The sensorial art by Danish-Icelandic artist, Olafur Eliasson, has been manifested in a new exhibition at Tate Modern. Entitled, In Real Life, this new exhibit is a comprehensive retrospective of the artist’s work, which covers themes of environmental change, illusion and the geometry of the natural world. With a diverse range of rooms offering different viewer and user experiences, Eliasson’s work is exhilaratingly interactive. In Real Life feels much like a review of the artist’s career, having works on view from his time in art school until the present.
The exhibition begins with Model room (2003), which is comprised of the artist’s self-made models of geometric shapes and forms. This introduction sets the tone for the exhibition, showing Eliasson’s interest in dimension and science, with each room feeling like a science experiment informed by these original models.
The first stand-out room is Beauty (1993), which features a falling mist with a multi-dimensional rainbow that changes as the viewer alters their perspective around the installation. This engagement aids viewers in the realisation that their perception of the natural world is their creation, not something that is pre-determined, or merely consumed. This room acts as an impressive preface to the illusory works found throughout the rest of the exhibition.
Arguably, the highlight of the exhibition is Din blinde passager (Your blind passage, 2010). An attack on the senses and mind, the room is a mysterious chamber, in which the viewer walks through having lost the ability to see. Unaware of what is in front of them, viewers fumble through the foggy chamber, with its gas-like pungent smell, eyes reacting with the fog. Admittedly a borderline scary experience. As the viewer walks through the space, the colour of the fog seamlessly changes, a comment on our changing natural environment. As we pollute the earth and damage our ecosystems, the world becomes an incredibly uncomfortable place to be. Eliasson creates a scaled down, simplified model of earth’s changing climate.
What follows, though, are weaker in impact. Your spiral view (2002), a kaleidoscopic room and Your uncertain shadow (2010), a multi-coloured shadow projection, seem to lack a connection to the themes that are central to Eliasson’s work. The rooms are very aesthetically pleasing and overall, fun rooms to explore, but each room leaves the viewer void of an intellectual element and challenge.
The final room of the exhibit includes a build studio and an extensive reference board. The well-curated board features work from philosophers such as John Cage and Donna Haraway and concepts such as, ‘What are our tools for navigation?’, ‘History is a record of migration’, ‘Object’, ‘Who is We?’ and ‘Light is life’. This is key to the exhibition, as it makes clear to the viewer Eliasson’s thoughts, ideas and reasoning. But should this be more clear throughout the work itself?
In Real Life is perhaps missing the forward thinking aspects that are found in his research and understanding of the Anthropocene, but nonetheless, Eliasson’s work tests the viewer’s inner-ability to perceive the world around them.