‘Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life’
“No one who saw it has ever forgotten it: a fat yellow sun hanging inside the colossal Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern gallery, glowing through clouds of swirling mist,” writes Ingrid Rowland. “Olafur Eliasson’s The weather project, which opened in October 2003, was a magical microclimate created at a moment when weather was on everyone’s mind: a hellishly overheated summer—an early harbinger of the ominous climatic changes to come—had begun at last to release its grip on Europe. If the air outdoors brought a welcome touch of autumn chill, the huge luminous circle of Eliasson’s indoor universe shimmered miragelike above a ruddy haze, making high noon on the south bank of the Thames feel almost like sunset on the veldt. The great sun’s monotone yellow stripped away the other colors, turning everyone and everything into tiny sepia silhouettes. People responded to their transformation in the most extraordinary ways: they lay down flat, flapping their arms and legs as if they could make snow angels on the Tate’s concrete floor, talking to strangers in the mist. No one was tethered yet to a little handheld screen; we were all in The weather project together, fellow participants in a miracle.
Anyone who looked carefully at the mechanics of Eliasson’s installation could see that it was all an illusion. The circular sun was really a semicircular screen, lit from behind by two hundred monofrequency lamps (the kind used for streetlights), reflected in a mirrored ceiling that completed its round outline and seemingly stretched the already grand dimensions of the Turbine Hall to dizzying heights. An upside-down airborne public mimicked the movements of the public below, with an effect as disconcerting as a funhouse, but carried out with simple elegance and on a magnificent scale. Knowing how The weather project worked did nothing to break its enchantment; the whole remained immeasurably, and unpredictably, greater than the sum of its parts. The Turbine Hall has never been as happy as it was in those five months from October 2003 to March 2004.”
“He also grew up in a world of intense physical activity. At home in Copenhagen, he fell in love as a teenager with American-style street dancing and pursued it with characteristic intensity; his troupe, Harlem Gun Crew, won the Scandinavian breakdancing championship in 1984. Dance, he recalls in Experience, refined his sense of how his body moved through space and showed him how profoundly his awareness of his own placement in the world affected his other perceptions. A recent YouTube video records Eliasson dancing in baggy jeans on the roof of his studio, surrounded by the young people who work with him every day. In middle age, he moves carefully and economically, while they fling themselves into the crazy postures he took in his youth. Like the elderly Greek men who dance their zeibekiko with the ferocious concentration it takes to battle pain, he has reached the point where athleticism must give way to the pursuit of grace: no more stratospheric leaps and gripping tables in your teeth, just an ocean of feeling conveyed in small, deliberate movements.
After his triumph with Harlem Gun Crew, Eliasson entered the Royal Danish Academy of the Fine Arts in 1989. On graduating in 1995, he set up a studio in Berlin, the city where he continues to live and work, in a setting that still affords “plenty of space for imagination.” This summer, sixteen years after he transformed the Turbine Hall, Eliasson has returned to Tate Modern with a retrospective exhibition, “In Real Life,” that ranges from his student days to special installations tailored to the occasion. Rather than the epic immensity of The weather project, the effect of this anthology of an inspired career is almost intimate.”
For more information, visit tate.org.uk.