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The Experimental Art of Olafur Eliasson

When interviewed, Eliasson emphasized the role experimentation plays in developing a complicated concept like the weather project – or even in deciding which concepts are worth pursuing. This period of experimentation that Eliasson often refers to as the space between the idea and the final product, he says, helps him both understand, philosophically, why he is so interested in a concept, as well as identifying an effective way of communicating it.

Materials based research is an essential part of Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson’s approach to exploring new ideas.

Eliasson’s work often takes the form of large scale installations that combine technology and natural elements, such as his Weather Project installation, which used reflected light and artificially produced fog to create the illusion of a large sun setting inside the Tate Modern, London, England.

Experimentation in Art

When interviewed, Eliasson emphasized the role experimentation plays in developing a complicated concept like the weather project – or even in deciding which concepts are worth pursuing. This period of experimentation that Eliasson often refers to as the space between the idea and the final product, he says, helps him both understand, philosophically, why he is so interested in a concept, as well as identifying an effective way of communicating it.

The Weather Project by Olafur Eliasson, 2003

Olafur Eliasson – weather project by Michael Reeve is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Though the Weather Project is one of a number of installations that Eliasson has created replicating or commenting on natural phenomena, he’s noted since that the final piece was very much inspired by the presence of people in the large physical space of the Tate’s massive Turbine Hall.

Multi-Disciplinary Experimentation

Working with models of the space, and looking at possible light sources, Eliasson was drawn to fog for its ability to transmit color, but also its ability to physically fill the emptiness of the space without impeding the viewer from moving through it. Even the sun itself wasn’t a foregone conclusion when Eliasson and his collaborators started working out the project at Studio Olafur Eliasson – a working space in Berlin that the artist describes as more of a laboratory than a traditional art studio, and employs a team of nearly a hundred specialists with backgrounds in science, engineering, design, and even philosophy.

In an interview with the Guardian, Sebastian Behmann, head of design at the studio, noted that they experimented with all sorts of weather, settling on a sun for its power as a singular focal point in such a large, open space.

A collection of models created at Studio Olafur Eliasson, collected for Eliasson’s 2019 Tate Modern retrospective: Olafur Eliasson: In real life

In 2019, Eliasson was featured again at the Tate, this time for the retrospective Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life. Part of the exhibition featured a collection of figures, made mostly from wire and paper, that could pass as some sort of abstract sculpture, but was actually a collection of models used for different projects at Studio Olafur Eliasson over the years. Eliasson and his team built these models often to understand the physicality and potential scale of a proposed project, as well as the interaction these forms would have with projected light, a frequent feature of his work.

Experimentation and Discovery

In a video interview, the artist reluctantly introduces the idea that together, these models might serve as a sort-of “self portrait,” or at least a window inside his mind. Whether that’s the case or not, they most certainly provide an excellent window into an artistic process driven by experimentation and discovery.

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