Be it light, air, water, plant life or temperature, Olafur Eliasson’s artwork, architecture and design thrives through close collaboration with elemental materials. As such, a close connection and concern towards environmental issues is a recurrent theme of many of his works.
One of the most potent examples of this comes from 2018, when he and geologist Minik Rosing installed Ice Watch. The piece consisted of twenty-four ice blocks fished out from the waters of Greenland (after naturally detaching from the ice sheet) left to melt before the eyes of Londoners, as a pressing and immediate reminder of the climate crisis.
Most of his works actively encourage or require spectator interaction, often by placing the spectator at the very heart of the artwork—as is the case with Your Uncertain Shadow, a piece which projects viewers’ shadows onto a wall.
International by Nature
Although Olafur Eliasson was born in Copenhagen in 1967, he was indelibly linked to his roots in Iceland—from which his parents had emigrated only a year earlier. When he was 8, his parents separated seeing young Olafur slingshotting between Iceland and Denmark year on year.
Already engaged in art, at 15 he held his first solo exhibition putting on display his landscape drawings and gouaches (paintings using opaque pigments) at a small, alternative gallery in the heart of Denmark.
While studying at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Olafur was awarded a travel budget and spent time in New York working as a studio assistant for artist Christian Eckart.
After graduating he found himself in Berlin, which became his base of operations. Years later, while working as a professor at the Berlin University of the Arts, he founded the Institute for Spatial Experiments (IfREX) in 2009.
Collaborating with Nature
Eliasson’s catalogue of works is vast. Including large-scale installation, photographic explorations, design works and architecture. As such, it can be quite a feat to get one’s head around the breadth of work he produces.
The Weather Project (2003)
A sweet-smelling mist fills the air of the enormous Turbine Hall within London’s Tate Modern. Monochromatic lamps radiate a piercing yet comforting yellow while a huge mirror attached to the hall’s ceiling reflects down the images of spectators and those passing through.
This is the experience The Weather Project brought to spectators, who often responded by lying on their backs, waving up at their yellow reflections.
The project sought to question the value and awareness of weather in the modern human experience.
Green River (1998)
Interacting directly with real nature this time, Green River, enacted across numerous countries from Norway to the US and Japan, found its origins in the 1998 Berlin Biennale. That year, Olafur had discovered that uranin, a readily available environmentally friendly powder used to trace leaks in plumbing systems could dye entire rivers a fluorescent green.
Experimenting with similar powders and dyes, he began introducing them to rivers across the world, always without any advanced warning of the piece.
Fjordenhus (2009 – 2018)
Commissioned by Kirk Kapital, Fjordenhus is the first building designed by Olafur Eliasson, in collaboration with Sebastian Behmann. It roots itself in the waters between the Danish city of Vejle, and the Vejle Fjord which extends out to sea.
Its curved, bricked facades crat ellipsoidal negative spaces which permit water and wind to pass through the body of the building, integrating the space with the nature which surrounds it.
With Eliasson’s work gaining in prominence, importance, and public interest, it is clear that the 53 year old is going to keep integrating art and nature for many years to come.