I walked into the room and it was like walking into colour itself – a fog of multiple hues and the closest sensation to swimming in liquid air I’ve ever experienced. The fog was so thick it obscured any sign of the walls, ceiling or anything in fact, to indicate where one was in the room.
After awhile though, wonder started to give way to disorientation and claustrophobia, so that it was with relief that both I and an older lady beind me, somehow found the exit.
But the installation, entitled ‘Your Blind Movement’, had left an indelible impression, as did the rest of the sensational Innen Stadt Aussen (‘Inner City Out’) 2010 exhibition by acclaimed Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson.
Held both within a building (the marvellous Martin-Gropius-Bau) as well as outside in the city, the exhibition was a tribute to Berlin, where Eliasson is based, and embodied his philosophy that “artwork is fundamentally tied to its surroundings, to the present, to society, to cultural and geographic determinants”.
Using illusions and optical tricks, the works engaged with and distorted reality, evoking curiosity as well as a real sense of discovery. Playing with the mind and emotions, they elicited amazement, fascination and delight. For me, they truly defined the magical.
Mirrors were a major facet of Eliasson’s outdoor installations, and I was lucky to have seen the work which involved a van with a very large mirror driving slowly through the city, reflecting life as it was happening back to that life itself.
This was expertly filmed by a production crew and shown in the Martin-Gropius-Bau as fantastic split-screen images that messed with the mind because they really made one question what one was seeing. What was real? What was not?
More mirror work appeared in the immense ‘Mikroskop’ floor-to-ceiling installation of mirrors that reflected the building’s skylight, lines and spaces beautifully and endlessly.
I was thrilled to suddenly catch sight of myself reflected in that infinity too and becoming, as it were, one with the art.
Such purposeful incorporation of visitors in installations was also evident in ‘Your uncertain shadow’.
This work involved three empty rooms of coloured lights projected against the wall. Visitors walking through the spaces had their silhouettes and their shadows become the artwork. The more self-conscious like me, stood and watched while other ‘actors’ performed, including a dancing couple and teenagers who gleefully struck various poses.
From there, I walked through another empty room, and saw another building from its large window. Going up to the window, I was taken aback to see my reflection, which I initially thought was reflected on the window opposite.
Then I heard someone behind me say, “That’s our building”, and I was absolutely delighted to realise that there was a massive mirror outside reflecting the entire facade of the side of the building on which I was standing.
Such invitations towards discovery were personified most obviously in the model room.
There, models of objects were perched higgledy-piggledy on a large table that reminded me of a messy laboratory of a scientist or mathematician. They offered hours of examination of the manifold shapes, twists, curves and angles of objects.
There were also looping videos. My favourite was one of a captivating disembodied ‘performing’ hand.
This installation foregrounded innovation and technology in Eliasson’s work, the nuts and bolts of the making of his art being as much a marvel as the works themselves.
Three such examples of these were the combination of slow movement and projection in ‘Your roundabout movie’, featuring two squares, one cut out, the other solid; ‘Round rainbow’ which saw beautiful patterns created by refracting light; and ‘Water pendulum’ where a twisting hose dangled from the ceiling with live spurting water and strobe lights created a fantastic dancing fountain.
When I had finished with the last exhibit, I was smiling, touched by this magic, and I actually went through many of the installations again, enjoying the sensations they aroused. An inspiring exhibition indeed. ω
[Image of ‘Your uncertain shadow’ courtesy of Olafur Eliasson]
Prologue – A Little Bit of Frida Kahlo
Prologue – A Little Bit of Frida Kahlo
I actually have Frida Kahlo to thank for my fabulous Olafur Eliasson experience. I had gone to the Martin-Gropius-Bau in a second attempt to see a historic retrospective of the iconoclastic Mexican artist’s life and work, which included rare and difficult-to-source pieces.
Seeing the snaking line along the pavement though, my heart sank. A friendly museum officer said the queue was 800 metres long and it would take an hour to clear every 200 metres. Doing the maths, I figured it wasn’t worth waiting.
Deciding then to see the Eliasson exhibition, I had to admit feeling some glee breezing past the Kahlo visitors, some of whom were sitting on fold-up chairs (by then, the exhibition was known to be drawing record attendance); those at the museum’s entrance looked intensely fed-up. Inside the building, I was surprised to see that the Kahlo line continue to snake! Incredible.
Though satisfied by the Eliasson experience, I determined to experience some of that Kahlo buzz and headed to the museum bookshop to slowly peruse the many postcards from the Kahlo retrospective. These included her amazing artwork as well as photographs.
Sadly, the exhibition posters had sold out and so I confined myself to purchasing bookmarks and a lovely illustrative book on Kahlo which I spent the evening at home poring over and deepening my appreciation of her. My exposure to her had been largely due to the 2002 Salma Hayek biopic; judging from the book, the film was a remarkably strong representation of her life. ω