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