Olafur Eliasson: The speed of your attention
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Los Angeles
through December 22, 2018
By Shana Nys Dambrot
Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s sphere of activity revolves around optical phenomenology, recreating experiences distilled from the natural world, the better to consider their meaning for ourselves and our culture. He is known for using relatively simple, even humble materials like colored light, wood, glass, and water, and his gestures and processes range from the intimate and minimal to improbable feats of architectural-scale engineering. He’s made waterfalls and watercolors, sculptures and spectacles, films, photography, painting, and all manner of installations for both indoor and outdoor spaces.
The artist’s recent site-specific installation at the Marciano Art Foundation earlier this year was an astonishing and innovative non-material work of art. It was made of empty space, color filters, and moving light — that was it, but it was all-encompassing, irresistible, monumental, and weightless. It activated the contours and history of the gutted theatrical black box of the former temple like a movie made of stained glass. Bonakdar Gallery’s current exhibition of static works lacks none of the operatic impact of that masterpiece. If anything, the jewel box-like magic of these subtle alchemies and frozen firmaments, and even the single kinetic work’s breathtaking intimacy, are all the more impressive precisely because their smaller footprints nevertheless operate at full capacity for marvel.
The bedroom-size installation Retinal flare space (2018, color-effect filter glass, projector, stainless steel, motors) is the kind of place you could stay in forever. In a darkened project space, a single light source is stationary, and a few suspended discs spin slowly in place. As their color-treated surfaces catch and refract and sling the light around the room, a series of interlocking, ever-changing ellipses create a seemingly infinite parade of variations. Celestial effects from eclipse to starbursts, sunsets to the climax of “Melancholia” come and go; a basic palette of cyan, magenta, and yellow generate a spectral galaxy of color.
In another project space, a fractal web of geometric pattern festoons every surface from floor to ceiling in a pulsing network of reflections, bouncing off a series of boxy chandeliers hung from the ceiling. Using a few different kinds of artisanal glass — including “glacial glass” which the artist made himself using the finely granular sand left behind on the landscape as a glacial mass retreated — the Buckminster Fuller-like polyhedral shapes of the lanterns privilege both the hand-blown, traditional craft of their making as well as the conceptual and cognitive fundamentals that inspire all Eliasson’s designs. All of this in the form of a walk-in fairytale.
A series of self-contained wall sculptures translate essential properties and aspects of the installations into works that, because they too use hand-blown glass in circular forms and rich colors, capture and reflect ambient light and elements of the space they occupy in ways that seem to move and change as the viewer themselves moves through the room. Neither paintings nor mirrors, they combine the most eye-catching mysteries of both and yet sail past their constraints. They do not depict or describe, they articulate and involve. They inspire in the viewer something akin to the artist’s own extreme attentiveness to the elements of the natural world, and a rekindled love for its most basic expressions — light and color.
Moving together is a free-standing grid of 54 crystal spheres. Depending on the viewer’s place and angle of perspective — and again, changing as they move around it — the spheres cycle from crescents of clear to opaque, moon-like, engaging and inverting their own figures within the globes. All of the standing and still pieces empower the viewer to activate them with their own presences. Beyond aesthetic appeal and a sense of playfulness, this gesture is also reminding humans that we do have a role to play in the larger context within which these and all his works exist — stewardship of the planet. His scrutiny of the natural world is not only artistic. Eliasson is also a committed environmental justice, climate change, and sustainability activist whose actions include manufacturing a portable solar cell and employing a full-time vegan chef at his studio.
For this reason, his material sources often expanded to unexpected places. For example, the poetic watercolor paintings, and a number of sculptural works in the exhibition which use a rugged, seemingly unrefined material — Icelandic driftwood. Seismo-sound compass (2018) is a hanging mobile with the qualities of a folkloric talisman and the ages-old functionality of navigation, also references the fact that Iceland has no forests, and that therefore the wood must have traveled untold distances before being reclaimed for this purpose. This confluence of material, concept, and abstract narrative is exactly the kind of multivalent construct that makes Eliasson’s work profound as well as pleasing. Four Drifting corner (all 2018) sculptures are driftwood logs with gradient blue pigments, installed in gallery corners like totems, cautionary tales, sentries, or household saints. The tactility of the ocean-worn surfaces relates the story of their own exile and return, a ready-made metaphor for the experience of a person in this world, and for this world among the cosmos.
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
1010 N Highland Ave Los Angeles, CA
Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday
from 10:00 AM — 6:00 PM