Olafur Eliasson is attempting to celebrate shared experience through the art that is dominating the Tate Modern, but it just feels like everyone is sharing your experience.
Phones jostle for the best view, flashes ruin the darkest moments, illuminated faces reveal the magic of what could be a powerful moment, should we be feeling something else? The 40+ works on show span the Danish-Icelandic artist’s career from 1990 to the present, it is immersive and all encompassing, trying to put the focus on you.
“Look! Those people look funny round this side of the fisheye glass,” snigger the guests on the other side of The Seeing Space (2015); a curious sphere that isn’t so curious when you realise someone was filming your inflated and misshapen nose when you looked through it. As becomes immediately clear, people are at the centre of Olafur Eliasson’s art. How we interact with each other, how we change around one another, how we experience a new social environment. It’s what the leaflet calls a ‘Temporary Community’, and it sucks. If the community you’re with is dampening your experience, that’s a community you won’t feel fondly about. Constantly queuing behind people to look through a kaleidoscopic window, or see what’s behind that curtain, or walk through a tube, get a move on!
This doesn’t mean the work isn’t heartfelt or caring or sincere, just that the nature of it compels visitors to whip their phones out. Beauty prevails in many of the rooms, plucked from nature and recreated in front of your eyes, magical in its simplicity and apparent fragility. The mist of Beauty (1993) is as calming as The Blind Passenger (2010) is unnerving. From a meditative mist to a suffocating fog, dappled to dense colour, an environment you wish to linger in to one you can’t wait to get to the end of. Here, Eliasson has created evocative art of genuine power, forcing you to join his concern for nature, to look at what we are destroying. Here come the glaciers, the icebergs, the terrifying reduction of those sheets of ice, encapsulated in Glacier Series (1999) and Melting Ice on Gunnar’s Land (2008). Real destruction by real people and their interaction with nature and the people around them.
This exhibition feels like the unlikely lovechild of Ikea and the Science Museum, achingly Earth-conscious but still somehow playful. The ‘play area’ at the close of the exhibition is set next to a mock-up of the artist’s studio wall, full of pins and articles and alphabetical post-it notes, fun next to immediate boredom. It is a strange room that only leaves you wanting more from the last salvo of an ambitious exhibition.
The quality of the art is clouded by the experience it creates. The championing of the collective has its downsides within the gallery, but Eliasson hopes that we take his communal ideal outside of those walls and push for a positive impact. We can stop this destruction through an embrace of the temporary community, and I’d love it anywhere other than the Tate.
In pictures, this looks great. In Real Life, not so much.
Image Credit: Olafur Eliasson, Din blinde passager(Your blind passenger), 2010, Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles© 2010 Olafur Eliasson, Photo: Anders Sune Berg.