Playing with Perception

In 2003, Olafur Eliasson (b. 1967) transformed Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall into a dazzling space dominated by a glowing orange sun. The Weather Project was a memorable installation that broke new ground; it blended art and interaction with a deep concern for the climate. Since then, the Danish-Icelandic artist has continued to respond to social and environmental issues through creativity and advocacy. The results are on display as part of In Real Life – a retrospective at the newly re-opened Guggenheim Bilbao.

Warmer temperatures have caused the Greenland ice sheet to lose around 200-300 billion tonnes of ice per year, a rate that is expected to increase dramatically. Eliasson’s works function as a call for action to address this crisis. In 1999, driven by a strong childhood connection to the landscape, Eliasson photographed several dozen glaciers in Iceland. 20 years later, he returned to capture the same landmarks again. The glacier melt series 1999/2019 (2019) brings together 30 pairs of images – revealing the dramatic and palpable impact global warming is having on our world.

Scandinavian topographies provide Eliasson with a constant source of inspiration. From weather patterns to fauna and flora, his pieces draw on the elements to foreground our changing relationship with the planet. Moss Wall (1994) is an installation made from native reindeer lichen. It brings the outdoors into the gallery space – juxtaposing a controlled indoor environment with natural aromas and textures. Similarly, the immersive installation Beauty (1993) injects rainbows into a dark room – synthesising a vivid spectrum with fine mist and bright spotlights.

Eliasson is best known for playing with human perception. He has worked with both mirrors and reflections since the mid-1990s, making optical illusions that appear to reconfigure space. At Guggenheim Bilbao are Your spiral view (2002) and Your planetary window (2019), which encourage audiences to see the museum in new ways. In a similar vein, In Your Uncertain Shadow (Colour) is a brand new piece that encourages audiences to walk in front of bright lights, casting fleeting and vibrant silhouettes on the walls.

In Real Life is part of the museum’s wider summer programme of exhibitions and events. William Kentridge: 7 Fragments celebrates the acclaimed South African video artist, exploring the history of cinema through dreamlike visuals. Lygia Clark: Painting as an Experimental Field takes a fresh look at the abstraction pioneer, featuring works from 1948- 1958. Audiences can also discover the career of Richard Artschwager (1923-2013), who developed a unique visual language using new domestic materials from the mid-tolate 20th century. For audiences connecting from home, #GuggenheimBilbaoLive is an online portal full of information, inspiration and illuminating video interviews.

Find out more here.

Image Credits:
1. Olafur Eliasson, Big Bang Fountain, 2014. Water, strobe light, pump, nozzle, stainless steel, wood, foam, plastic, control unit, dye. 165 x 160 x 160 cm. Installation view: Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, 2020. Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York/Los Angeles © 2014 Olafur Eliasson
2. Olafur Eliasson, Your atmospheric colour atlas, 2009. Fluorescent lights, color filter foil (red, green, blue), aluminum, steel, ballasts, haze machine. Dimension variable. Installation view: Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, 2020. ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Denmark © 2009 Olafur Eliasson.
3. Olafur Eliasson, Room for one colour, 1997. Monofrequency lamps. Dimensions variable. Installation view: Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, 2020. Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles © 1997 Olafur Eliasson.

Posted on 13 August 2020

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