Essay: Modern Tech, Fine Art and an Online Practice

Post pandemic the idea of maintaining an online feels like a third limb of my art practice, but one i’m becoming quite fond of!

This essay addresses how my practice has come to revolve around digital worlds and social media, both in aesthetic and methodology. Claiming Instagram posts and reddit threads as critical components of a practice seems mad, but as the lines between digital and real blur, determining the value in digital space is important.


How have modern technologies changed the way we create and experience art?

When I began studying fine art at RMIT 5 years ago, one of the rules that almost every teacher repeated when it came to referencing artists, is that it couldn’t be through Instagram. An artist needed to be talked about by a journal or a gallery, or at the very least have their own website, with several teachers saying “anyone can be an artist on Instagram”. This struck me as a strange contrast to the line of thought taught at art schools, that we are all artists by virtue of our practice, that somehow now that we had applied, paid and been approved by an institution, we are granted credibility. Since starting I have seen a softening of this opinion, with the pandemic pushing many to re-evaluate their stance on online forums, and newer artists ascend through art institutions into positions of power, bringing with them more modern ideas of what constitutes an artist and art practice. My goal with this essay isn’t praise instagram as an app or meta as a company, instead I want to look at the way that art’s value is transmuted through its transition into digital online space, how art displayed online interacts with the environment it is displayed in, and how digital work finds its value. Throughout this essay I will be talking about my physical artwork and my online presence as equal facets of my practice.

Where you encounter art has always had an impact on its value, monetarily, conceptually, and socially. Prior to the inception of the internet and social media, anyone interested in art would need to be informed about the art world. Knowing where the galleries are, who runs them, and being involved in networks and groups that discuss art. This dynamic meant the balance of power was in the hands of people who curated art spaces. With the introduction of social media sites like instagram, audiences began to gain more power, as they became the lens through which outside parties would experience these spaces (MacDowall et al. 2021). I felt my practice needed to reflect this shift in power, growing my own audience online as a form of presenting my work, and subverting the traditional gallery structure.

In 2021 I began using holographic paper, this paper refracts light and creates a rainbow effect across the surface. For my series Reflektor I would collect collage elements and scan them at high quality, then screen print them onto the holographic paper. Thematically the work referred to the processes of looking and being looked at, enforced through materiality, imagery, and through the process of documenting and sharing the process of creation online. Each image featured figures looking at each other, away from each other, and inwards through introspection. The reflective material surface acts as a distorted mirror, the viewer’s gaze is pulled past the figures at their own refracted reflection. The act of sharing and documenting work gives the viewer, If they choose to follow along, a chance to engage in an empathetic experience of creation, as they watch and interact with me while I bring the piece to fruition. Images that elicit empathy have been shown to draw the highest rates of engagement, a study of the most successful artwork posts on instagram confirmed ‘the audience feels that they are the artist’s friends and participate in the artist’s life and creation’ (Kang, Chen & Kang 2019). This empathy driven interaction creates a dynamic where artworks success is driven by an empathetic relationship to the audience. This becomes the central source of value in the work, instead of its conceptual grounding.

To frame the online interaction between creator and audience as a purely constructive display of empathy would neglect the potential complexities of such a one directional, or parasocial relationship. Parasocial relationships are not something that is unique to the internet, and in fact have been a part of the conversation surrounding media personalities since the 1950s. Horton and Wohl (1956) examined the phenomenon of actors addressing an audience via TV or radio, outlining how this interaction creates an illusion of familiarity for the viewer, through emotive language and framing devices, coining it a parasotional interaction. This was later expanded into the concept of a parasocial relationship, which is a more adequate description of the lengths and depths of these relationships, and has only become more relevant with the introduction of social media’s ability to let the viewers reach out to the persona en masse (Riles & Adams 2021). While building a following on various media platforms and experimenting with how I would present myself online, there are techniques and tactics that have been more successful and fulfilling to my practice. Framing devices in TV and radio would be factors such as, is the persona facing the audience and addressing them directly, is emotive language being used to connect with the audience, or is rhetoric employed to garner empathy (Horton & Wohl 1956). These framing devices still exist in an online environment, but in my personal practice I hope to centre the artwork as the central figure with which the audience relates, this means how I frame my work online Is different and garners different responses. Commonly the most useful tool is presenting artwork in a physical context, this could be showing the artwork in the studio, helping to convey the artist experience. Presenting the work in a gallery space conveys a more commercial or professional element to the interaction. This framing is useful as it connects the artwork with a physical space in the real world, helping to maintain the artworks aura through a connection to materiality. The artist’s presence in the presentation of the work is still also important, this can be through an image showing the artist with the artwork, or the voice of the artist accompanying a video. In my own practice these two facets are realised through constant video documentation of the creation process, compiling these slices into videos paired with personal voice over in an aim to connect the artwork with myself as the artist. Kaźmierczak (2021) contends that while documentation of performance is innately facile and fictitious, embracing this as an inevitability lets us realise an effective archiving of artworks. While Kaźmierczak was referring to performance art, In the age of social media artists can now choose to perform their practice online, with the documentation being synonymous with a performance.

Walter Benjamin (1936) coined the term “aura” in relation to artworks, he thought the reproduction of art through mechanical processes destroyed an essentialness, and its links to tradition and materiality. His definition also refers to a sense of distance, an ability to connect with the object, likening it to our ability to connect with elements of the natural world. The contemporary conversation surrounding an artworks aura is still in some instances to mechanical reproduction, though this is dampened by the legitimisation of printmaking and photography as viable and valuable art practices. Instead it is the digital realm that suffers the brunt of this conversation. With the benefit of hindsight these distinctions between what does and does not have an aura seems to be a difference between the known and the unknown, a warmth and respect for what is known, and a feeling of distance from that which seems alien to us. As someone who grew up with access to all types of technology at my fingertips, I can attest to the feelings of familiarity and warmth for digital spaces. Specifically the web 1.0 websites of the late 90s and early 2000s, the specific design sensibilities or lack thereof, and the boutique nature of hundreds of handmade sites. These facets came together in a feeling of community, with each page governing itself, and creating a unique experience. I could attempt an argument that through the transition into web 2.0 and the centralisation of the internet by several tech companies, a sense of aura was lost, but it would be a discredit to future generations who will undoubtedly find their own sense of aura among the world left to them. Amorim & Teixeira (2020) argue that instead of losing an aura through transition into the online world, a new aura is created, but is separate from the aura of the material artwork. This seems a fairer assessment of the functions of these transitions, that any medium given time to be understood and embraced can form an auratic connection with an audience. Neither of these readings give credit to work made within the purposed auraless new medium, Benjamin refers to print and photographic mediums almost exclusively as reproductive tools and not generative. Amorim & Teixeria consider the digitals role only to represent physical artworks when they otherwise cannot be reached. Artists such as Molly Soda centre their practice around the experience of the digital world, simultaneously critiquing and embracing the ways in which an individual is compelled to be a representative for their own image or brand. Soda’s work is born and exists online, and is generally exhibited thusly, though it has been exhibited through printed screenshots and video installations, I would argue this creates a loss of the digital works aura. Proulx (2016) details how youth who have grown up with social media show heightened drive to perform, seemingly from an intense awareness of how they are perceived, which has led to prolific use of the self image as a tool of empowerment. The portrayal of the artwork is most in touch with its aura in the context of the social media site, this context of space means the viewer connects and associates the messages with their own personal experience.

My work Halls of Galaria (2021) is an online interactive experience using the blogging platform WordPress. The work consisted of several pages of images, text, and navigation options the viewer can use to move through several branching paths. This project was live the entire time it was being worked on, so as people returned, new wings of the fictional Galleria would open. I wanted the creation and installation of the work to at all times be moving, this project was aesthetically and functionally inspired by web 1.0 design, text based adventures, and the online art gallery wolfman museum. However a particular incident with an album release by Kanye West is what inspired the fluidity, after releasing his album Pablo, Kanye kept changing tracks while the album was still hosted online. I felt this act of modifying an already released work was a perfect reflection on how new technologies had changed the traditionally immutable relationship between artist and artwork. Halls of Galleria exists on, and could only be properly experienced through the medium of the internet. I believe the aura of the work is created through a friction of web 1.0 and 2.0 technologies, as well as the novelty of discovering a unique space on the internet that serves no explicit commercial or social purpose beyond entertainment.

Polaine (2005, p. 1) talks about the established conservitive art galleries’ lack of interest in interactive media, stating that it is diametrically opposed to the interests of the fine art institutions desire to be a grounds for the display of divine art objects. Interactive media can be seen as lowbrow and populist due to its accessibility, and ease of digital replication, this view disregards the unique individual experiences that can be had in an interactive space. This denial of an emerging practice feels in line with the eb and flow of the art world, as we see conceptual art is now ubiquitous, where a century ago it wasn’t. I believe we are coming to a nexus soon with interactive art, Polaine’s paper was written in 2005, in the 15 years since interactive art installations have become more embraced. Often seen in the form of pop up experiences backed by the conceptual work of an artist such as RANDOM INTERNATIONAL’s Rain Room or Nick Ennis’s Imaginaria. Though these adult playroom style interactive works have found commercial and critical success, there is still a lag for work in the digital realm finding its place in the greater fine art world. Video games would be the obvious champion of this interactive art space, though are also shunned by the fine art world due to a perceived tackiness, and commercial focus. Smuts (2005) positions video games as a sister medium to the moving image, but with an element of performance with the player participating in the creation of an experience. While Halls of Galleria is not a video game, it aesthetically and functionally borrows tools from the medium. The focus of the work is the user experience, to create a playground online that pushes back to the largely homogenised experience of the online environment we find today. There is no reason that the work could not be documented or otherwise captured and placed in a gallery setting. I believe this would destroy the work’s aura, in cutting it off from the internet and the viewer’s ability to share and explore in their own time, an organic functionality is lost.

The internet, modern computing power and new social forums have all fundamentally changed the way we view and create art, the real discussion is to what degree. Some will vehemently reject the internet’s influence at all levels of involvement, while some embrace it to the exclusion of all other mediums. Digital work, often maligned for a lack of aura, I contend is too new for anyone to assert that as an absolute fact, as how we connect with art is a reflection of the time we live in. Interactivity is slowly being embraced throughout the fine art world, but might be too ephemeral for it to become the speculative asset big fine art demands. My practice lives in these worlds, using the internet and the digital as a medium to foster community, conversation, and creativity.

References

Kang, X, Chen, W & Kang, J 2019, ‘Art in the Age of Social Media: Interaction Behaviour Analysis of Instagram Art Accounts’, Informatics, vol. 6, no. 4, pp. 52.

MacDowall, L, & Budge, K 2021, ‘Art after Instagram : Art Spaces, Audiences, Aesthetics’, Taylor & Francis Group.

Polaine, A 2005, ‘Lowbrow, High Art: Why Big Fine Art doesn’t understand interactivity’, In The First International Conference on the Histories of Media Art, Science and Technology.

Smuts, A 2005, ‘Are video games art?’, Contemporary Aesthetics, vol. 3, no. 6.

Riles, J.M, and Adams, K 2021, ‘Me, myself, and my mediated ties: Parasocial experiences as an ego-driven process’ Media Psychology, vol. 24, pp. 792-813.

Brown, N 2019, ‘Autonomy : The Social Ontology of Art under Capitalism’, Duke University Press, Durham.

Proulx, M 2016, ‘Protocol and Performativity: Queer selfies and the coding of online identity’, Performance Research, vol. 21, pp.114-118.

Amorim, J.P, and Teixeira, L.M.L 2021, ‘Art in the Digital during and after Covid: Aura and Apparatus of Online Exhibitions’, Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities, vol. 12, pp.1-8.

Benjamin, W 1935, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

Kaźmierczak, M 2021, ‘The Contingency and Fiction of Performance Art Documentation: Theory and Practice’, Art Documentation: Journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America, vol. 40, pp.188-197.

Social Art Practices and Identity

This was my last essay written for my 2021 history class, as if the year wasn’t hard enough, this essay was a pain to get through. It was a response to the question “What are the problems and opportunities presented by socially engaged art practices?”, but I added a little wrinkle by talking about identity, and anonymity in social art practices.

I’m usually pretty nervous about posting my essays, and this is no exception. Mostly I’m worried I’m talking about things I really don’t understand, but that’s why I would really appreciate any feedback from people who know more than me about these topics!


A social practice, when in the context of fine art, refers to an art making ethos guided by social justice, community and charity. Moving away from an art practice that revolves around the capitalist notions of product and consumer, a social practice would see the artist engage with community, blurring the lines between activist and artist. In this essay I will be addressing the problems and opportunities that a social art practice contains.

Social practices are largely concerned with human relations, and critiquing or investigating society. There are many ways to engage in this practice, some make ephemeral art, others art that resides in galleries but defies the auction block, and other practices are so steeped in activism that they’re indistinguishable from an activist organisation. A common way artists are framed in a social practice as aiming to aid, educate and improve the conditions in a society through acts of service (Phaidon 2021). Though a social practice by no means has to be generative, but instead could be destructive; artists challenging the status quo through outrageous public stunts and messaging. In this essay I want to focus on three art practices that revolve around questioning and critiquing society, with work carried out in public spaces. In answering this question I want to focus on how identity, or the lack of identity affects a social practice, how it affects the message, and the message of the art.

A social practice provides a framework for artists to create work in public spaces, this presents an opportunity to reach people who most need to see the message, and confront the people whom the message speaks out against. The Guerilla Girls are a group of female artists who perform public acts of fact spreading through posters, stickers and action, all while wearing gorilla masks. Instead of appearing as a collective of named women standing up for their own desire to be represented, through their anonymity they become representative of all women, meaning they cannot be appeased individually, or as a collective. Their work speaks out against injustices towards women, and initiates conversations around feminist issues, particularly in the art world. They began pasting up posters in the mid 1980s, calling out galleries and exhibitions where female artists were underrepresented. De Certeau describes how the powerful create a sense of place in society that is beneficial to them, while the weak and underserved have to take up space within this greater ‘place’ (Matzkin 1997). The Guerilla Girls found that invading this patriarchal ‘place’, spreading their message forcefully and with wit, was a far greater solution than attempting to affect change from the inside. While the guerilla girls rely on statistics as the basis for their message, humor is also another important aspect, both in their work and personal presentation. The Guerilla girls present themselves as gorillas, donning large black hairy masks, some with eye holes cut for their glasses to poke through. Wordplay aside, representing themselves this way separates them from feminine stereotypes that are so often used against women to devalue them. In their work The Advantages of being a Female Artist, one of the tongue in cheek points states that no matter what you create it will be labeled feminine. This use of humor had its drawbacks though, The group worried that their message could come across wrong, not be taken seriously, or be too aggressive, with one proposed poster asking for male artists to surrender their genitalia. Humor is often harder to agree on than sincerity, an earnest message is relatable and something most people can empathise with, whereas humour is a fickle complicated medium, Leng (2020, p.  123) notes “The text’s profanity and injunction to violence caused considerable internal dissent”. It’s difficult to comprehend how The Guerilla Girls are affected by the pros or cons of having a social practice, as utilizing this practice may well have been the only way to force their way into the art sphere. To exactly what degree they opened up the art world to women is hard to determine, but they did help to reframe the reasons why women weren’t in galleries from a function of women being inferior artists, to an issue of entrenched patriarchal systems (Babu Paul 2020).

INDECLINE is an American art collective whose practice involves defacing public property, such as tearing down billboards to make shelters for the homeless, public graffiti questioning policies and politicians, and covert installations in hotel rooms. Their work is highly illegal, and defamatory, and as such they require anonymity to maintain their practice. They first rose to prominence through defacing pubic billboards with the phrase “a clown can get away with murder  -Gacy” alongside a naked clay and silicone statue of Donald Trump wearing clown makeup. This project was undertaken during Trump’s presidency, an incredibly volatile time in America, and this work likened the president to John W Gacy, notorious serial killer, after Trump said he could shoot someone in the street and still get elected. Their anonymity acts as a shield to protect their personal lives, and allows them to continue spreading their message. Authorities and lawmakers make the distinction between two types of graffiti, one imitates the aesthetic of traditional art, and is palatable for a general audience, the other being defined by tagging, scrawling, gang signs and a lack of permission (Gomez 1993). This distinction rests on antiquated ideas of what art is, 65 years earlier Duchamp exhibited his readymade piece Fountain, so I find this distinction of what is and isn’t art very narrow minded. It draws a line between two forms of graffiti, painting one side as desirable and the other as undesirable, the question becomes though, undesirable to who? IDECLINE focuses on messages such as housing inequality, class struggles, and political tyranny, which are uncomfortable conversations for those in power, but life defining for those affected. With Make Kids Disappear – I.C.E they have defaced a public billboard overlooking a highway, transforming an advertisement for a junk removal service to indictment of the government’s treatment of immigrants. The illegality and defacement frames the message as a form of protest, that the artists are dissatisfied with the current establishment. While it would be a stretch to say all graffiti is purposeful, when considering how to frame street art done in a social art practice, it’s important to consider the location and the time in when it was created, as the work inherits meaning and context from these two factors (Chackal 2016).

An artist maintaining a social practice, and speaking out against a system, has to decide whether they are going to operate within the legal confines of that system, and to what degree. This can cause a complicated dilemma, if you choose to operate outside the law then you run the risk of the established powers using your law breaking as a way to devalue your message, but it is also sometimes the only outlet for impoverished and downtrodden people (Chackal 2016). We’ve seen this in action these last few years in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement. When George Floyd was murdered, his drug use and criminal record were used to paint him in a negative light. Three days later when protests broke out in Minneapolis, which later led to rioting and looting, the media reported on the protests as filled with ‘thugs’ and violence, undercutting the original purpose for the protests (Brown 2020). Choosing to work within the system, or outside it, both have pros and cons, though a way INDECLINE mitigates this dilemma is to separate their processes. IDECLINE the group is chiefly involved with carrying out the public art interventions, while they commission other artists to create work, such as the piece The Emperor Has No Balls from artist Joshu Monroe. This separates the illegal action taken to display the art, from the actual art being made, giving the message a better chance to not be tainted by its association with a crime.

Ai Wei Wei is a contemporary Chinese artist, and son of poet Ai Qing. He is known for his outspoken political opinions, and harnessing modern communication platforms like blogs and twitter to criticise the Chinese Comunist Party’s policies and practices. Unlike the other two artists I’ve talked about in this essay, he does not hide his identity, which affects how we receive his message. His political criticism poses a problem for Ai, as China is concerned that letting people openly express their political opinions breaks down the hold the CCP has on its position of power (Associated Press 2020). In a way that is almost diametrically opposite to how The Guerilla Girls hide their individuality to represent all women, AI position as an individual is integral to his message being communicated. Historically the concept of individuality in China is different than in western society, in the west the individual is singular and defined by how it exists separate from society, whereas the merit of an individual in China is defined by how they serve the greater systems they inhabit (Brindley). In this way Ai’s identity and the action of speaking out work together to strengthen his message. This power that comes from his identity would not be possible without performing it in a social sphere, It’s through his social practice that the work gains its ability to affect change. A downside to gaining global attention though is that others place upon him their own ideas of democracy and liberal thought, that Ai is a weapon for the west to use against the CCP, instead of an individual critiquing how he thinks the government could serve the people better (Sorace 2014). In a sense this takes away ownership of his identity away, he becomes a tool used by the west to push their own agenda against China’s global position.

After examining this question in relation to the artists above, I feel framing a social practice in the context of it’s merit seems disingenuous to how a social practice comes about. It becomes clear that there is no other way their practices could operate outside the realm of social practice, so debating the efficacy of the approach seems futile. These three artists all have engaged with society at large, and have had to make deliberate decisions about how they want to be perceived. Like all of us though, how you are perceived and how you wish to be perceived are not always the same. This public aspect of a social practice means the artist’s identity is under more of a spotlight than other artforms. Systems within which you operate affect the ability to convey a message, the intersection of your identity and your environment defines what is possible through social practices.

References

  1. Phaidon, A Movement in a Moment, viewed 10 october 2021, <https://www.phaidon.com/agenda/art/articles/2016/april/25/a-movement-in-a-moment-social-practice/>
  2. Babu Paul, S 2020, ‘Art Against Art: Looking at Selected Posters of Guerilla Girls in their Resistance Against Sexual Politics’, Navajyoti, International Journal of Multi-Disciplinary Research, Vol. 5, Iss. 1. 
  3. Matzkin, J 1997, ‘Masking feminism: A cultural analysis of the Guerilla Girls, a feminist art movement’, Masters thesis, University of Wyoming, Wyoming. 
  4. Miller, M, Wolf, J 2021, Feminist Street Posters, Beyond the Streets, viewed 10 october 2021, <https://beyondthestreets.com/blogs/articles/guerrilla-girls>
  5. Leng, K 2020, ‘Art humor and activism Art, Humor, and Activism: The Sardonic, Sustaining Feminism of the Guerrilla Girls, 1985–2000’, Journal of women’s history, vol. 32 no. 4, pp. 110-134.
  6. Gomez, M 1993, ‘The Writing on Our Walls: Finding Solutions through Distinguishing Graffiti Art from Graffiti Vandalism’, University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, vol. 26, pp. 663 – 709. 
  7. Make Kids Disappear – I.C.E., Streaming Video, INDECLINE, viewed 11 october 2021, <https://thisisindecline.com/flicks/make-kids-disappear-i.c.e>
  8. Sorace, C 2014, ‘China’s Last Communist: Ai Weiwei’, Critical Inquiry, vol. 40, pp. 396–419.
  9. Associated Press 2020, ‘Orwellian’ China silencing dissent at home and abroad, says human rights chief’, The Guardian, 15 January, viewed 11 october, <https://www.theguardian.com/law/2020/jan/15/orwellian-china-silencing-dissent-at-home-and-abroad-says-human-rights-chief>
  10. Brindley, E, ‘Individualism in Classical Chinese Thought’, Internet Encyclopedia of Phylosophy, viewed 12 october, <https://iep.utm.edu/ind-chin/#H3>
  11. Rajghatta, c 2016, ‘Anarchist artist tests limits with nude statues of Donald Trump’, The Times of India, 19 August, viewed 13 october, <https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/us/Anarchist-artist-tests-limits-with-nude-statues-of-Donald-Trump/articleshow/53775625.cms>
  12. Chackal, T 2016, ‘Of Materiality and Meaning: The Illegality Condition in Street Art’, the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol 74, Iss 4, pp.359-370.
  13. Brown, D 2020, ‘Riot or resistance? How media frames unrest in Minneapolis will shape public’s view of protest’, The Conversation, 30 May, viewed 16 october 2021, <https://theconversation.com/riot-or-resistance-how-media-frames-unrest-in-minneapolis-will-shape-publics-view-of-protest-139713>

Ólafur Eliasson and The Weather Project

click here for an audio reading of this essay!

The following is an essay written as an artwork analysis for Eliasson’s Tate Modern installation The Weather Project. I’m not the biggest fan of writing essays, unless I really like the topic. This was actually a bunch of fun to research though, I like the way Eliasson talks about his work even if a lot goes right over my head!

If you’re interested in more work from Eliasson, head over to his website olafureliasson.net, It’s really interesting and he has catalogued all his work in tremendous detail.

The Weather Project

Ólafur Eliasson is a Danish artist, born 1967 in Copenhagen, Denmark. His work as an artist is varied, including painting, sculpture, film, photography and installation, but it is the latter that he is best known for. In this essay I will be talking about Eliasson’s work The Weather Project, more specifically the conceptual methods he employs, and how we see these methods in his other works pre- and post-his 2003 work.

The Weather Project is a site-specific installation held at the Tate Modern in London. Eliasson was asked to install a work in the Turbine Hall, this is an entry way into the Tate Modern, and as such is a semi-public space. Upon entering the Turbine Hall, visitors were met with a large circular screen suspended three quarters up the wall on the far end of the space. Aluminum lined the tops of the walls, while the roof was covered in mirrors, the room was flooded with a light mist, and a viewing platform, with a staircase leading up to it, was in the center of the room. The screen was backlit with 200 mono frequency lights, producing a yellowy orange hue, giving the appearance of a large indoor sun.

The combination of light, fog and mirrors serve to overwhelm the senses. Visitors to the space are first met with the image of the sun, as they move down the gentle slope of the turbine hall. The viewer can then move towards the sun, and either ascend a set of stairs to a small viewing platform, or remain on the lower floor. Ascending the stairs to the platform creates an illusion similar to moving up a hill towards the sun. Alternatively, if the viewer stays below, they can rest under the man-made canopy of the viewing platform, or move up to underneath the screen, revealing how the artificial sun is made.

This choice illustrates that Eliasson (2004) believes his medium not being light or the weather, but instead his medium being people and how they interact with his work. Eliasson (2015) said of the Weather Project, that people would arrive into the work and have a singular response to it. This would often contrast the response that person’s neighbor was having, reactions ranged from apocalyptic to serene. Despite this difference he noted, and hoped, that they would share in each other’s experience and enjoy and learn from the others’ differences in viewpoint.

Figure 1 The Weather Project, Ólafur Eliasson, 2003, Mono-frequency lights, projection foil, haze machines, mirror foil, aluminum, scaffolding

Further evidence of people as a medium is Eliasson’s use of mirrors, a tool that reflects the viewer back to themselves. Figure 1 shows an interaction between the visitors and the installation, this photograph is taken of the mirror hanging above the viewer, and we see them creating the iconic peace symbol. Eliasson (2008, p. 48) laments that “some museums simply don’t empower the visitor”, this work challenges that, drawing them into what he calls “looped participation”, an event where the interaction with the work is observed by the participant, and evaluated by them (Eliasson 2004). We see here a direct, and quite on the nose example of people participating and evaluating that participation with the work. In a video of the installation, people can be seen wriggling and moving while laying on their back, even the act of recording yourself through the mirrors on the roof is an act of evaluation.

Figure 2 Your Sun Machine, Olafur Eliasson, 1997, Aperture cut into existing roof, daylight

Despite believing his medium to be people, his work does utilize the sun and more specifically light as a tool (Figure 2). In his work Your Sun Machine 1997, Eliasson drilled a small aperture into the roof of the LA located Marc Foxx Gallery. As the sun passed over the gallery, a ray of light would stream through the aperture, creating a patch of light that moves through the space. Eliasson noted that if you stood still and watched, you could see the movement of the sun, creating a sense of alignment with the cosmos (Eliasson, 2015). This work is a precursor to The Weather Project, in its attempt to capture a natural weather phenomenon, and bring it into the gallery space. The Weather Project differs in it’s decision to replicate the sun, instead of attempting to harness it.

Figure 3 Dream House, Ólafur Eliasson, 2007, Wood, mirror, di-bond, lenses, plastic, cotton

The Weather Project also plays with the notions of inside and outside, as it is held in a semi-public space, and a replication of a natural environment. An entry in the journal Interiority took a close look at how Eliasson plays with the inside-outside relationship, they observed that with his work there is rarely a hard line separating the two. Instead inside and outside function as abstract concepts, melding, winding around, and intersecting with each other (Dincer, Brezjek & Wallen 2019). Eliasson’s 2007 work Dream House (Figure 3) shows how he nests ideas of inside and outside within each other, standing inside the work you will see reversed images of whatever environment the construct is located in. The Weather Project does this not through any form of projection, but through conceptual means, by replicating the outside and bringing it inside, he disrupts the act of viewing art as art, and creates an experience familiar to the viewer. This approach also changes as the outside changes, say the weather is actually quite gloomy when you visit, the reaction you get will be different to if you visit on a sunny day. Through its placement in the entrance hall of the Tate, it also blurs the line between inside and outside, as you enter you can see the work through the glass doors, and inversely the outside world as you leave, creating a smooth transition from a natural outside to an artificial outside.

By delving into the conceptual methods Ólafur Eliasson has employed in his work The Weather Project, we are able to get a more detailed view of his design philosophy, and his approach to art creation. This work, more than a technical replication of a sunny day, represents a common human experience, and a desire by Eliasson to create genuine human connections, and conversations through our varied responses. We also see how the traditional installation gallery relationship can be subverted, and manipulated, expanding a work beyond the walls that contain it.


References:


⦁ Zumtobel Group 2015, Ólafur Eliasson about “Light is Life”, YouTube, 20 April, Zumtobel, Festspielhaus Bregenz, Bregenz, Austria, viewed 28 April 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlMYFybnWfs
⦁ Eliasson, O & Obrist, H 2008, The Conversation Series, Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Konig, Cologne
⦁ Ólafur Eliasson, viewed 28 April 2021, https://olafureliasson.net/
⦁ The Tate Modern, Turbine Hall, TATE, viewed 03/05/2021, https://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern/turbine-hall
⦁ Ólafur Eliasson, Your Sun Machine 1997, viewed 01/05/2021, <⦁ https://olafureliasson.net/archive/artwork/WEK101686/your-sun-machine#slideshow&gt;
The Weather Project, by Ólafur Eliasson, at Tate Modern. 2012, YouTube, viewed 22 April 2021, <⦁ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IsT9vEpfNq4⦁ &⦁ ab_channel=OlaM>
⦁ Dincer, D, Brezjek, T & Wallen, L 2019, ‘’Designing the Threshold: A Close Reading of Ólafur Eliasson’s Approach to ‘Inside’ and ‘Outside’’, Interitority, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 46-91 https://interiority.eng.ui.ac.id/index.php/journal/article/view/48
⦁ Ólafur Eliasson, Dream House, 2007, viewed 03/05/2021, https://olafureliasson.net/archive/artwork/WEK100440/dream-house