The Olafur Eliasson ‘In Real Life’ exhibition at the Tate Modern was fascinating, on many levels. I had wanted to visit this exhibition because the collection includes works which are specifically designed to induce a sense of self alongside any (or beyond) anthropocene or political intention.


Olafur Eliasson ‘In Real Life’ exhibition

The first and the last rooms on the tour set the scene and then explained the context of the research behind the collection on show. The tour of the exhibits had explanatory texts but, for the most part the ‘encounters’ were necessarily judged more for their visual and physical impact on the audience rather than for their context.

I was excited that the majority of pieces invited a prolonged consideration, without his motivational context there was a clever connection to elicit contemplation and the opportunity to consider, a level of intrigue, and a growing sense of a perceived physical impact with particular pieces.

My particular interest was to examine the impact on my awareness of myself as a means to test Eliasson’s directive that the audience’s participation and their responses are what completes his work; “My work is you— the spectator”(MoMa, 2001) is an important element of his work and something he emphasises in most interviews as he talks about the importance of an audiences perception of the piece work as a realisation of themselves.

“I think there’s a subliminal border where suddenly your representational and your real position merge, and you see where you ‘really’ are, your own position”.(Editors, 2019)

I’d like to consider in depth the implications and impact that these alternative views might have on the development in my own work.

A brief overview of the exhibition and my reaction to it.

The first ‘encounter’ was with a collection of maquette’s, the impact was in their arrangement, and was fascinating. His ideas over the last ten + years presented as wire, card and mirrors created which a Heath Robinson meets Alice Through The Looking Glass glimpse of Eliasson’s geometric driven mindset.

Moving through the exhibits the works, noticeably, stood as objects of interest even without their contexts. I believe this must highlight Eliasson’s skill in inventing an invitation for our ‘senses’ to be part of the experience.  How he works seems to correlate with my familiarity the way children with learning difficulties buy into a creative writing project if they are invited to draw their ideas before writing about them; they consistently make a personal connection to their ‘idea’ and are then prepared to invest their time in the writing part of the project.

My experience of this exhibition was (as an individual and as one of a group), that the work invited participation on a personal level, this helped me buy into his concepts beyond the merely visual and I became aware of the multiplicity of other senses evoked as part of my interaction with the work. Taste, hearing and touch, featured in in some form and some worked on all these at once. The experience had somehow become personal – ‘me and it’.

I think it was probably hard to truly appreciate the individual experiences to the fullest with so many other people around; I didn’t particularly have a problem with the smaller children thoroughly enjoying the experiences Eliasson was offering, however, their noise and movements where distracting enough to notice the slight disconnection with some of the pieces, which was a shame.

That aside. There was also a lot to notice as this exhibition spanned a decade and more of work since his Little Sun displayed at the Tate in 2003, all brought together as retrospective. This sets challenges for its audience as any sense of purpose or sense of engagement was somewhat diluted by the multi-purpose setting. On the upside it did allow a full appreciation of his interpretive creative journeys.

What was clear in every work was Eliasson’s desire to ensure a participatory element which gives an audience a sense of authorship and to further consider this delivery and its effectiveness for others. I have taken a straw poll of other viewers of Eliasson’s work and will use this feedback to review specific pieces in my next blog.