17 September 2019

Olafur Eliasson: In real life

The first, stunning, experience created by Olafur Eliasson for Tate Modern in the very early days was the monumental, and equally ephemeral, glowing sunset The Weather Project. It was 2003 and for several months the Turbine Hall remained uninterruptedly immersed in that moving sunset, which earned its author global renown. Olafur Eliasson is back in London until 5th January 2020 with In Real Life, his largest-ever one-man show.

Thirty works created over the last thirty years, along with seven new works, are displayed in the gallery spaces, but that’s not all. Everywhere, visitors – attracted by the many luminous, coloured and olfactory stimuli – are invited to reflect on the ways in which they engage with the environment around them. “Seeing yourself sensing” is how Eliasson describes this experience. Eliasson’s art is a continual exploration of our senses in relation to the space we inhabit or pass through. His installations harness reflections, inversions, after-images and bright colours, as well as geometry and mathematics to challenge our senses. Light, water, atmospheric and natural phenomena are the subjects of his art, becoming a visible metaphor, designed to raise our awareness of a more ethical and eco-sustainable attitude to the planet.

The message could hardly be clearer outside Tate Modern either, where the visitor is greeted by the spectacular 11-metre-high sculpture Waterfall 2019. Within the spaces, contact with nature, be it real or symbolic, is absolute. We are invited to get up close to a huge wall covered with scented Icelandic moss. (Moss Wall, 1994); enter an atmospheric yet disturbing tunnel of thick fog (Your Blind Passenger, 2010) which changes colour as you move around it thanks to single-frequency lights that change from fiery red to snow-white, or to lose ourselves in the totally yellow Room for One Colour (1997); admiring a rainbow that is as extraordinary as it is striking, hanging inside a darkened room (Beauty, 1993) or continuous, fictitious rain that pours down a real window (Rain Window, 1999); reflecting in front of the shocking photographs of Icelandic icebergs taken by the artist in 199 and then 20 years later (The Presence of Absence Pavilion), illustrating their almost total disappearance: a dramatic demonstration that opens our eyes sharply to the destruction wrought by climate change.

This exhibition also evidences Eliasson’s passion for geometry, with many works comprising complicated interlocking shapes and crystalline structures, such as Stardust Particle, 2014 and Model Room, 2003 in which an immense showcase of models, sculptures and small geometric objects are reminiscent of far-off planets and derive from Eliasson’s close collaboration with the late Icelandic artist, mathematician and architect Einar Thorsteinn.

The final room, The Extended Studio, contains projects from the Olafur Eliasson Studio in Berlin, where activists, artists and researchers gather every day to work on potentially useful art. The taking part, the increased environmental sensitivity that Eliasson’s works generate in their viewers is duplicated by his keen desire to contribute actively to public debate, stating a position on the great contemporary issues, from global warming onwards. A board of post-its, books, press articles, climate reports and quotations takes up the entire space and invites viewers to ask questions and seek answers, gathering information and reading, exploring.

Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life

July 2019 – 5th January 2020

Tate Modern


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