Berliner Treibholz, 2009 - Berlin, 2010 - Photo: Studio Olafur Eliasson

In 2008, Olafur harvested about fifty large tree trunks from the northern coast of Iceland. The wood, not native to that country, where less than one percent of the land is covered in forest, belonged to a mass of timber that washes up on Iceland’s shores from Siberia, carried by drifting polar ice and bleached by the sun and saltwater during its long transit.⁠

After shipping the trunks to Berlin, Olafur then curated an urban intervention with the driftwood, inserting the massive logs into the cityscape overnight, leaving them in unexpected locations, on main plazas and small side streets alike. The trunks were placed in roundabouts, parking areas, and other in-between spaces as if they had simply drifted into the city and become entangled in its grid. This intervention, titled 'Berliner Treibholz' (Berlin driftwood; 2009), used the timber to generate small frictional dialogues, offering momentary thresholds of subtle resistance to our often pragmatic and automated relations with our surroundings.⁠

The driftwood represents a story of migration and a narrative of natural forces. These nomads hover on the border between natural and artificial, between the normal and the unexpected, just as they float on the border of the sea and the Icelandic shore.⁠

Images: 'Berliner Treibholz', 2009. Berlin, 2010. 

Your double-lighthouse projection, 2002 - Tate Modern, London, 2004 – 2002 - Photo: Tate Photography (Andrew Dunkley & Marcus Leith)

'Your double-lighthouse projection' deals with the concept of ‘completing’ a work in the eye of the beholder. ⁠

‘Faced with two circular rooms of different sizes, viewers are initially invited to enter the larger space incorporating hundreds of red, blue and green fluorescent tubes encased behind a seamless translucent wall. The colour of the illuminated enclosure, flooding the perceptual field, gradually changes through a random spectrum, from pink to blue to orange and so on. At each point, the retinal after-image mixes the colours perceived before the eye, until it becomes impossible to differentiate between the two. The adjacent room, lit simply with white light, provides viewers with the opportunity to refresh their visual faculties. Always in a state of flux, the work constantly communicates new experience and meaning.’⁠ - Susan May, Tate Modern curator, ‘Meteorologica’, from 'Olafur Eliasson: The Weather Project‘, 2003. 

Image: 'Your double-lighthouse projection,' 2002⁠. Tate Modern, London, 2004 – 2002, Tate Photography (Andrew Dunkley & Marcus Leith).

The spiralling presence of the not-too-distant future, 2023 - Photo: Jens Ziehe

Starting in 2018 Olafur began producing artworks inspired by the phenomenon of the lens flare – the rings and circles of light that appear in a lens when it is pointed towards the sun or another bright light source. Resulting from the physics of the lens, flares are generally considered errors to be avoided in photography and film. Olafur, however, transforms these undesired flares into a central element to be explored in all its aesthetic possibilities. Originating in his long interest in light and refraction, this body of works includes projections as well as dynamic glass wall compositions like this one. Colourful panes of silvered, handblown glass are arranged according to the geometrical arrangements that result from the flare. The ripples, bubbles, and small irregularities in the hand-blown panes of glass reflect the craftsmanship that has gone into the artwork’s production and lend the shapes a fluid organic quality. The vibrant composition of overlapping circles and ellipses stretches out in front of a grey background that presents a spiralling vortex flattened into two dimensions.⁠

Image: 'The spiralling presence of the not-too-distant future', 2023 (photo: Jens Ziehe).
        

Now, here, nowhere, 2023 - Studio Olafur Eliasson, Berlin – 2023 - Photo: Jens Ziehe

The Flesh of the Earth,’ a multidisciplinary exhibition curated by Nigerian-American writer and critic Enuma Okoro opened recently at Hauser and Wirth, New York. ⁠

The exhibition, in the words of Okoro, ‘encourages us all to consider ways of decentering ourselves from the prevalent anthropocentric narrative, to reimagine a more intimate relationship with the earth and to renew our connection with the life-force energy that surges through all of creation, both human and more-than-human. Our human bodies—one of a diversity of created bodies of the natural world—are the primary language with which we dialogue with the earth. By acknowledging that these varied bodies are always in relationship we reawaken our awareness of the quality of those relationships, considering where we may falter or harm, and also deepen our appreciation and recognition of our interdependence with the more-than-human world.’ ⁠

Olafur's work ‘Now, here, nowhere’ forms part of the exhibition.⁠

Image: 'Now, here, nowhere' 2023, Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York and Los Angeles

Din blinde passager, 2010 - Tate Modern, London – 2019 - Photo: Anders Sune Berg

‘The playfulness that gives meaning to our activity includes uncertainty, but in this case the uncertainty is an openness to surprise. This is a particular metaphysical attitude that does not expect the world to be neatly packaged, ruly. Rules may fail to explain what we are doing. We are not self-important, we are not fixed in particular constructions of ourselves, which is part of saying that we are open to self-construction. We may not have rules, and when we do have rules, there are no rules that are to us sacred. We are not worried about competence. We are not wedded to a particular way of doing things. While playful we have not abandoned ourselves to, nor are we stuck in, any particular "world". We are there creatively. We are not passive. Playfulness is, in part, an openness to being a fool, which is a combination of not worrying about competence, not being self-important, not taking norms as sacred and finding ambiguity and double edges a source of wisdom and delight.’ - Maria Lugones, 'Playfulness, "World"-Travelling, and Loving Perception', 1987. ⁠

Images: ‘Din blinde passager’, 2010. Tate Modern, London, 2019. Photo: Anders Sune Berg.⁠

In real life, 2019 - Tate Modern, London – 2019 - Photo: Anders Sune Berg

At the Interacting Minds Centre at Aarhus University, we run a series of experiments examining the idea of trust… Our assumption was that trust is something that can easily be eroded but is difficult to build up. We, therefore, conducted an experiment where people alternated between playing with computer agents, or bots, that were either quite willing to share or really unwilling to share, and with other people who had had similar experiences. This allowed us to create particular environments of high and low trust. Our assumption was that if one starts out in a scenario of high trust, one may be able to remain in that state. However, if one were so unlucky as to begin in an experiment under conditions of low trust, it would be very difficult to build it subsequently. In fact, this was not at all what we found. People appeared to be enormously responsive to the environment they were in, here and now. When they were playing with ‘trusting bots’, they would also display a high degree of trust. And if the bots showed a low degree of trust, then the participants also displayed a low degree of trust. Furthermore, when they interacted with other people, participants were actually rather unaffected by what had gone on in the previous round. Thus, the picture that emerged was that people seem very sensitive to the specific environment and rules of interaction that were applicable at a given time. This is potentially a very positive story – if it holds – because it appears that trust may breed trust, just as distrust breeds distrust.’ - Olafur interviewing Andreas Roepstorff, a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Aarhus, Denmark, for the catalogue of the exhibition ‘In Real life’, Tate Modern, 2019. ⁠

Image: ‘In real life’, 2019. Tate Modern, London, 2019. Photo: Anders Sune Berg.

Your trust, 2014 - Photo: Jens Ziehe, 2014

In 'Your trust', 2014, six panes of hand-blown, coloured glass have been arranged at eye-level inside an open metal box, one behind the other, to create an array of overlapping ellipses. Each pane has been tinted a single tone of green, blue, violet, red, orange, or yellow, and a different elliptical section, ranging from a thin oval to a full circle, has been cut out to create a dynamic progression of colour and geometry. The layering of the panes produces myriad tints that shift and emerge as the viewer moves about the work.⁠

The elliptical cut-outs allow only highly restricted views of the sheets of glass within. Each pane is visible only through the filtering effect of the others, leaving the viewer uncertain about the actual colouration of the glass sheets (photo: Jens Ziehe).

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‘Entering a museum is a way of stepping closer to society, to the realities that we live in. In a museum, you are able to see things in higher resolution. You become more focused, aware. Your senses become more alert; your body attuned; your mind open. What you encounter are most often artefacts or works of art. In my artistic practice I try to hand over the authority of deciding what is important in these encounters to the visitors. My artworks strive to embody transformation rather than stability and being.’ — Olafur's statement on ‘The curious desert’ at The National Museum of Qatar in 2023.⁠

Video: ‘OLAFUR ELIASSON, الصحراء تعانق الخيال, THE CURIOUS DESERT, 2023’, Tigerlily Productions for Studio Olafur Eliasson and Qatar Museums. Directed by Lana Daher; Produced by Natasha Dack Ojumu.

Riverbed, 2014

Riverbed’ fills the white space of the museum with a grey, rocky landscape through which a narrow stream meanders. The landscape, comprising stones of various size and shape and in a range of grey tones, slopes up gently from where visitors enter and the stream disappears. Visitors are free to choose their own path as they move up towards the source of the stream, where the water bubbles up mysteriously through the stones. The contrast between these entirely new pathways and the routes suggested by the museum’s architecture challenges visitors’ expectations and invites them to find innovative ways of navigating the space.⁠

Video: Documentation of ‘Riverbed’, 2014; previously installed LouisianaMuseum of Modern Art, Denmark, 2014.

Your watercolour machine, 2009

Olafur Eliasson investigates how bodily and sensuous experiences lead to insights. Throughout his artistic production he has been concerned with how the physical world, nature’s fundamental elements, and basic phenomena such as light, darkness, and reflections can result in cognitive experience.

In the installation Your watercolour machine a floodlight projector directs its beams onto a prism, causing the light to be dispersed into separate colours which are then reflected in mirrors and the water surface of a pool and then, finally, projected onto a vertical screen, or canvas, where the field of colours meets us as a picture. A motor tilts the pool at regular intervals, disturbing the surface of the water, which in turn distorts the colours on the canvas, causing corresponding wavy movements.

In Eliasson’s work, the aesthetic experience arises as a response to a range of very concrete elements. The image on the classic, two-dimensional canvas arises out of basic physical phenomena, in the space occupied by the spectator. Eliasson’s installations create situations in which such new relationships between the work of art and the spectator can emerge.

video: Documentation of 'Your watercolour machine', 2009.

More-than-human views of Life, at Fondation Beyeler

It is well known that nonhuman species perceive the world very differently than we humans do – through different sensoria, different embodiments, different ecological priorities. This understanding offers the chance to playfully imagine ‘what it is like’ to perceive the world as a nonhuman.⁠

This collection of films is an attempt to fictionally inhabit an imagined nonhuman perspective of Olafur’s exhibition ‘Life’, held at the Fondation Beyeler in Riehen, Switzerland, in 2021. The movement of the camera is inspired by the way an amphibian may inhabit the exhibition, or how a bee may circle spaces as they navigate them. While we can never claim to truly know – let alone experience – what it is like to exist in the world as an other, we can still test the limits of our imagination through experiments and form, and in so doing perhaps even grow our capacity for interspecies compassion.⁠

Video: 'More-than-human views of Life’, 2021 (film: Aviatics GmbH; music: Patricia Bondesson Kavanaugh).⁠

Firefly biosphere (falling magma star), 2023 - 'Olafur Eliasson: A harmonious cycle of interconnected nows', Azabudai Hills Gallery, Tokyo - Photo: Shimei Nakatogawa

'Olafur Eliasson: A harmonious cycle of interconnected nows' explores the ideas central to Olafur’s new public artwork, 'A harmonious cycle of interconnected nows', 2023. From the large light-and-water installation 'Your split second house',2010 to 'Firefly biosphere (falling magma star)', 2023, a geometric sculpture containing intricately refracted light, to new drawings powered by sunlight, wind, and other phenomena of nature, 'A harmonious cycle of interconnected nows' presents a selection of works that appeal to the senses and are supported by research into natural phenomena, geometry, physics, movement and patterns.⁠

Images: 'Firefly biosphere (falling magma star), 2023;  currently showing as part of 'Olafur Eliasson: A harmonious cycle of interconnected nows' at Azabudai Hills Gallery, Tokyo; Opens to the public until 31 March 2024 (photo: Shimei Nakatogawa).

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On view from today, 'Olafur Eliasson: A harmonious cycle of interconnected nows' opens to the public at Azabudai Hills Gallery, Tokyo, until 31 March 2024.

Part of the exhibition includes 'Your split second house', which uses strobe lights to illuminate the moving trajectories of water droplets as they fall through a dark space with a ceiling height of 5 meters and a length of over 20 meters, is the recreation of a work originally exhibited in 2010 for this exhibition. This abstract act of drawing with water and light elicits an understanding of the beauty inherent in Olafur’s long-standing interest in geometry.⁠

Video: 'Your split second house', 2010; currently on view Azabudai Hills Gallery, as part of 'Olafur Eliasson: A harmonious cycle of interconnected nows'.

How to turn a sphere

'Spherical space', 2015 contains two stainless steel frames, arranged one inside the other and connected at frequent, regular intervals, trace the geodesic lines of a latticework sphere. Affixed to the small connecting spans between the two frames are innumerable triangles of aluminium, hand-blown yellow glass, and colour-effect filter glass. A single bulb at the core of the sphere projects the dynamic pattern of shadows created by the triangles and framework onto the surrounding space.⁠

Drawing inspiration from the mesmerising relationship between internal motion and external shape exhibited by schooling fish, the static surface of the work appears to be a flurry of movement. The geodesic lines of the sphere naturally draw the eye upwards in a whirlwind of tints and shapes, and even the slightest movement by the viewer alters the perceived alignment of spirals and triangles, creating the illusion of constant change. The viewer recognises her movements through the room in the motion she perceives in and on the sphere.⁠

Video: 'How to turn a sphere'; The SOE team moves ‘Spherical space’, 2015, into position in the SOE studio.

Umschreibung, 2004 - KPMG Deutsche Treuhand-Gesellschaft, Munich, 2004 - Photo: Studio Olafur Eliasson

Permanently installed in the atrium of an office building in Munich, two spiral staircases interlock with each other, creating a continuous loop in the form of a double helix. To plan the work, a double helix was projected onto the surface of a sphere. The heights of the steps vary slightly to compensate for the curvature of the staircases, growing shallower at the poles. Precise engineering was necessary to enable the structure to balance on one point. The continuous loop of 'Umschreibung' contrasts starkly with the office courtyard in Munich, where it is installed. 'Umschreibung' – which can be translated as ‘circumscription’ or ‘periphrasis’ – proposes a movement without a destination, a space defined by motion rather than walls.⁠

Images: 'Umschreibung', 2004; permanently installed at KPMG Deutsche Treuhand-Gesellschaft, Munich (photo: Thilo Frank).⁠

Power tower, 2005 - National Museum of Qatar, Doha – 2023 - Photo: Anders Sune Berg

A four-metre-tall column of disparate geometric forms, 'Power tower' was constructed as a stainless-steel framework, incorporating triangular panels of plywood and handblown, coloured glass in an intuitive, yet symmetric, manner. Light bulbs mounted at intervals along the length of the column illuminate it from within, casting variegated, angular shadows around the surrounding space. The geometric forms that make up the work were arrived at intuitively through playing with a children’s toy, known as Zometools, a construction set that consists of struts and nodes that allow great flexibility in creating geometric forms.⁠

While the panels of plywood indicate the faces of the polyhedrons, the panes of coloured glass are embedded within the structure, sketching out a multicoloured core. The tones progress from purple at the floor through the major colours of the visible spectrum – red, orange, yellow, green, cyan, and blue at the apex.⁠

Image: 'Power tower', 2005/2023; previously shown in 'The curious desert', in National Museum of Qatar, Doha, Qatar, 2023 (photo: Anders Sune Berg).⁠

The weather project, 2003 - Tate Modern, London – 2003 - Photo: Tate Photography (Andrew Dunkley & Marcus Leith)

20 years ago, Olafur created 'The weather project' for the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern. This site-specific installation employed a semi-circular screen, a ceiling of mirrors, and artificial mist to create the illusion of a sun. Aluminium frames lined with mirror foil were suspended from the ceiling to create a giant mirror that visually doubled the volume of the hall – along with the semi-circular screen mounted on the far wall, its long edge abutting the mirror ceiling. Backlit by approximately 200 mono-frequency lights, the semi-circle and its reflection created the image of a massive, indoor sunset seen through the artificial mist emitted into the room. By walking to the far end of the hall, visitors could see how the sun was constructed, and the reverse of the mirror structure was visible from the top floor of the museum (photo: Tate Photography (Andrew Dunkley & Marcus Leith)).

Die organische und kristalline Beschreibung, 1996

A powerful HMI projector stands on the floor of a room in front of a wave effect machine. The wave effect machine is equipped with one yellow and one blue colour filter. The projector throws light onto a convex mirror, which reflects the coloured light across the entire space. The light is refracted, so that it resembles reflections on water. The light reflections move slowly up and down, affecting the viewers’ sense of balance.⁠

Documentation of ‘Die organische und kristalline Beschreibung’, 1996; previously shown at Neue Galerie Graz, Austria in 1996.

Riverbed, 2014

'Riverbed', 2014, fills the white space of the museum with a grey, rocky landscape through which a narrow stream meanders. The landscape, comprising stones of various size and shape and in a range of grey tones, slopes up gently from where visitors enter, and the stream disappears. Visitors are free to choose their own path as they move up towards the source of the stream, where the water bubbles up mysteriously through the stones. The contrast between these entirely new pathways and the routes suggested by the museum’s architecture challenges visitors’ expectations and invites them to find innovative ways of navigating the space.

The glacier melt series 1999/2019, Behind the scenes

Behind the scenes with Olafur as he re-photographs the Icelandic glaciers that he first photographed twenty years ago, in 1999, for the making of 'The glacier melt series 1999/2019', 2019. ⁠

 

Your collective decision

Documentation of 'Your collective decision', 2017

Hand dance

'The moving museum', 2009, shows two pairs of hands draw spaces against a black backdrop. Filmed with finger-tutting experts, 'The moving museum' constructs a flexible building that is in constant motion. Evoking the coordinates of three-dimensional space, the videos run simultaneously on three screens, two of which are positioned at a right angle to one another on a purpose-built table, while the third is embedded directly in the tabletop.⁠

Anti-gravity dance

Sketching out ideas isn’t limited to pencil and paper. In 'Anti-gravity dance', Olafur Eliasson finds freedom from gravitational habits with the help of a large stone.

Installation view of Your circadian embrace - EPFL Pavillons, Lausanne, Switzerland – 2023 - Photo: Julien Gremaud

'To track the sun is to track yourself, because the sun tracker locates the centre of your orbital ellipse, giving your position right now and rendering visible your path. The reflexive potential lies in understanding that we are not the centre of the universe, but are in a way the mirrors, circulating, tracking, spinning in concert with others.' - Olafur Eliasson on 'Your circadian embrace', 2023; previously installed at 'Lighten Up! On Biology and Time' in EPFL Pavilions, Lausanne (photo: Julien Gremaud).

Tree of Codes, 2015 by Wayne McGregor, Olafur Eliasson and Jamie xx with dancers from Company Wayne McGregor and Paris Opera Ballet - Opera House, Manchester, 2015 - Photo: Joel Chester Fildes

Olafur developed the visual concept for the contemporary ballet 'Tree of Codes', 2015, choreographed by Studio Wayne McGregor and with music composed by Jamie xx.⁠

The stage design uses intricate sets of reflective, transparent, and refractive surfaces and coloured light to create a dynamic, ever-evolving, and complexly layered space in which the dancers are multiplied and overlap. Lights panning over the audience cause its spectral image to appear on the stage's reflective, coloured scrims, integrating the viewers with the activity on the stage. Triggered by Jonathan Safran Foer’s 'Tree of Codes' (an artwork in the form of a book, which was in turn inspired by Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz), this new, evening-length work features a company of soloists from the Paris Opera Ballet and dancers from Wayne McGregor Random Dance (Photo: Joel Chester Fildes; Opera House, Manchester, 2015).