He is one of the most prominent artists of our time, and yet it is problematic to define Olafur Eliasson Just like that, a dry artist. With interests and experiences ranging from phenomenology to politics, psychology, gastronomy and activism, this 53-year-old Danish, son of Icelandic parents, has spent his entire career denying the limitations of plastic arts. Eliasson tries to develop an expressive language in which nature and the complex capacity of perception of the human being define the message it conveys.
In a good mood and with a remarkable dialectical fluency, Eliasson presented yesterday at the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum a reasoned selection of its production. The exhibition will remain in the museum until June 21 and arrived from London. The acquis covers three decades and five continents, since many of his works are public interventions and architectural projects. Under the title of In real life, – in reference to the idea that art and everyday life never circulate on separate paths – the retrospective, organized together with the Tate Modern, reveals how this creator has been putting the magnifying glass on certain subjects to magnify them before his spectators, which add up millions.
The Bilbao tour covers 30 projects and occupies seven museum rooms, with sculptures, paintings, installations and photographs, such as a series of snapshots that document the melting of several Icelandic glaciers, extreme landscapes that Eliasson evokes again and again in his proposals , often dyed global warming concern. “The exhibition contains what I have done between the first and the last photograph, taken respectively in 1999 and 2019. Those years mark a kind of parenthesis that frames all my work,” said the creator, who yesterday celebrated the opportunity to exhibit his work in the iconic Frank Gehry building. “I have known him for 20 years and I feel blessed to have been able to send him a selfie from here with my work,” he joked.
Among the pieces shown – creations that rejoice in the organicity of geometric shapes and that invade all the spaces where they are installed through elements such as light or water in their different states – some of their most recognized could not be missing projects, like Waterfall (2019). This work, which Eliasson had already deployed in smaller size in the East River of New York or in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles, consists of an 11-meter-high scaffold now placed outside the museum from which jets sprout as if it will be a nature built by the hand of the human being. Another piece Lichen wall (1994), literally consists of a wall made of fungi, those living beings that act as artistic material, something that is usually inert but that comes to life in this piece. “This morning I talked with my partner that we are bacteria, atoms, cells … nature,” the author revealed. “She has told me that when atoms think about atoms, they move from nature to culture.”
In the more than 30 years of creative reflection, which has been carried out in collaboration with the many members of his Berlin studio, composed of dozens of architects, craftsmen and researchers, Eliasson’s career reached its turning point in 2003 with the installation Weather project, which he raised in the overwhelming void of the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern. There he modeled a huge orange sun covered with fog under which the public could walk, move or even lie on the ground to see its reflected shadow. That project marked a before and after in the way of approaching the works of art that still remains in the spirit of everything Eliasson does, and that actually goes back to the origins of his practice: the spectator’s involvement in the time to breathe life into the works by looking at them, touching them, crossing them, and thus giving them multiple meanings through the point of view. This is evident throughout the entire anthology of the Guggenheim, with works such as Room for one color (1997), whose yellow light makes everything look black and white
With a beard and gray clothing that contrast with the sun that passes through the clouds that loom over Bilbao, the multifaceted creator speaks slowly and carefully reviews the ideas in his head while savoring a coffee and spreads his explanations. “The author is partly the public, partly it is me and partly it is the museum,” he explained yesterday. “I think we have to decentralize not only the idea we have as an author, but also as an authority. In that sense, it is important to have a more feminist point of view, because patriarchy is strongly rooted. You know this very well here, in the country of Picasso, a man who was abusive to women, like a Harvey Weinstein of his time, but whose behavior was considered acceptable. ”
Is the art industry today, with its monstrous size fairs and traveling exhibitions around the world, sustainable? “The market is not the same as the art world,” he replies. In addition, he adds, it is not convenient to equate the great cultural institutions with the very idea of culture. “I do not doubt that art fairs are not sustainable, but culture is, because it is local, it is not consumerist and is based on inclusion and listening,” said the artist. He, despite so many influences, perspectives and means of work, feels “fortunate to be able to name me as such,” he explained. “When I was young I said that I worked in various fields,” he acknowledged. “Then over time, working with amazing specialists, I changed my mind.”