Focus on Olafur Eliasson

Portrait of the artist in 2016 (Photo credit: Brigitte Lacombe)
Portrait of the artist in 2016 (Photo credit: Brigitte Lacombe)

Contemporary art of this magnitude isn’t found easily. Passionate about movement and sensory perception, Olafur Eliasson was born in 1967 in Denmark to Icelandic parents. Upon graduating from the University of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, he sets up his studio in Berlin in 1995. Since then, he has exhibited all over the world, from the Venice Biennale to the Tate Modern. Artsper invites you to learn more about Olafur Eliasson, with this intimate portrait of the artist!

There’s no question whether Olafur Eliasson’s art stands apart. His installations, big in size, explore the relationship between space and time, nature and science, perceptions and reality. The artist is fascinated by the tension between these elements and their impact on the viewer. He qualifies his work as experimental, which can be attested to by the process which bring about Eliasson’s projects. His works are a collaborative effort, conceptualized and carried out by a 90 person team. Each of Olafur Eliasson’s projects are developed in his Berlin studio, which the artist calls the “laboratory”. The unusual name of his studio is related to his team and its composition. Made up of artisans, architects, specialized technicians, art historians … they all come together in this creative effort. Each of these disciplines contribute to this studio’s reputation as one of the most remarkable in the art world.

Immersive Experiences

The notion of “research” is present throughout the artist’s work, and is fundamental to his creative process. Olafur Eliasson not only tests, but also questions and experiments. This is the fondation of his artistic approach. His creations explore light, movement, and shapes by playing with their effects on the environment and the viewer. Most often characterized as immersive, these installations transport the viewer into a different universe, full of novel sensations. The aim is to stimulate the physical as well as the psychic senses of the viewers.

With The Weather Project, exhibited at Tate Modern in 2003, the artist illustrates this idea precisely. Eliasson recreates a setting sun with a disk of about fifteen meters in diameter, suffused with the light of multiple yellow-orange lamps illuminating its surface. The whole space is thus bathed in light, perfectly imitating nature with this artificial installation. The ceiling, covered with mirrors, reflects the “rays” on the faces of the viewer, which unhesitatingly lie on the the museum floor to enjoy the show.

Olafur Eliasson, The Weather Project (2003)
Olafur Eliasson, The Weather Project (2003)

A Socially-conscious Artist

Through his works and his actions, Olafur Eliasson is resolutely an environmentalist. He has denounced society for its ability to overlook suffering and tendency towards ego-centrism. The artist struggles to understand how we’ve overlooked essential human needs. For him, people of the 21st century are no longer able to truly connect with one another, and suffer from this greatly. With his works, the artist hopes to change the outlook of his viewers, helping them to open their eyes and focus on what’s important.

The art installation Ice Watch embodies this idea well. In 2015, Olafur Eliasson installed six enormous blocks of ice on the Place du Panthéon in Paris. These had naturally fallen off of a glacier in Greenland into the sea, as a result of global warming. This powerful installation was organized as part of the COP21 climate conference, which was taking place in Paris at the time. Organized in the form of a sundial, the blocks formed a clock, reminding us of the urgency of climate change.

Olafur Eliasson, Ice Watch (2015)
Olafur Eliasson, Ice Watch (2015)

An article could be devoted to each of Olafur Eliasson’s art works. They are particularly fascinating and inspire a great deal of reflection. Still curious to know more about the artist in question? Head over to our 10 favorite works by Olafur Eliasson, which will surely transport you even deeper into the artist’s universe.

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