olafur eliasson: in real life

As you can probably deduce from the title, we’re going to be reviewing Olafur Eliasson’s In Real Life, which is currently showing at the Tate Modern until January 5th. Because it was quite a large exhibition, with over 40 pieces, I’m just going to pick out a few that were more memorable/interesting.

Olafur Eliasson, Beauty, 1993.

First off, I have to start with a work from 1993, Beauty. I suppose it really was what it said on the tin, it was beautiful (slightly dimmed by my embarrassment at groping a woman’s face through the curtain whilst trying to find the entrance in the dark, but oh well). Essentially, you found yourself in a dark room, with one soft spotlight shining on a fine mist of water falling from the ceiling. Maybe on paper that doesn’t sound particularly innovative, but I thought Eliasson was able to create an environment where you could appreciate a simple, ‘natural’ experience such as light shining through water very well. If I could’ve had a precious, solitary moment in there, I imagine it would be a very serene experience. It was also nice to have a purely bodily experience, and take a moment to just exist in my own form, feeling the mist on my face and my hairs standing on edge.

“It’s exciting that if you are in the room, and I’m in the room, due to the angle of the eye, the drop and the lamp, we see two different rainbows,” Eliasson said. “I often use Beauty as an example of a piece which is highly individual, and also addresses collectivity.”

Next up, another water-related piece. Big Bang Fountain, 2014 is an installation in which water is pumped upwards in bursts, whilst simultaneously, a strobe light flashes in time with each burst, allowing you to catch a view of the water in the air. I really enjoyed this work because to me, the effect of just catching a glimpse of the water for less than a second, made the water seem rather sculptural. And this is a sculpture that is never identical to the one you saw previously, but is transient in nature. Eliasson created a setting in which you could view a fundamental element such as water in purely abstract terms, as a series of shapes and forms. Also the experience of sound in the space, with the pumping of water, created a rhythm that really was memorising.

Olafur Eliasson, Din Blinde Passager, 2010.

And finally, I don’t think this review would be complete without taking a look at the main attraction of the exhibition, the one that seems to have been heavily featured and discussed, Din Blinde Passager, 2010. For me, this is the artwork that I don’t think I’ll ever forget, which is probably a triumph for Eliasson. All I can say is…this is one of the strangest things I have ever experienced; it felt like I was simultaneously inhabiting a void in space, but also walking on Mars, or some post-apocalyptic world that I definitely do not want to become a reality. I can understand why people panic in there, because it really is an experience like no other, and all your senses become useless. Even though there were probably 15ish people in there with me, I lost sight of absolutely everyone, and felt completely alone. All sound seemed to be consumed in the fog, and the space seemed to have no end. Once again, Eliasson is creating an environment in which we can focus on the bodily experience, as well as the journey. Fear is a very strong, bodily emotion – I suppose I (and probably others too) experienced that within this work. The shock of suddenly finding yourself in a space that is so utterly unfamiliar and enclosed.

Although I really enjoyed the entirety of the exhibition, I did have a slight issue with feeling like the original intended meaning of a lot of Eliasson’s pieces were lost in their rather theatrical aspects. Yeah I guess even if you weren’t consciously thinking about it, the majority of his pieces were strong bodily experiences. But I did feel a little like issues that Eliasson is known to deal with, like climate change, wasn’t really something that people were thinking about. Overall though, a wonderful exhibition that I’d urge anyone to go and see, even if you’re not much of an art-lover.


Written by Emily Stokes

Featured image, Olafur Eliasson, Moss Wall, 1994.

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