Q and As

Olafur Eliasson / Slideshow

With his focus on how a piece resonates with a viewer, artist Olafur Eliasson creates works to captivate the senses; turning the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern into The weather project, a misty expanse of sun and sky to play with our notions of experience and representation, and creating four monumental waterfalls along the waterfront of New York Harbour to encourage viewers to consider public space and enhance their connectedness to the city.

Engaged by the effects of disorientating perception and deviant geometry, Eliasson’s collaborations have produced the haunting Your black horizon with architect David Adjaye and the kaleidoscopic façade for Harpa, Reykjavik’s new concert hall with Henning Larsen Architects which was completed in 2011.

You have described your studio in Berlin as a “laboratory for creative non-linear thinking.” Can you explain what you mean by non-linear thinking, and how you apply it to your work?

For some years now, I have organised almost annually a get-together in my studio called Life is space, where I bring together outside guests – scientists, artists, scholars, dancers, theorists, spatial practitioners, and movement experts – the participants in the Institut für Raumexperimente (the Berlin University of the Arts class located inside the studio), and the studio team. It is a day for sharing, discussing, presenting, and experimenting. These gatherings are only loosely planned in advance and are largely left to chance and intuition. The programme develops as a result of what people say and do. Action is what guides us. The Life is space day is really just an intensification of what goes on in my studio on a daily basis. We talk, test, draw, develop, produce and so on – all in-house – with a number of experts from Berlin, from Germany, from all over the world. Ideas loop about, recur, and are transformed according to various factors, such as who is developing a particular project, what materials we are working with, or in reaction to external input, etc.

How much do you think our own preconceptions of the world we inhabit affect how we interact with our environment?

I work a lot with our perception of time, of duration, and of how the felt feeling of being present in a situation also determines how that situation unfolds. A situation or an event – or, for that matter, an artwork – consists as much in what we contribute emotionally and our attention and feeling of presence, as in the exterior conditions. One way of exploring this temporal dimension of our lives is to work with slow-motion specialists, which is something I have done a number of times. Last year, I did a film called Movement microscope. It was filmed at my studio in Berlin with a number of great young urban movement experts, who walked about the studio in slow motion or performed mechanical movements while the studio team went about their day-to-day activities. The distinctions between what is choreographed, what is spontaneous movement, and what is ‘normal’ studio activity become blurred, making us view movement differently, as if under a microscope, and changing the space within which we act.

You use mathematical forms such as the cube quite explicitly in your work. What is it that draws you to these forms?

I often work with geometric shapes and with non-Euclidean geometry. For the facades of the Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre, for instance, I deployed the so-called ‘quasi brick’ that I have developed with Einar Thorsteinn, an Icelandic artist and geometer. The three-dimensional quasi brick is based on five-fold symmetry and is the single element that makes up the south facades.

Another example is Your sound galaxy, a work that I just finished. It consists of a group of twenty-seven polyhedra suspended from the ceiling and arranged in two horizontally concentric circles. The polyhedra are arranged in a clockwise sequence in which each form has more faces than the last. These are organisable into nine ‘families’ of three related forms. Two of the three are dual polyhedra – meaning that the number of vertices on the one polyhedron is equal to the number of faces on the other – and the third, hanging in the inner circle, is a combination of the two.

Again, it is very much about movement and time, because each polyhedron has an LED light at its centre, and when you walk around beneath the artwork, light sparkles through the cracks in the frames above, so that the viewer is instrumental in making a composition of light in transformation. It is like a sound composition, only there is no sound.

How do you perceive the construction of space?

Unlearning Space – Spacing Unlearning

It is necessary to unlearn space in order to embody space.

It is necessary to unlearn how we see in order to see with our bodies.

It is necessary to unlearn knowledge of our body in three dimensions in order to recover the real dimensionality of our body.

Let’s dance space.

Let’s re-space our bodies.

Let’s celebrate the felt feeling of presence.


Studio Olafur Eliasson was founded in Berlin in 1995 and continues to progress and create artworks, exhibitions and installations.  In 2009 Eliasson set up the Institut für Raumexperimente (Institute for Spatial Experiments) a research project exploring new methods of arts education which he teaches and co-ordinates and is affiliated with the Berlin University of the Arts.

Olafur Eliasson Your sound galaxy, 2012 Photographer: Studio Olafur EliassonDrawing produced at Life is space 4 by the sound of Hildur Gu∂nadóttir's cello-like instrument attached to Olafur Eliasson's Spatial vibration: string-based instrument, study II, 2008 Photographer: Studio Olafur Eliasson