Olafur Eliasson, The weather project, 2003. Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, London
Olafur Eliasson is a Danish-Icelandic artist, born in Copenhagen in 1967. He is known for sculptures and large-scale installation art employing elemental materials such as light, water and air temperature to enhance the viewer’s experience.
Eliasson studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts between 1989 and 1995. In 1996, the artist started working with Einar Thorsteinn, an architect and geometry expert 25 years his senior, and Thorsteinn’s knowledge of geometry and space has been integrated into Eliason’s artistic production, often seen in his geometric lamp works as well as his pavilions, tunnels and camera obscura projects.
Olafur Eliasson, 360° room for all colours, 2002. Installation view at Musée d’art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Private collection, courtesy Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York ©Olafur Eliasson
For many projects, the artist works collaboratively with specialists in various fields, among them the architects Thorsteinn and Sebastian Behmann, author Svend Age Madsen and architecture theorist Cedric Price. As professor at Universität der Künste Berlin, Olafur Eliasson founded the Institute for Spatial Experiments, which opened within his studio building in April 2009. Today, Studio Olafur Eliasson is a laboratory for spatial research that employs a team of c. 30 architects, engineers, craftsmen and assistants who work together to conceptualize, test, engineer, and construct installations, sculptures, large-scale projects and commissions.
Olafur Eliasson, Din blinde passage, 2010. Installation view at ARKEN Museum for Moderne Kunst. Photo ©studio Olafur Eliasson
Eliasson represented Denmark at the 50th Venice Biennale, in 2003, with the project “The blind pavilion”. A temporary pavilion was constructed on the grounds of the monastery to house the exhibit, consisting of a square room painted black with one source of illumination- a thin, continuous line of light set into all four walls of the room at the viewers eye-level, serving as a horizontal division between above and below.
“The weather project” was installed at the London’s Tate Modern in 2003 as part of the popular “Unilever series”. Eliasson used humidifiers to create a fine mist in the air via a mixture of sugar and water, as well as a semi-circular disc made up of hundreds of monochromatic lamps which radiated single frequency yellow light. The ceiling of the hall was covered with a huge mirrors, in which visitors could see themselves as tiny black shadows against a mass of orange light.
Olafur Eliasson (and Kjetil Thorsen), Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, 2007
Eliasson has been developing various experiments with atmospheric density in exhibition spaces. “360 degrees room for all colours” (2002) is a round light-sculpture where participants loose their sense of space and perspective, and experience being subsumed by an intense light. Eliasson’s later installation “Din blinde passager” (2010), commissioned by the Arken Museum of Modern Art, is a 90-metre-long tunnel. Entering the tunnel, the visitor is surrounded by dense fog. With visibility at just 1.5 metres, protagonists have to use senses other than sight to orient themselves in relation to their surroundings. Eliasson has also engaged in a number of projects in public spaces, including the intervention “Green river”, carried out in various cities between 1998 and 2001, the “Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2007”, London, (in collaboration with Kjetil Thorsen), and the “New York City Waterfalls”, commissioned by Public Art Fund in 2008.
Olafur Eliasson, New York City Waterfalls, 2008. Photo: Barry Yanowitz, Courtesy Public Art Found
Eliasson had his first solo show with Nicolaus Schafhausen in Cologne in 1993, before moving to Berlin in 1994. In 1996, Eliasson had his first show in the United States at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art organized Eliasson’s first major survey in the United States “Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson”. Following its San Francisco debut, the exhibit embarked on an international tour to the Museum of Modern Art, and P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York (2008), the Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas (2008-09), the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2009), and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sidney (2009-2010). He has also had major solo exhibitions at, among others, Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris (2002), Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (2006), and Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin (2010). Eliasson has also appeared in numerous group exhibitions, including the São Paulo Biennial and the Istanbul Biennal, Venice Biennale and the Carnegie International.