Olafur Eliasson on Process, Audiences, and His Latest Exhibition

The acclaimed installation artist and sculptor discusses 'The parliament of possibilities,' a mid-career survey opening in South Korea.
October 2, 2016, 11:55am
Your unpredictable path, 2016. Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul 2016. Photo Hyunsoo Kim. Copyright Olafur Eliasson.

Take a journey into the “objectless” approach of Olafur Eliasson in The parliament of possibilities, the acclaimed Danish-Icelandic installation artist and sculptor's latest exhibition of new works and older favorites. At the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art in Seoul, the show follows his first-ever career survey in China, presenting Eliasson’s works in audience engagement and perception. Through public and museum-based pieces such as green river, your meseum primer, and Ice Watch—which, respectively, dyed rivers in various cities green, harnessed the light of museum spaces, and brought glacial ice blocks from Greenland to Paris and Copenhagen—the viewer completes the experience through Eliasson’s eyes.

The shape of disappearing time, 2016. Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul, 2016. Photo: Hyunsoo Kim. Copyright Olafur Eliasson.

But first comes a rigorous process of ideation from within the walls of Berlin-based Studio Olafur Eliasson. “Generally, I feel that my works begin from an abstract feeling or from an intuition. I try to embrace this abstraction, and do not try to force it prematurely into an idea,” Eliasson explains, writing to The Creators Project over email. “As it develops, I begin to formulate it in language, and then I create a sketch of it, which can be anything really—not just a drawing. Then together with my studio team, I create a model, and we try out different variations on the idea and begin to think practically about what needs to be done to realize it. I try to stay true to the original idea, but there is a certain space here for change and development in reaction to pragmatic considerations,” he continues. “After that, the idea has become the artwork and left my studio. At that moment, the artwork belongs as much to the viewer as it does to me.”

Your museum primer, 2014. Acrylic prism ring, color effect-filter glass ring (yellow), projector, HMI lamp, motor, wire. Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul 2016. Photo: Hyunsoo Kim. Copyright Olafur Eliasson.

The 22 works in The parliament of possibilities cover Eliasson’s work since the early 1990s, while also featuring some of his most recent works including Your unpredictable past and The shape of disappearing time. In 2014, Eliasson created Gravity stairs, a site-specific work for Leeum that created a solar system of neon lights in a museum stairwell with a ceiling mirror that doubled the space. The idea of coming back for a full exhibition only grew from there. The resulting mid-career survey allows highlights from Eliasson’s career to return for a victory lap, like Moss wall, Eliasson’s upright display of reindeer moss that shrinks and fades as it dries.

Moss wall, 1994. Reindeer moss, wood, wire. Leeum, Samsun Museum of Art, Seoul, 2016. Photo: Hyunsoo Kim. Copyright Olafur Eliasson.

“For me, Moss wall hints at the things which link my body with Iceland,” Eliasson says, reflecting upon the piece. “I particularly recall lying on a bed of moss looking up into the mid-summer twilight, feeling the moss’s ability to apparently elevate me and my attention. It is a feeling I am soon going to share with my children, as it frightens me that they have more contact with their iPad than with themselves.”

Detachment is a fitting worry for Eliasson to have, seeing as his career has built itself on new pathways to social interaction and tactile experience. Pieces such as The Weather Project, installed at London’s Tate Modern, brought nearly two million visitors in to bathe in its misty yellow glow; meanwhile, his 1998 work Reversed Waterfall (on view at the Leeum) played with the properties of water while keeping its appearance and soundscape.

Reversed waterfall, 1998. Scaffolding, steel, water, wood, foil, pump, hose. 312 x 278 x 160 cm. Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul, 2016. Photo; Hyunsoo Kim. Copyright Olafur Eliasson.

As Eliasson explains, the ideas that have come to fruition are just a small fragment of the picture, disregarding the hundreds of less worthy concepts that fell by the wayside. The Leeum exhibition promises a peek into Eliasson’s process of developing and sorting through these ideas, but Eliasson is quick to point out the imprecise nature of creating his work.

“A breakthrough is never a single point on a line, but rather the process of the line itself, a point on a path rather than the actual path itself,” he said. “Looking for the breakthrough always pushes the goal further in front of me, leaving me never fully satisfied, whereas the breakthroughs I’ve had were often related to the path itself. Breakthroughs, in fact, are more similar to a web of paths rather than a point in life.”

  1. Silvered colored glass (yellow), aluminum. 158 x 532 x 2cm. Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul, 2016. Photo: Hyunsoo Kim. Courtesy of the artist; Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York. Copyright Olafur Eliasson.

The parliament of possibilities runs through February 2017 at the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art.

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