On the occasion of Olafur Eliasson’s solo exhibition entitled “The unspeakable openness of things” being shown at the Beijing Red Brick Art Museum, the artist Eliasson was invited to give a lecture at the Central Academy of Fine Arts on the afternoon of March 25, 2018, to explain the relationships among artworks and artists, audiences, space, and society, and he also shared his creative experiences over the years, offering us an academic forshadowing to understand Eliasson’s art as well as his exhibition. “Your Engagement has Consequences” was jointly organized by the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Red Brick Art Museum, CAFA School of Experimental Art and CAFA Art Museum, with Qiu Zhijie, Dean of CAFA School of Experimental Arts, presiding over the lecture.
First of all, Qiu Zhijie introduced his own experience and his understanding of Eliasson’s art in his opening speech. In his opinion, artists can generally be divided into two types: the artists who attach great importance to the form and think deeply of the issues that they care about, and the artists who are outward-looking and concerned with social and life issues. Eliasson has the energy to combine both. He has an in-depth research on aesthetics, geometry, mathematics, and materials, while he perfectly integrates the issues of human kind and the environment, environmental protection, and social psychology through the perfect collaboration of a large team.
At the beginning of the lecture, Eliasson asked the following question: What does it mean when people are looking at an artwork? Art needs people, needs visitors, and people also need art. A creation of artwork often begins with an idea, it might be an intuition, might be expressed through language, and then the idea becomes an action, which can be sketching, writing, some small experiments, and computer programming, etc., and in the end the idea turns into a physical existence. An idea is changed to a physical existence, and the art travels over time and space to eventually turn into an artwork. No matter what a great idea it is, it is not an artwork if it does not finish this journey, and even if it is a good idea, you may not be able to realize it, for you might find it is impossible to be realized in the process of operating the project, or you might find that it should be operated in another form, therefore, it is a process of continuous experimentation and practice. The distance between thinking and action is larger than the one we know. In many cases, we cannot design everything in advance. It is only when we start our action that we can have a result.
Also, it is a journey for the visitor. When the work has been completed, the visitor is still engaged in other social activities, or starting to pay attention to the work in some way, in short, there is still a distance between the visitor and the artwork. As an artist, one can see that the visitor is walking toward his artwork and encountering the work. He also hopes that this encountering is interesting and demonstrates the quality of art, and people concentrate on reading the work. In a perfectly designed viewing space, when a visitor quietly watches a work, suddenly he/she recognizes something that is both familiar and strange, like suddenly discovering that it is what I want to say, it is my inner feeling, when reading a book or a poem. A good artwork gives the incomprehensible feelings in the mind of the language, time, and color. It is an experience that he hopes the visitor can find in the works. When we look at an artwork, it is also the artwork that looks back at us and helps us find our innermost feelings. Therefore, as an artist, Eliasson hopes that the visitors can feel that they are invited to work together to create a work, when they enter the exhibition. Visitors are also artists and part of arts.
It is Eliasson’s philosophy and world view of art. Not only artists and visitors are on a journey, but also communities of art, including both the organizations and the world are on a journey. All things are in a network with intertwined journeys, and we are all insiders. All things that we do is part of a grand network, and we influence and change the world. Even if we have not said anything, we are talking about something.
In the lecture, Eliasson introduced the artworks created over the years. These works are journeys for the visitors. Through the encounter with these works, the visitors become part of the works, in which they combine themselves with themselves, combining themselves with art, combining themselves with the world. “Rainbow assembly” is an installation composed of spray and light. When the visitor enters a suitable location or angle, he/she will find the rainbow in the air, and the rainbow will move with your action, guiding people to move their bodies to experience different artistic effects. It is a space where all people participate in the construction and discuss the dematerialization of a building. “Your rainbow panorama” is a work that people can walk through, without any beam structure, providing a flowing viewing experience, and only in this action can you feel the changes of colors. “The weather project” is an immersive space of work that provides a comfortable and friendly space where the visitors can rethink their social contracts among themselves, between themselves and the museum. The visitors can sit, lie, meditate, or practice yoga in this space. Although everyone has a different idea, they all live together in a space, just like the weather that we share, but no one really controls it. In the “Riverbed” project implemented in Denmark, a riverbed in Iceland was moved entirely to a gallery. There was a thinking on what this empty space meant after the riverbed dried up, and the audience also had different answers. In “Map for unthought thoughts”, the shadow grid will move as the visitor moves. The visitor sees his/her own shadow in the work, and it is himself in the glass curtain wall. The shadow becomes a part that is actively moving, while you become a negative part. “The blind pavilion” is made up of glass, crystal and a steel structure. It contains black and white glass, as well as transparent glass. The closer the glass is to the center, the more black glass there is, and in the end it becomes wholly dark. It’s as if we’ve been trying hard to get to the center of the world throughout our lives, but we’ve forgotten what we have to do when we get to the center.
Also, Eliasson often implements his own work in public spaces. “Green River” introduced the environmentally safe dye to rivers and naturally drew a work through the flow of water. He also created the “Waterfalls” in New York, where water was pumped to the scaffolding, and then flowed down like waterfalls, through feeling the speed of the water it explores the intuitive feelings of people in the urban space and distance. Regarding the topic of time and space, Eliasson also collected more than a dozen glaciers in Greenland, and moved them to a central square in Paris. Pedestrians on the streets can feel the temperature and melting of the glaciers which then opens a discussion on global warming. For Europeans, the refugee problem may be the same crisis as climate warming. For this reason, Eliasson has set up an educational space in different corners of the city, this allows for a better integration between refugees and local residents. The artist also considers that his own creation should grow out of the comfortable space, going to the public space, going into the culture that really exists and is creating. Eliasson has also launched a “Little Sun” project for the lives of African residents. It is a lighting fixture consisting of solar panels and LED lights. One-seventh of the people in the world are unable to use electricity, and their lives depend entirely on the burning of charcoal and wood, which further creates climate pollution. The “Little Sun” offers light and reduces pollution, and more importantly, African residents can learn from the culture and receive education. In the future, they shall not become refugees that flood into the rest of the world.
Through his artistic practice, artist Eliasson wants to show that the art world and the literary & art circles are actually very energetic. It is possible to bring some changes to the world. For example, the “Little Sun” has already entered the stage at the World Climate Summit, which is full of active and positive energy. Eliasson also suggested that we should not look at art in isolation. These works are about the entire world outside the art museum, regarding our energy, climate, power, and civil society, and he also calls on everyone to cooperate with each other in the future. Only in this way can we cope with the problems of the world, and can we become powerful.
Text by Zhang Wenzhi, Photo by Hu Sichen/CAFA ART INFO
Translated by Chen Peihua and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO
Part of the images of artworks is collected from the network.