Olafur Eliasson explores where we are now and how we navigate – in our everyday lives and in the highly complex world of today. One thing is to inquire into our sense of presence; another is to consider where we are going and what the future will look like… There’s only a slight risk of getting lost. Self-reflection and partial knowledge may accompany you.
‘Reversed waterfall’, 1998. TBA21 Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary collection. Now on view as part of the group exhibition ‘Abundant Futures’, curated by Daniela Zyman at Centro de Creación Contemporánea de Andalucía in Córdoba. Photo: Hyunsoo Kim
In this moment, we are reminded of how crises of war, authoritarianism, neoliberalism, and climate are highly intersectional. Each crisis cannot be tackled as a distinct challenge, they are all part of one picture.
In an article written in the first days of the war on Ukraine, Bill McKibben put forward an idea: ‘One way to dramatically reduce Putin’s power is to get off oil and gas … So now is the moment to remind ourselves that, in the last decade, scientists and engineers have dropped the cost of solar and windpower by an order of magnitude, to the point where it is some of the cheapest power on Earth. The best reason to deploy it immediately is to ward off the existential crisis that is climate change, and the second best is to stop the killing of nine million people annually who die from breathing in the particulates that fossil fuel combustion produces. But the third best reason – and perhaps the most plausible for rousing our leaders to action – is that it dramatically reduces the power of autocrats, dictators, and thugs.’
There is seemingly never a ‘good’ time to address the complex issues associated with crisis. But, there is reason to hope that, in response to these emergencies, we can coordinate international political will to encourage a sharp turn towards renewables. As Rebecca Solnit said, ‘It is important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is or will be fine...The hope I am interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act. You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings.’ Before a shift happens, it can seem impossible; afterwards, it seems inevitable.
To find further information on the intersectional nature of crises, visit our resource list here.
'Our Space to Help', a weekend-long fundraising event in support of Ukraine at Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, Saturday, 5 March at 10:00 through Sunday, 6 March at midnight.
Image: Neue Nationalgalerie 2022 © Nationalgalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Simon Menges
Together with Berlin's cultural institutions, we are calling for a fundraiser to help people who have fled Ukraine and are arriving in Berlin. We invite you to come to the Neue Nationalgalerie to donate and be together from Saturday, 5 March at 10:00 through Sunday, 6 March at midnight at Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin.
The fundraising campaign is organised in cooperation with Be an Angel e.V.
Please be welcome to donate on site:
• power banks / batteries for smartphones
• mobile WIFI hotspots
• monetary donations
The staff from Be an Angel e.V. will also provide information about further aid measures on site.
An ‘open microphone’ on site invites you to share your own thoughts, music, poetry, and literature. Your spontaneous contributions will be welcome.
Initiated by Klaus Biesenbach and developed in close collaboration with Anne Imhof and Olafur Eliasson, together with a large group of colleagues and volunteers from the Neue Nationalgalerie and Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, this is as an open invitation to all Berlin art institutions, artists, and residents.
Be an Angel e.V.
Donation code: #kunst4ukraine
Account 014 522 59 00 Sort code 100 708 48 (Deutsche Bank)
IBAN DE37100708480145225900 BIC DEUTDEDB110
We’ve updated our resource page 'Support humanitarian aid in Ukraine’ with even more links. It now includes organisations and platforms supporting, hosting, and arranging housing for refugees who are already arriving in Berlin from Ukraine. Find it all here:
Support humanitarian aid in Ukraine
Some of these organisations are driving donations and supplies to the border of Ukraine themselves. Also, some of these local resources are available in Ukrainian and Russian languages in addition to English and German.
Detail of ‘Colour experiment no. 108’, 2020. Now on view at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Los Angeles, as part of the solo exhibition ‘Your light spectrum and presence’. Photo: Jens Ziehe
In 2009, Olafur Eliasson began a series of circular paintings inspired by the idea of producing a new, comprehensive colour theory that would comprise all the visible colours of the prism. He began by working with a colour chemist to mix in paint an exact tone for each nanometre of light in the spectrum, which ranges in frequency from approximately 390 to 700 nanometres. Since those initial experiments, Eliasson has branched out to make a large number of painted works on circular canvases, known collectively as the colour experiments. A number of these works take their palettes from other sources, from historical paintings by J. M. W. Turner or Caspar David Friedrich, for example. In the case of ‘Colour experiment no. 108’, the muted tones in the background were derived from the colours found in a photograph taken by the artist in Iceland in 2012. A formless multicolored explosion spreads out from the centre of the canvas, contrasting starkly with the smooth, even background.
'The missing left brain', 2022. Now on view as part of Olafur Eliasson's solo exhibition 'Navegación situada' at Galería Elvira González, Madrid. Photo: CENIZA
'The missing left brain', 2022, unfurls before the viewer as a constantly changing lightshow of shapes, colours, and shadows, created through the reflection and refraction of light. The symmetrical sequence develops and vanishes in a slow continuum upon a circular screen that seems to hover in the space. The screen is in fact a semicircular screen affixed to a mirror, which creates the illusion of a full circle and doubles the amorphous shapes into a symmetrical Rorschach-like light display.
Viewers can glimpse the apparatus responsible for producing the projection inside a custom-made box mounted behind the screen. The box contains disparate glass lenses, colour-effect filters, and objects from Eliasson’s studio. A light inside the box illuminates the objects as they turn, and the resulting distortions are projected via a lens onto the screen. As each motor revolves at its own pace, the relationship between the various elements constantly changes, so that the light sequence appears always new. Chance alignments produce an ever-changing symphony of shadows and reflections on the screen – a phantasmagoria of evolving shapes, arboreal shadows, spectral arcs, and fields of colour that wax and wane and ooze across the surface of the screen.
'Colour experiment no. 94', 2020. Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Jens Ziehe
Several paintings in Olafur Eliasson's solo exhibition 'Your light spectrum and presence' – currently on view at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in Los Angeles – feature the bright spectrum of colour seen in the natural phenomenon of a rainbow, a recurring motif throughout Eliasson’s practice.
‘In the hurly-burly of everyday existence, the generosity of the rainbow lies in its unexpected appearance. It is a small miracle when the position of the sun, adequate weather conditions, and your eyes – otherwise focused on your busy life – align to create a rainbow. This may allow you to pause to celebrate the fleeting moment of trajectories meeting up. It is like nature offering a surprise party, while allowing us the pleasure of being a co-host.’ – Olafur Eliasson
‘Your light spectrum and presence’, a solo exhibition by Olafur Eliasson, now on view at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Jeff White
Olafur Eliasson's latest solo exhibition ‘Navegación situada’, now on view at Galería Elvira González in Madrid.
Now open at Galería Elvira González in Madrid, Olafur Eliasson's solo exhibition 'Navegación situada' explores how we navigate today's complex world through a series of works that delve into our sense of presence and invite the viewer to contemplate unexpected and open terrain.
On view through 2 April, the exhibition features a series of watercolours, hanging compasses, a large projection work, and a wall-based work of glass and driftwood.
‘In “Navegación situada”, I hope to place our sense of place and of being present under loving scrutiny. Walter D. Mignolo, an Argentinian literary theorist and specialist on decolonial theory, rephrased the Cartesian “I think therefore I am as I am where I do and think.” This is such a radical shift from what I have been brought up on. Thinking, doing, and place are fundamentally entangled. Being conscious of where I am is the first step to knowing who I am and to addressing fundamental questions of existence. But knowledge can only ever partial. The feminist and biologist Donna Haraway, whose work I admire, talks about “situated knowledges”: knowledges – in the plural – that are embodied and arise through your entanglement with a particular site, in a particular culture, and at a particular time. This is something I’ve only recently begun to recognise properly although I’ve long worked with the idea that “vision”, for instance, is embodied and particular, and that our entire sensorium facilitates how we connect with our specific surroundings and what we experience as our surroundings.’ – Olafur Eliasson on his exhibition ‘Navegación situada’ at Galería Elvira González, Madrid
'Compass travellers (north)', 2022. Part of Olafur Eliasson's latest solo exhibition 'Navegación situada' at Galería Elvira González in Madrid, opening 20 January.
‘The round corner’, 2018. Photo: Jens Ziehe
'Your watercolour machine’, 2009
‘Your natural denudation inverted’, 1999. At the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, USA, a shallow pond was constructed around the trees in the courtyard. A plume of steam, channeled directly from the museum's heating system located in the adjacent building, was continuously emitted from the center of the pond.
‘Spatial orbit’, 2021. Photo: Jens Ziehe