In the studio of...
Meeting with Olafur Eliasson in his studio
A giant sunset at Tate Modern, a cascade under a bridge in New York – for 30 years now, Danish artist Olafur Eliasson has been wowing the world with his monumental works. Numéro met up with him in his studio in Berlin.
How would you say your origins and the cultural background you grew up in have shaped your identity and taste?
Both the experience of nature in Iceland and the light conditions there have been key in shaping my understanding of ephemerality and atmosphere. Growing up in Denmark, I was strongly influenced by the ideals of the Scandinavian model of a welfare state, by feeling that
I was part of a caring economy, and by an explicit feeling of interdependence.
Who inspired you? What were your references in art?
My father was a fisherman and landscape painter in Iceland.
Do you consider yourself a sculptor?
I work in whatever medium is appropriate to the topics I want to explore – film, architecture, installation, photography or painting. Taking a deep breath can be as much of a sculpture as anything.
Can you talk about the site-specific piece you produced for the Fondation Louis Vuitton?
Inside the Horizon is a work to be entered – you have to move through it. This brings time into the art experience. I believe that art is as much of time as of space. By
walking through the work, you experience its kaleidoscopic qualities, focusing not only on where you are and what you are, but also on the surroundings.
You often work with light. How does one work with a non-physical material?
I work with immaterial phenomena a lot to prompt people to consider and reconsider how they perceive and understand the world. I’m interested in questioning what it means to live and act in our societies today. I have always considered light to be more than just something that illuminates things. It has a powerful impact on our lives. I’ve worked hard to make this explicit in my Little Sun project (www.littlesun.com), which is a social business, a global movement, and a portable solar-powered lamp. With it, I hope to bring light to people who don’t have reliable access to the electrical grid.
You’re planning a new show for the Fondation Louis Vuitton. Can you tell us about it?
The show is about blindness and the absence of matter, feeling present in the world, in orbit, encountering others, and measuring space. It deals with the origin of ideas before they take shape in language.
Will you interact with the building?
We only ever experience artworks within a context, and for me, the context always becomes part of the work. So I always consider the site where I’m exhibiting in depth while making my art and planning an exhibition.
How do you prepare a new exhibition?
I create a model of reality, and thereby remodel reality. The model is real. I find this fascinating.
Who would you say you’re addressing?
I’m confident that art and creativity can effect real change in the world, which is why I am increasingly engaging with audiences and contexts outside the arts. Creativity offers an astounding toolbox for rethinking the world. Ideally, there should be artists in the parliaments and politicians in art schools.
Olafur Eliasson at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, 17 December 2014–16 Febrary 2015.
Exposition Olafur Eliasson à la Fondation Louis Vuitton, du 17 décembre 2014 au 16 février 2015.