colourful mist lit suspended in the air

Beauty, Olafur Eliasson (1993)

Standing in front of Olafur Eliasson’s Beauty, a shimmering mist suspended by light, is both a grounding and unsettling experience. While the serenity of a rainbow is amplified when viewed in focus, the presentation of this phenomena in isolation provokes an eerie sense of time frozen. Similarly, Moss Wall, the 20m wide mass of breathing Scandinavian reindeer moss, offers a magnified impression of its intricate and abundant surface. However, its preservation around wire mesh in the white cube space of a gallery is a sombering reminder of the fragility of the natural world. This exploration of time, atmosphere and nature is at the core of Eliasson’s work, along with an unwavering determination to protect the planet. He returns to the Tate Modern with his retrospective In Real Life following Ice Watch at the end of last year, which saw 24 blocks of Greenland ice melting in the London winter sun.

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Figure emerging from yellow mist

Din blinde passager, Olafur Eliasson (2010). Photo by Anders Sune Berg

However, climate change, as the show demonstrates, isn’t Eliasson‘s sole preoccupation. The Danish-Icelandic artist is also fascinated by manipulating perspective. One whole room is dedicated to his kaleidoscopes, whilst In your uncertain shadow uses colourful beams of light to multiply the viewer’s silhouette in a huge projection against the gallery wall.

Fountain of water in the dark with two people watching

Big Bang Fountain, Olafur Eliasson

In perhaps his most powerful piece, Din blinde passager visitors enter a 39 metre passageway filled with dense, luminescent fog. With an inability to navigate visually, you become intensely aware of the other senses: the damp air on your skin, the sweet taste of vaporised food colouring and the sound of disembodied voices. You emerge exhilarated by the shared sensory experience and with a renewed focus on your body. It is in moments like these that Eliasson’s work is at its most powerful and transformative.

James Houston

Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life runs until 5 January 2020 at Tate Modern, London. To book tickets visit: tate.org.uk