Olafur Eliasson Floods Museum With Site-Specific Installation Open to 'Human and Non-Human Alike'

  • April 21, 2021 15:22

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Olafur Eliasson, Life, 2021. Installation view: Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, 2021. Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles © 2021 Olafur Eliasson Photo: Mark Niedermann

A new site-specific installation entitled Life by the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson has brought a literal flood inside the Fondation Beyeler, in the Swiss city of Basel.

For this solo show (now through July 11, 2021), the artist immerses the museum in a border-crossing investigation of our preconceptions of nature and culture. He has allowed an adjacent pond—a feature usually separated from the interior by a large glass wall—into the Renzo Piano-designed museum (with the architect's permission).

Olafur Eliasson, Life. Installation view: Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, 2021. Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles © 2021 Olafur Eliasson Photo: Mark Niedermann

Visitors meander on elevated walkways above the organic green-dyed water dotted with pond plants, including water lilies and shellflowers selected by the landscape architect Günther Vogt. At night, a blue light illuminates the space.

For over 25 years, Eliasson’s work has explored perception, movement, embodied experience, and feelings of self. Art, for him, is a crucial means for turning thinking into doing in the world. His diverse works – including sculpture, painting, photography, film, and installations – have been exhibited widely throughout the world and include architectural projects and interventions in civic spaces.

Olafur Eliasson, Life, 2021. Installation view: Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, 2021. Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles © 2021 Olafur Eliasson Photo: Pati Grabowicz

Eliasson’s Life invites viewers to explore future forms of coexistence by considering multiple perspectives in the museum space – human and non-human alike - including plants, microorganisms, the weather...maybe animals. And for those who can not visit in-person, there is a livestream of the exhibition.

Eliasson wrote in a statement about Life:

"In recent years, I have increasingly grown interested in efforts to consider life not from a human-centric perspective but from a broad, biocentric perspective. I’ve found myself turning nouns into verbs – when I go through my exhibition, I try to tree, for instance – in order to become aware of perspectives that go beyond what we humans can properly
imagine.

Life for humans, like all mammals, depends on inhaling and exhaling, on oxygen. Following the anthropologists Natasha Myers and Timothy Choy, I’d say that life is also about con-spiring – playing on the origin of the word (‘to breathe with’) as well as the dictionary definition. We conspire with the tree, with others, and with the planet. 

When we recognise that our lives are inextricably entangled with our surroundings and with structures and systems that extend far beyond our local context, we learn, I believe, that we are all vulnerable and not fully in control. We act and interact in situations defined by uncertainty and unclear outcomes.

Olafur Eliasson, Life, 2021. Installation view: Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, 2021. Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles © 2021 Olafur Eliasson Photo:Pati Grabowicz

In the words of anthropologist Anna L. Tsing: Precarity once seemed the fate of the less fortunate. Now it seems that all our lives are precarious – even when, for the moment, our pockets are lined.

Life, my artwork, and the Fondation Beyeler are entangled with the surrounding park, the urban landscape, and the planet, and they come to life through everything and everyone that meet up in it. 

Together with the museum, I am giving up control over the artwork, so to speak, handing it over to human and non-human visitors, to plants, microorganisms, the weather, the climate – many of these elements that museums usually work very hard to keep out. Instead, we are trying to welcome everyone and everything in.

Olafur Eliasson, Life, 2021. Installation view: Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, 2021. Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles © 2021 Olafur Eliasson Photo: Mark Niedermann

Life is not bound by a human sense of time; it does not have fixed opening or closing dates. Instead, it slowly started emerging in April and will fade away in July. In this way, the construction and deconstruction of Life become integral parts of the artwork and can be observed by visitors from the park surrounding the Fondation Beyeler." 


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