Before you even enter the new Olafur Eliasson exhibition at London’s Tate Modern, the Danish-Icelandic artist starts messing with your mind and color perception as you take the elevator to the second floor.
If you look closely at your fellow elevator companions, you will notice that they have suddenly become grey. In fact, everything seems grey – even the posters advertising the various exhibitions on show. This is a clever trick by Eliasson who has bathed the elevators in yellow mono-frequency lights which make you perceive everything in shades of yellow and black, and it continues into the hallway of the second floor before you enter the exhibition.
The show itself is an Instagrammer’s dream, as Eliasson plays with use of color and perception throughout, while also taking a serious look at global environmental issues. This will come as no surprise to the staggering two million people who visited his installation “The Weather Project” in 2003, when the Turbine Hall was bathed in artificial sunlight and mist for five months.
A highlight of the show is “Din blinde passager” (Your blind passenger), a 39-meter-long passageway filled with yellow fog. Initially everything appears in yellow (clearly a favorite color of Eliasson’s) as you stumble through it – the dense fog only allows you to see a few feet in front of you. But when you reach the end of the tunnel, there’s another optical trick in store: the color of the passageway suddenly changes to a blue or pinkish hue depending on how your eyes adjust.
Another mesmerizing piece (expect to queue to see it as it’s in a small side room) is “Big Bang Fountain.” Inside a darkened room, a small jet sends an eruption of water into the air every few seconds. But by using strobe lighting, it appears as a constantly appearing and disappearing frozen sculpture – don’t use a flash or you’ll spoil the magic!
Outside of that room, Eliasson has produced another playful piece – “Your uncertain shadow (colour)”, where visitors’ shadows appear on the wall like a rainbow, thanks to the five beams of colored light behind them. More rainbows appear throughout the exhibition; “Beauty” is an older work from 1993 and consists of a light mist raining down and the projected lights create rainbows within it. “In Real Life” – a new work created for the exhibition which also gives the show its title – is a geometric sphere suspended from the ceiling which casts rainbow shadows on the surrounding walls.
There is a strong environmental aspect to the show. Another new work created for the exhibition is the sculpture “The presence of absence pavilion” – a bronze rectangular space that you can walk inside, which was made by casting a piece of glacial ice. In the same room is his 1999 series of photographs of glaciers in Iceland. This autumn, Eliasson will return to where he shot those images to create an updated series that will be displayed alongside it, showing us how the landscape has changed in the past 20 years.
More optical tricks are at play throughout the exhibition. When you look out the window in the second room, you can see the rain beating down on the glass. Not unusual for London’s summer weather – until you remember that it’s actually sunny outside, and that this is the artwork “Regenfenster” (Rain window) and Eliasson is back to messing with your mind by pouring water down the outside of the glass.
In the same room, a semi-spherical piece of glass emerges from the far wall. It is only when you move into the next room that you realize that it’s actually a sphere that has been inserted between the walls, and when you look through it from the third room, you see the second room flipped upside down. (If you get a friend to stand on the other side of it, you can also get some hilarious fairground-style hall of mirrors distortions of their face.)
There are many more fascinating works to interact with throughout the show, and visitors can even experience what it’s like to be within Eliasson’s studio in Berlin. The final room is titled “The Expanded Studio,” where one wall has been converted into a giant mood board, showcasing ideas, articles, and images, that have inspired the team. And every other Wednesday throughout the show, there will be a live feed from the studio, showing you what the team is up to.
The Berlin studio is also noted for its kitchen, and has worked with the team at Tate’s terrace bar to develop a seasonal vegetarian menu, served on long tables, to encourage communal interaction between diners as in the studio’s own dining space. And naturally, the café is decorated with more Eliasson artworks, providing the perfect environment to literally digest the incredible show you have just seen.
Olafur Eliasson: In real life runs from July 11, 2019 – January 5, 2020
Open daily 10:00 – 18:00 and until 22:00 on Friday and Saturday
Tickets: £18 (£17 concession). Under 12 is free; 12-18 years £5