Olafur Eliasson Tate Retrospective – a student review

Third year student Susanna Davis reviews Olafur Eliasson’s current exhibition at the Tate

‘Not to be missed’ is a phrase so often used in relation to art exhibitions but in the case of artist Olafur Eliasson’s retrospective at the Tate, it is certainly true. ‘Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life’ engages even the most passive viewer; in each room there is a new experience for the senses. The Tate writes that during the exhibition, the visitor is in ‘temporary community’ with those around them – and I personally found this to be the case. The effect of Eliasson’s often frankly mind-blowing creations was surprise, comment and interaction with those around you. It was a very different atmosphere to the hushed rooms of more ‘conventional’ art exhibitions that I have been to. Eliasson believes that art can influence our behaviours and beliefs beyond the museum walls and that the impact of art can be to create a ‘new sense of responsibility’ in relation to our world and those around us.

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Visitors enjoy the interactive artwork, Your Uncertain Shadow (Colour), 2010

Danish-Icelandic Eliasson’s interest in the exploration of the senses was apparent in the artwork Din Blinde Passager. It was unlike anything I have come across in a gallery setting before. Visitors are led into a corridor filled with fog that gradually shifts in colour as you walk through it. It is only possible to see about a foot in front of you as the thick fog swirls around. The title of the artwork refers to the Danish expression for stowaways, which are known as ‘blind passengers’. This title seems especially poignant in light of the current refugee crisis and uncertainty regarding migration.

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An experience for the senses as visitors walk through the coloured fog in Din Blinde Passager, 2010

The exhibition included very little interpretation as Eliasson believes that through the visitors’ own experiences they can add to their understanding of the artworks. But there was clear reference to our world and the impact of climate change throughout the wide range of artworks. Even days later, I found myself thinking about the impact our society is having on the environment in a new way. His interest in nature, geometry and how we interact with our world have shaped the exhibition. His concern for the environment has led to much of his work being centred around the topics of climate change, sustainability and migration. Eliasson’s website states that, ‘Art, for him, is a crucial means for turning thinking into doing in the world.’

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Eliasson’s striking commentary on melting glaciers in The Glacier Series, 1999

The use of glacial ice has been a prominent feature in Eliasson’s work. Glacier Currents (Black, Green) is one of a series that was created by placing pieces of glacial ice from Greenland over pigment which, as the ice melts, disperses the paint and creates washes of colour. The artwork causes us to think about the ephemeral nature of the world we live in, just as the ice that was used to create the painted sphere melted and dispersed our world, so is constantly changing and impermanent. This series is a more subtle reference to climate change than some of the artist’s other works. 

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Indian ink is dispersed by a melting block of glacier ice in Glacier Currents (Black, Green) 2018

One of Eliasson’s most recent creations bears the same name as the exhibition: ‘In Real Life’. The sphere is made up of sections of aluminium connected with metal cables. Panes of coloured glass attached to these sections illuminate the walls as a lamp from the centre of the sphere casts a kaleidoscopic pattern onto the walls around. The geometric creation displays the features of the kaleidoscopes that Eliasson has been making for over ten years – that of shadow, light and energy. The artwork changes the viewer’s perception of space and provides different perspectives as the coloured shapes projected onto the walls distort the surface of the wall, creating a vibrant and fragmented setting.

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In Real Life, 2019, casts a kaleidoscope of colour onto the walls 

The exhibition included artworks never before seen in the UK. Eliasson and his workshop have created a huge variety of artistic output including painting, photographs, sculpture, installation and film. His artwork operates outside what many consider to be the conventional parameters of fine art and his interactive and thought-provoking pieces challenge visitors to consider what art is and what it can be. 

I would highly recommend visiting the Olafur Eliasson retrospective at the Tate Modern – it is a highly enjoyable exhibition that asks you to reconsider yourself, others and our world. 

It is on until 5th January – and if you are trying to convert an art sceptic, this is the one for them! If you are interested by Eliasson and want to discover more about his work his website is fab! https://www.olafureliasson.net

Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life’ is at Tate Modern until 5 January 2020
Price: £5 (for 16–25 year olds who are registered with Tate Collective)

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