world and most particularly by museums contrive reality. Another example of this idea can be found in Eliasson’s piece “A Very Large Ice Step Experienced.” Several ice blocks are laid inside the museum within a box where the people passing will see a disappearing art installation. The same blocks laid out on the lawn of the museum were ignored or at best thought of as peculiar litter. The location determined whether or not it was considered art.

Duchamp’s piece, “The Fountain” approaches the idea of art in the museum from another perspective. “The Fountain” was rejected by as a work of art because people saw a urinal on its side. Duchamp was taking the literal essence of the “ready-made” as a piece of art and challenged the restrictions on the definition of an object as art. 

Eliasson takes this into another dimension. The ready-made has been accepted. Eliasson’s melting ice is art because it is within a display. Many people passing the same blocks in the grass do not see them as artwork. While Duchamp questions the definition of art, Eliasson points out that the specific context and location of art in a museum makes them art. Sometimes the visitor to the museum can find more interesting objects of art on the way to the building than they find within the museum.

In addition to addressing the location of art within a museum, Eliasson also confront the concept of art as experience. There can be no pictures of Eliasson’s work that will adequately allow a person to understand the concepts. The viewer sees a performance by water and light that cannot be duplicated by words or photos. Eliasson eloquently explains his work and readily engages his audience. In his letter to the viewer, Eliasson stretches the visitor to consider the possibility that the weather and uncontrollable events around his show were intended to be parts of it. 

Eliasson’s works are performance pieces that move the viewer’s perception beyond themselves. A good example of this is in the piece “Your Sun Machine.” Natural light comes into a room through a hole in the ceiling. Often a viewer says, “The sun is moving around the room.” Of course the earth is moving around the sun. In this way Eliasson’s work can be described as Copernican. His pieces not only illustrate scientific principles that interested that scientist but are “profoundly important or far-reaching.”

Olafur Eliasson, Your sun machine, 1997