Olafur Eliasson Shines a Green Light for Refugees

He's the latest artist to support safe passage.

Olafur Eliasson Green Light (2016) Photo: María del Pilar García Ayensa / Studio Olafur Eliasson

As the European migrant crisis has unfolded, a number of artists have attempted to raise awareness of the plight of the people who have been displaced by war, conflict, and poverty. The latest to add his voice to the growing throng is Olafur Eliasson.

The Danish artist returns to Vienna following the success of his recent exhibition “Baroque Baroque,” which featured glass and light installations at Prince Eugene’s Winter Palace, and was well received by critics and visitors alike.

Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21)—the art foundation behind the exhibition—has announced another project with Eliasson, this time with a strong social activist undercurrent, commenting on the European refugee crisis and the complexities and issues caused by international asylum laws.

Olafur Eliasson Photo: Clint Spaulding/PatrickMcMullan.com

Olafur Eliasson.
Photo: Clint Spaulding/PatrickMcMullan.com.

Green Light is a collaborative and participatory piece created using geometrically-shaped lamp modules designed by Eliasson. The lamps, which will be stacked to build a larger structure, act as a physical representation of a metaphorical green light that would admit refugees and migrants to Austria and other countries throughout the world.

“The cultural sector and the arts can address marginalization and create dialogue better than government institutions” Eliasson told artnet News in a telephone interview. “The Green Light Project is about people meeting, and bringing people together, to bring about a dialogue between migrants and Viennese society.”

The crisis carries particular resonance for Eliasson, due to his native Denmark’s hard-line approach to dealing with the influx of migrants. The country recently passed a law that gives authorities power to confiscate migrants’ assets valued in excess of 10,000 Danish kroner (about $1,453).

Olafur Eliasson Green Light (2016) Photo: María del Pilar García Ayensa / Studio Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson Green Light (2016).
Photo: María del Pilar García Ayensa / Studio Olafur Eliasson.

Members of the public, as well as refugees, migrants and students, are invited to participate in the process of constructing the lights at TBA21’s headquarters near the Augarten park in Vienna. Each lamp constructed by the exhibition’s visitors will become part of an expanding installation in the exhibition space, allowing the audience to participate in the creation of the artwork.

“Civic society in Europe is also on the move,” Eliasson added. “The aim of Green Light is to eliminate hierarchies and to bring about a meeting point of trajectories. We want to change the perception that the Viennese are the hosts and that the refugees are being hosted. Art is the best answer to a lot of these challenges.”

Olafur Eliasson Green Light (2016) Photo: María del Pilar García Ayensa / Studio Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson Green Light (2016)
Photo: María del Pilar García Ayensa / Studio Olafur Eliasson

Parts for the construction of the lamps are for sale on-site, online and through selected partners. All proceeds from sales support the Green Light project and TBA21’s partner organizations including the Red Cross Vienna, Caritas, and Georg Danzer Haus, as well as other charitable initiatives helping refugees in Austria.


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