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Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life

Sixteen years after The Weather Project graced the Turbine Hall and proved to be one of the most popular immersive art shows ever, Olafur Eliasson’s work is drawing crowds to Tate Modern with another “unmissable” exhibition.

‘Waterfall’ (2019), Courtesy of Tate Modern

Spanning three decades, showcasing all areas of his practise to date, and featuring seven new works, this retrospective is as vast as this creative is versatile. The most pressing issues of our time are addressed and universal themes such as the environment, colour, light and perception are explored in an array of mammoth sculptures, experiential installations, kaleidoscopic features and high impact projects.

Eliasson is described as an inventor, architect, social entrepreneur and “new model of artist”, famed for his recreation of natural phenomenon and intriguing use of elemental materials. Whilst continuing to work alongside his team of researchers, craftsmen, architects, programmers, art historians, and further afield with collaborators including scientists, philosophers and professors, this master of creative collaboration harnesses technological developments and seeks to challenge how we see the world and our place within it.

‘Beauty’ (1993), Courtesy of Tate Modern

Highlights of this survey include ‘Beauty’, which illuminates a rainbow sparkling on a curtain of mist, and ‘Your Blind Passenger’ (2010), a 39-metre-long corridor full of dense fog which, like much of Eliasson’s work, demands our presence in the here and now, and prompts us to listen to our senses beyond vision.

At times it’s disorientating, at other times it’s baffling, but there’s no trickery involved; Eliasson shares the mechanics of each piece and offers behind-the-scenes insight, in effect highlighting the natural magic that’s all around us, ‘in real life’

‘Glacial Spherical Flare’ (2019), Photograph by Anders Sune Berg, Courtesy of Tate Modern

In the ‘Glacier’ series, shot in his beloved Iceland in 1999, he has captured the splendour and fragility of the natural world in photographs that will later be joined by those taken 20 years later, revealing an undeniably stark contrast. Can making us appreciate the vulnerability and beauty of the natural world make us reduce our impact on it and make us want to protect it? Eliasson’s work gives me hope. 

But he also gives hope for humanity not least in the form of practical solutions such as Little Sun, the social enterprise which continues to provide solar-powered lamps and chargers to communities without access to electricity. Disruptive design ensuring accessibility for all and reminding us that we’re all #ConnectedByTheSun.

‘Little girl playing with Little Sun in Ethiopia’, Photograph by Merklit Mersha, Courtesy of Tate Modern

 In this time of global chaos, returning us to the elements and that which ties us, Eliasson’s work could be seen as a reminder that despite our different views, just as we share the need for power, light, water, air, community, we share an uncertain future. (Being present in each moment, appreciating nature’s wonders and using tech for good in creative collaboration, may indeed be all that can save us.)

In Real Life runs at London’s Tate Modern until 5 January 2020, then at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao from 14 February to 21 June.