Salone del mobile and Fuorisalone 2019

Interview with Olafur Eliasson: sharing ideas

The visionary light artist is in Milan to present a new product: a large-scale lamp manufactured by Louis Poulsen.

Olafur Eliasson per Louis Poulsen

It’s difficult to sum up in a few words the personality and artistic work of Olafur Eliasson, one of the less conventional figures in the panorama of international creativity. Born in 1967 in Copenhagen to Icelandic parents, Eliasson grew up in Denmark and now works in Berlin in a former brewery, where he has set up a sort of studio/cultural company/research centre, employing a multidisciplinary team of around 100 people. This was where the QE Quasi suspension lamp, manufactured by the iconic Danish lighting company Louis Poulsen, was developed. It is now making its debut at Milan Design Week.

Mr Eliasson, you’re here in Milan as a designer, but you’re also an artist and architect. Which of these labels suits your work best?
Everything I do is art first and foremost – so I feel I’m an artist above all. Even an architectural project like the Fjordenhus (“house on the fjord”, the building that houses the Danish company Kirk Kapital in Veje, Denmark – Ed.), which was opened last June, was a work of art for me, exactly like all my works. The approach, the language, the ideas and the principles are just the same as those you can find in a simple watercolour of mine. Of course, a building requires much more work to complete. It needs the contributions of many different people: engineers, architects, builders and so on.

… because you like working in a team and always put the interdisciplinary approach first.Isn’t that unusual for an artist? (It goes against the traditional vision of the artist who works alone.) How do you manage such a large group of people?
Collaboration is really important for the way I work and I generally think much better when I’m part of a group. I’ve realised that if I have the chance to share my ideas, and most of all discuss them, the project develops better – and I go from idea to completed work much faster. Of course, it wasn’t always like this. Today I have more than 100 people working with me in my studio, but twenty years ago, when I started, you could count them on the fingers of one hand … The studio has grown hugely over the years, enriched by professionals from different fields. This has opened up fresh avenues of ideas, letting us explore new areas of work and research. It’s not straightforward to run, but we’re learning the best way to do it. For example, we all eat together at least four times a month. Eating together is really effective “glue”: it brings people together and lets them talk and exchange ideas, which then flow into new projects

Is the lamp you’re presenting at Euroluce one of these?Absolutely. This too is a project that was the result of teamwork. I’d like designers, architects and artists to take a more interdisciplinary approach, to share their ideas and thoughts more broadly. I’d go further. I’d like the design world to understand the importance of broadening out collaboration to include scientists, musicians, poets, philosophers, choreographers, dancers and so on. I think it would be an excellent way of renewing our field.

In June you’re returning to London’s Tate Modern (11 July 2019 to 5 January 2020), which was the point of departure for your success: could you tell us anything about the work goingon show?
Yes, and I’m very happy to be returning to Tate Modern, which – as you rightly mention – has beenvery important in my artistic career. One of the things that I find very positive about this large London institution is that its projects always work to welcome in a huge public: it is a space that is truly open to everyone, to the whole city. The exhibition will cover a huge array of the works that I’ve created in the course of my career – pieces from twenty years ago as well as new site-specific projects. It was also exciting to work on the catalogue, which gathers together conversations with people and insights into the themes that have been crucial sources of inspiration for my work.

Salone 2019
Euroluce, Milano Rho,
Opening dates:
9th- 14th April 2019

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