Public Art and the Psyche: Olafur Eliasson on Cities

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“City planning has been way too pragmatic for a long time.” So says Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, who creates artistic environments that break down the industrial expanse of cities with faux-natural elements, hot sun, waterfalls, rivers, and take over the senses of their spectators. 

Olafur Eliasson, The Weather Project

The Weather Project, Tate Modern, 2003: Eliasson wants us to consider why we talk about the weather so much, and how weather impinges on our culture and our sense of ourselves. He wants us to ask what the weather’s doing in here. In all his projects, he wants us as conscious spectators rather than a passive, awestruck audience. But first of all, he has to captivate us. — Adrian Searle in The Guardian

Artist Olafur Eliasson On How Urban Design Impacts Our Psyche

By Diana Budds, Published in FastCo.Design

From a distance Cirkelbroen (circle bridge) on Christianshavns canal in Copenhagen, Denmark, takes on the guise of illuminated ships. Created by artist Olafur Eliasson and set to open on August 22, the bridge is the last link needed to make the entire perimeter of the city’s harbor accessible to pedestrians and cyclists.

Along with Nordea Fonden—a Danish organization that supports healthful activities—the city commissioned Eliasson to build a special project that’s emblematic of Copenhagen’s spirit. “On one side, it’s a work of art that is significant for downtown Copenhagen,” Eliasson says. “But on the other side, it’s about making a contribution to Copenhagen’s signature of environmentally friendly outdoor activity.”

STORY: Geo-Fauvism: Waking to the Wild Earth Through Visual Art

“What it all boils down to, is does a society trust that abstract values, emotional values, creativity, and unpredictability belong in public space? Is our public space highly regulated, predictable, and about health and safety in terms of preventing people from being surprised? Does the space nurture the possibility of a surprise or is that too much of a risk?”  — Olafur Eliasson

Urban Design, Olafur Eliasson

“Reflexivity is about connectivity, and connectivity is sometimes more about looking into yourself than looking at the ‘other.’ It can be hard work, and it can be uncomfortable, but sometimes public space has to make that demand of you. And sometimes art—and good art always—makes that demand of you. It makes you work. It makes you give. It makes you into a producer of space, of situations, of life, instead of being a consumer.” –Olafur Eliasson. Cirkelbroen Bridge, Photo By Søren Svendsen

Pedestrian bridges have helped make cities more livable. Cirkelbroen does that and also reveals a narrative about how one of the world’s most respected artists views the role of public space in shaping our culture. Eliasson’s work explores the intersection of nature, science, and human perception. For example, his recent LEGO installation called Collectively invited viewers to recast the work of famous architects. He’s made cheese using his own tears. An installation at the Louisiana museum, in Copenhagen, recreated a riverbed indoors. His monumental Take Your Time exhibition, which traveled to multiple museums, engaged visitors in artworks that explored what it means to see and observe. Cirkelbroen expounds on those notions, but in the form of infrastructure.

The space that ideas stem from is similar to a treasure room, according to artist Olafur Eliasson, who here discusses his remarkable art installation ‘Model Room.’

Eliasson hopes the 128-foot-long bridge‚ which is illuminated at night, becomes a space for people to meet, slow down, take a break, and hesitate. In a recent FastCo.Design interview, the artist talks about channeling Copenhagen’s maritime history; why art should be hard work; and why public spaces designed with pragmatism in mind are overrated. Read the full article.

“We are coming to the end of an era where pragmatics govern the organization of public space.”  — Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson, Riverbed, Louisiana

Eliasson’s Riverbed (2014): The transitions between inside and outside, culture and staged nature, become fluid and transitory – made specifically for the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, the creation explores the unique connection between nature, architecture and art that characterizes Louisiana. Eliasson’s work transforms the place in one sweeping artistic move: a rocky riverbed taking up the museum’s entire South Wing.

Olafur Eliasson’s works require an environmental perceptive shift in the context of a clearly delineated set of smoke and mirrors that flash loud enough to capture short attention spans, packaged in a government- and corporate-friendly presentation that avoids direct questioning of the order of things, making the best of the multi-million dollar art installation world. I included Eliasson in my recent survey of Geo-Fauvist visual arts because of his literal and figurative bridge between the urbanism of the real estate class, and the very real question of how long do we have on this planet to keep wandering blind to the hot sun and the rocks between our toes?  — Jack Eidt

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WilderUtopia.com regularly posts articles, photo essays, features, and documentaries from around the web that illuminate the challenges to coexistence between city and wild, developed and developing, human and other. To reach out, write to jack (dot) eidt (at) wilderutopia (dot) com. Follow us on Twitter @WilderUtopia