Olafur Eliasson declares that he wants to turn his back on two ways of thinking about exhibitions. The first is the “consumerist” view that understands the exhibition as a pre-set schedule imposed on the visitor, forced to enjoy it uniquely as any other good. The second is the “escapist” view that conceives the experience of being in a museum as an escape from reality, a way to avoid coming to terms with it at least temporarily.
The 55-year-old Icelandic-Danish “artistar” explains this assertively during the launch of Nel tuo tempo, the major project he has set up at Palazzo Strozzi, Florence. Moving away from the usual binaries, Eliasson aims at something else: he aspires to engage the viewers, to “activate” them, to make them aware of their own relevance because each of us is capable (“is good enough”, he says literally) of shaping an authentic and highly personal experience of the world around us.
“Let’s start with the title”, Arturo Galansino says, general manager of the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi and curator of the exhibition, on display until January 23, 2023: “It is an invitation to reclaim our time, our bodies, our gaze. In front of these works, each visitor will have a free, unique and unrepeatable experience; different from everyone else’s, but with others, in a shared space”. What are the works about? Certainly not traditionally conceived works: better to imagine them as devices designed to alter the viewer’s perception through optical effects and illusionistic tricks.
The exhibition starts in the courtyard with Under the weather. For the occasion, it was covered by a large structure suspended at 8 meters high. Its configuration seems to change every time we, down there, take a step: it vibrates continuously, and sometimes it appears to us as a circle, others as an ellipse. “It is the so-called moiré pattern”, Galansino explains, “a physical phenomenon through which the installation seems to alter the rigid symmetry of Palazzo Strozzi, creating a hypnotic atmosphere typical of that visual ambiguity that has always fascinated the artist”.
The connection with the place we are in, mentioned above by the manager/curator, has to be highlighted. In fact, according to Olafur Eliasson – who has been working on the exhibition since 2015, in a path of reflections and surveys split by the pandemic – this extraordinary Renaissance complex is not only the space his creations are housed in, but also their “co-producer” – “an exceptional co-worker”, as Galansino puts it.
The installations interact both with visitors and the spaces that house them. This is where the feeling that it is all site-specific, in this exhibition, comes from, although it is not. Indeed, it is the first works on the main floor of the palace that most effectively exemplify this threefold encounter.
In Triple seeing survey, Tomorrow and Just before now, it is as if the windows of the building shift to its interior. Walls and screens specially placed in the rooms collect the light from a few spotlights that, passing through the old glass panes from the outside, projects onto those surfaces the marks the time has imprinted on the transparent material and its imperfections.
Eliasson’s creations – about fifteen works are on display in the exhibition Nel tuo tempo – experience a constant changing condition. They change over time and in the vision of the visitor who, approaching and receding, explores them spatially during a perpetual walking. Light is the absolute protagonist. It is the artist’s great ally: the rainbows that pass through the vaporous curtain of Beauty; the reflections in the discs of Solar compression; the astonishing polychromy of the complex polyhedrons incorporated in Firefly double-polyhedron sphere experiment contrasted with the totalizing yellow that in Room for one color limits the perception of color to shades of yellow – precisely – and black.
“Eliasson’s works deal with serious and deep issues. They are the result of continuous scientific research”, Galansino continues, “but this complexity is translated in a light-hearted way that attracts and entertains the visitors, without the “gloominess” that is frequently featured in other areas of contemporary art”.
The latest work on display in the exhibition represents the climax of this approach to creative practice. For the first time, Olafur Eliasson explores with Your view matter (a title-manifesto) the boundaries of virtual reality, carrying the visitor with Oculus viewers through a succession of digital spaces that are shaped as Platonic solids (the first five) and a sphere (the sixth).
A “trip” we face by moving and looking in all directions urged on by a potentially endless stream of visual distortions. The artwork is an illusory space that, as experienced in Under the weather – the installation in the courtyard that kicks off the exhibition – is set in motion only by our own walking through it. And the circle (or ellipsis?) is closed.