‘Everyone Has Their Own Experience With Natural Phenomena’: Watch Olafur Eliasson Bring the Outside World Into an Art Gallery

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the Art21 film,
Production still from the Art21 film, "Olafur Eliasson: Become Your Own Navigator." © Art21, Inc. 2019.

If you’ve walked into a cavernous museum space over the last twenty-odd years and found yourself enveloped by colors reflecting off surfaces and practically humming with intensity, odds are it was an installation by the Dutch-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson.

In 2003, he transformed Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall with a truly immersive installation, using mono-frequency lamps and mist to make the museum into a surreal environment. Now, the artist is back at Tate Modern with the mid-career survey, “Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life,” providing an artistic response to the global climate crisis.

Back in 2017, ahead of his solo exhibition at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Eliasson spoke exclusively to Art21 about what he hoped viewers would take away from his installations.

Everyone sees something different because the artwork hosts whatever subjective matter you bring,” he says in the episode, titled “Become Your Own Navigator.”

As a young artist, he discovered the Light and Space Movement through the works of James Turrell and Robert Irwin, who gave viewers more agency in the experience of viewing art. Eliasson felt a kinship with this approach, especially after he accompanied his father, a painter, into the mountains of Iceland, where he drew his own conclusions about the environment and what it meant to him.

Production still from the Art21 "Extended Play]" film, "Olafur Eliasson: Become Your Own Navigator." © Art21, Inc. 2019.

Production still from the Art21 “Extended Play” film, “Olafur Eliasson: Become Your Own Navigator.” © Art21, Inc. 2019.

In the Art21 video, he is preparing for a show in which viewers are able to see the mechanics of his light works, putting them in control. “The abstraction allows for you to find out for yourself,” he says.

“It encourages you to be your own navigator,” he adds, cutting against the perception that art is reserved for the elite.

“Everyone has their own experience with natural phenomena.”

Watch the full segment, which originally appeared as part of the “Art in the Twenty-First Century” television series on PBS, below. “Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life” is on view at Tate Modern through January 5, 2020. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship Art in the Twenty-First Century television is available now on PBS. Watch full episodes and learn about the organization’s education programs at Art21.org.


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