Documentary: Olafur Eliasson ‘Space is Process’ (DVD)

Olafur Eliasson is not an artist, it is large studio team exploring and creating all kind of works in context of art. I was excited to watch his the film ‘Space is Process’ on DVD, hoping to get different viewpoints on space and process, that seem so relevant to my own work and way of working.
He stated in the film
“It is not about me, it is about you” – Olafur Eliasson
Eliasson is known for his interrogation of space and light, our sensual responses to how these interact as a subjective experiences. As stated that the body makes sense out of space (dimension, scale) and he considers his working in already existing spaces as different to ‘a neutral, empty canvas’, as already been charged with ‘meaning and intentionalities’. One of his aims is ‘to do something having an impact’.
The film follows a few projects of Eliasson and his team with more end-to-end narrative of the ‘New York Waterfalls‘ installation 2008. A major project resembling at time more a construction work project. But at the end, it is still about him and his celebrity status.
For him, it is important that that his ‘values and qualities I believe in are communicated throughout the project’. Quite an art director position, or in other companies the director position in his team. He described his way of working as ‘having others to take care of something, I am  joining, get inspired and then we work from there’.
With regards to ‘Waterfalls’, Eliasson expresses his belief in inclusivity of a space, asking what a space, city and nature is about. With the dominance of water and the Hudson River in New York City, he applies his conception of environmental sensitivity to it, not only considering water as a surface, but to give it volume aka bringing out of the surface into 3D space. By that it would be more engaging to the  senses and be more than a picture. The spectator’s feeling would be different than just thinking and see a painted waterfall.  Further, he considers this intervention not only as a questioning of space but also of time, what is history and what is now.
I feel the question around how we interact and make sense of our surrounding, a spatial dimension, intriguing. Eliassson invites people to participate, to experiment with the space and to construct its own subjective meaning, and to include the spectator into the objecthood. An objecthood quite in the tradition of Fried’s critique of literalism as the experience encountered by an subject makes the experience itself part of the object. For him, the world becomes negotiable. It is up to us, the spectators to get involved.
“One unique quality of the language art speaks, it doesn’t take the world as granted, reality – constructed, thus re-negotiatable” – Olafur Eliasson
He is very much in exploring those aspects through his works and avoids to be personally part of the work.. He explained in the film that topics as his origin in Iceland are existentialist subjects and ‘there is no sense in communication with other people questions of existentialism‘. This feels strange to me, as if he would like to separate his personal life from his business structured ‘art’ life. A notion that sound quite familiar for me from my corporate background. And raising the question to me what kind of artwork or artist or impact in the artworld I would like to be or to make.
Another interesting aspect I captured in the film is his experience that ‘a work of art can embrace different people having different experiences at the same time’. It is his ambition to show that difference at the same time is actually a good thing, that one can be an individual as well a member of a group. It reminds me strongly of Deleuze and his conception of ‘Assemblages’.
Further, Eliasson elaborated the purpose of a studio and the question of balance between form and content.  The latter, he answered his viewpoint of form succeeding and resulting from content.  Quite a conceptual approach to artwork. Re studio, he sees it as am amplifier for his at times off-site responses to  nature or city. The studio would amplify those responses and another idea would eventually be generated. Although, he acknowledged that the studio could be restrictive as well due its structural constraints, and sees in organising workshop a way out.
Last not least, I found his view on exhibitions and retrospectives quite enlightening: to see shows not as showing pf past works but as a show of new experiences and installations, though the physical work itself could have been made ten years ago.


I enjoyed watching the film and Eliasson’s viewpoints and intentions behind his and his team works. I felt a bit intimidated by the extensive work efforts of his studio reminding me at times of construction and engineering projects. Perhaps, memories from my corporate past, not all pleasant, resurfaced and looking at life from a different, artist perspective (and ‘smaller’ one as well, economically speaken).
The expression of engaging the viewer’s into the work, not in a didactic way, but in a way to make one own’s subjective sense, resonates well. Whatever, the artist or designer has in mind, the viewer is processing and acting upon her/his own way. And there is no one better or worse.
I looked briefly at the artist’s website and the first glance went to a video, called ‘Wasserfarben‘  (2:48 min) on the frontpage, Eliasson describing is experience with drawing as way to understand. and how it related to chance and uncertainty.

  • Olafur Eliasson – Space is process (2011) Directed by: Lundø, H., Jørgensen, J. and Olafur, E. 2011, [DVD], Indigo.
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  • Stefan
    Sep 5,2018 at 7:09 PM

    you sensed well – perhaps the issue is to reflect on something not seen in real life. Perhaps the scale of the work is out of my vision. And yes, the question what served whom. Great to hear that you had a chance with your daughter to engage with the rainbow panorama. Eliasson did also one work with a closed room, fog aka haze inside and light diffusing through. Variations of light occuring, he called this if I am right ‘An encounter’ , as the spectators going inside the room, not able to see others only when in close distance – the encounter, He explained that by the variations of color in an otherwise dark and close room, one can adjust orientation system re the color shifts. Thanks again for commenting – always good to read and to relfect on that once again in a different view

  • Sep 5,2018 at 11:47 AM

    Interesting post – do I sense a bit of reluctance? I find some of his work a bit impersonal at times (and now I understand it to be intentional). I am reading a lot about design (and here it is also a virtue to leave out ones personality).

    I recently visited his rainbow panorama (on Aros) with our daughter (24 years). We were all alone, so took our time. I noted how the colours change the places (various areas of the city). Red makes the old town more romantic. Green turned the harbour and cranes more ‘industrious’. But for many it seems only a backdrop for selfies. It is like the infinity rooms of Kusama – People react to the art by taking selfies. Sometimes I wonder if artists intentionally consider the ‘selfie potential’?

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