Olafur Eliasson’s Multiple Shadow House opened Thursday, February 11th at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery. Eliasson, who has been described as “an ecstasy-inducing Danish-Icelandic artist,” has perfected the concept of smoke and mirror art that consistently wows its audience and draws crowds (including a Michael Bloomberg and numerous body guards). The packed opening felt a bit like Disney World meets the hands-on section of a science museum; particularly because the exhibition involves the viewer in a collaborative creative process. Opening attendees played obsessively with their color-split shadows on the wall, made shadow puppets with their hands and basically behaved as if this was the first time they had even seen light divided into color spectrums or their own corporeal outline for that matter. This behavior illustrates Eliasson’s emphasis on the visitor’s experience and his tendency to create work in which the potential lies in the exchange between the piece and the viewer.
The first floor of the two-floor exhibit consists of clusters of rooms comprised of a simple wooden framework supporting large projection screens. Each room allows for the viewer to stand in front of projected light, thus causing the light to fracture into colored shadows on the wall. These projections, like much of Eliasson’s work, causes the viewer to re-examine even the most common familiarities, such as light, with renewed appreciation and wonder. Eliasson is particularly interested in how we understand, see, and experience space. Multiple Shadow House does not disappoint on this level. The user negotiates and constructs his or her own surroundings while experiencing subtleties of color, thrill of participation, and magic of science.
The theme of perception of visual imagery and viewer involvement is continued upstairs in Intangible Afterimage Star (2008). Six spotlights project geometrical forms in magenta, blue, yellow, green, magenta, and turquoise onto a wall, layering and intersecting. As explained in the press release, “the intense projections fade in and out, and complimentary afterimages stay on the visitor’s retina and appear to multiply the color compositions. As a result, the film is only partially produced by the spotlight’s projection; the rest is contributed by the viewer.”
Also upstairs is a stunning collection of what appear to be studies in color, sequences, and shape done in watercolor and pencil on paper. Minimal and intimate, these stationary works are a refreshing change from the rest of the exhibition. Configured in sequences, the watercolors use ellipses and circles as narrative exercises on the perception of space and movement. Another piece, Colour Experiment no. 3, is a circular oil painting that at first glance appears to be a basic study in color or a large color wheel. However, the painting is actually an expansion of the traditional model of a color wheel, wherein each of the 360 degrees is painted in one color and corresponds to its complementary afterimage located directly across from itself.
Eliasson has cited the work of close friend Einar Thorstein, a philosopher, scientist, and engineer, as a constant source of his visual vocabulary. He has found inspiration in Thorstein’s spatial ideas such as geodesic domes, fivefold symmetries, spiral spheres, towers and pavilions, the golden ratio, and kaleidoscopes. Eliasson uses these concepts to create works like Multiple Shadow House which exist as experiences more than material objects. Presented via transparent means of constructions, these experiences illustrate the nature of perception-based stimulation as well as the artist’s ability to manipulate the experience.
Current solo exhibitions for Eliasson include Olafur Eliasson: Your Chance Encounter at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan and Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Australia.