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The living observatory is a multipart work of art that renders the viewer’s perspective both explicit and complicit through each element. It comprises six interrelated interventions, leading the viewer on a tour of forms, techniques, and concepts that artist Olafur Eliasson has continually explored throughout his practice. For Eliasson, the artworks are co-produced by the viewer’s physical experience of them.

The space is divided into four regions of four different colours – black (north), cyan (east), yellow (south), and magenta (west). These are the primary colours of the subtractive colour model, which is used in colour printing and analogue photography. Within these colour fields, the six interventions present geometrical pavilions, passageways, and tunnels for visitors to walk through. They centre around optical illusions, such as trompe l’oeil and anamorphosis, as well as an array of geometrical forms that refer to one another. Often shapes are first glimpsed at a distance as a spectral illusion, then re-emerge physically in the next space at a different scale: the visitor steps into the illusions to explore them from the inside. One intervention leads to the next, with recurring materials and motifs creating a spatial narrative and driving visitors ever further through the artwork.

Along the way, the interventions repeatedly direct the gaze outwards, breaking the barrier to the world outside by borrowing views from the surrounding landscape – in mirror reflections, kaleidoscopic views, or the inverted image of a camera obscura. Similarly, from outside, the artwork makes its mark in the cityscape: the four colour fields are visible through the illuminated windows, transforming the building into a landmark from afar – a lighthouse for navigating Daejeon.

The forms of The living observatory derive from the ongoing geometrical research conducted at Studio Olafur Eliasson, extending investigations that Eliasson began in the mid-90s in collaboration with architect and mathematician Einar Thorsteinn (1942–2015), with whom the artist worked closely over two decades. Eliasson’s interest in these complex forms – polyhedrons, spheres, and curves – stems from a desire to find alternatives to the dominant orthogonal thinking of modern architecture, art, and design, and to develop new models to counteract the numbing of our senses. His recurring fascination with illusions relates to his conviction that reality itself is relative – by changing our perception of the world, we can change the world.

Site-specific installation, consisting of seven artworks in a specially defined spatial environment. Overall spatial environment: dyed cotton gauze curtains, coloured adhesive foils, wall paint. Works: Cabinet for the retiring sun, 2021: Stainless steel, coloured acrylic, steel cables; Model of invisible futures, 2021: Stainless steel construction, aluminium mirror foil, glass mirror, acrylic panels; The white line conspiracy, 2021: LED light, acrylic diffusor, 3D printed plastic connections, steel cable; The morning passage, 2021: Plywood, steel mirrors, steel, LED light, Acrylic diffusor; The breathing cloud planet, 2021: Stainless steel, colour-effect glass, glass mirror, semi-transparent glass mirror; Revolving pentagonal star, 2021: Steel, stainless steel, lacquered wood; Present viewing cabinet, 2021: Stainless steel, fabric, rope, projection foil, lenses, mirrors