Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson

With dual shows at MoMA and PS1, Icelandic artist Eliasson continues his work on awareness and perception, creating installations that play on viewers' senses. He uses water, light, mirrors and glass boxes in “Take Your Time” to a masterful effect.

In Uncategorized by Heather Christensen 2008-12-06 print

Out in the park, a storm is brewing. The sun emerges from behind a cloud. Natural environments such as these become art installations when viewing Olafur Eliasson's The natural light setup at PS1. The piece is a diffused light system installed at ceiling level which randomly changes the light and color levels inside the gallery. This installation and others in “Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson” reveal how the artist is able to completely isolate the individual within his or her experience of observation. The viewer is absorbed into the how, what and why in his or her mind. I find this isolation to be a gift from the artist to the viewer, allowing one to meditate on the process of perceiving one's surroundings–a practice of observation and contemplation.

Olafur Eliasson
Room for one colour
1997
Monofrequency lights
Dimensions variable
Installation view at MoMA, 2008
Photograph by Matthew Septimus. Courtesy of MoMA and P.S.1.
© 2008 Olafur Eliasson

With dual shows at MoMA and PS1, Icelandic artist Eliasson continues his work on awareness and perception, creating installations that play on viewers' senses. He uses water, light, mirrors and glass boxes in “Take Your Time” to a masterful effect. One example, Room for one colour is fantastic. By lighting a gallery and landing area at MoMA with monofrequency lights that cast a yellow tone, Eliasson creates a romantic world in which viewers see only black and white. Your friend's skin tone will change to Ingrid Bergman's in Casablanca. People in the room actively look around, noticing the textures, shadows and gradients of the world in this new light. Everything that has always been is now different.The overriding theme of the show is disruption and disorientation of the senses as a process to a new perception, message or thought.

The MoMA atrium has been partnered perfectly with a fan (simple hardware variety) that zooms around above head level. Propelled by its own force, the fan traces a sporadic path around the rectangular area. Less strong are the objects displayed in small side galleries at PS1 which intend to show the inner workings of Eliasson’s mind. Display shelving that could resemble a working studio seems shabby and none of the objects included seem relevant to the large scale pieces in the exhibition. Emerging from these small galleries and returning to the beautifully installed main exhibition space it is easy to feel the relief of closing a door of access that you should not have opened.

Olafur Eliasson
Ventilator
1997
Altered fan, wire, and cable
Dimensions variable
Collections of Peter Norton and Eileen Harris Norton, Santa Monica, California
Installation view at MoMA, 2008
Photograph by Matthew Septimus. Courtesy of MoMA and P.S.1.
© 2008 Olafur Eliasson

Overall, Eliasson's work seems to assert that contemporary art is more than activating rods and cones in the brain. Art has progressed to affect the the entire body of the viewer. To quote moma.org, his “immersive environments, sculptures, and photographs elegantly recreate the extremes of landscape and atmosphere in his native Scandinavia, while foregrounding the sensory experience of the work itself”. Eliasson is altering the status quo. In 2004 Eliasson replicated the sun in The Weather Project, the annual Unilever Series of commissions at Tate Modern. The installation in the Turbine Hall was phenomenal to see in person – it is merely a natural event as a piece of art.

Eliasson is the first artist I have viewed who links a visceral response to a displayed object or installation. Many will see parallels between the exhibitions “Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson” and “Spencer Finch: What Time Is It on the Sun?” at Mass MoCA earlier this year, and both spring a debate on the future of contemporary art. Hiroshi Sugimoto is also successful at visceral responses by capturing one of the most beautiful seascapes. Yet I am moved more by Elliasson's brilliant concepts and talents to achieve pure instinctive reactions to art.

For further reading, see Taschen’s 2008 publication: Studio Olafur Eliasson. An Encyclopedia, ISBN: 978-3-8228-4426-7.

Heather Christensen

Heather Christensen. Born in Kenya and raised in California, Heather received a BA in Literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Based in New York for the last fabulous five years, she has traded in her surfboard for a blackberry and heels, and evolved into an independent curator and freelance writer by night and a museum professional by day. She enjoys studio visits, discovering new fonts and chocolate chip cookies. » See other writings

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