Art and Control: Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson is in São Paulo. It is a big exhibition shared between Sesc Pompeia (Lina Bo Bardi’s landmark building), the Sesc Belenzinho (East), and Pinacoteca do Estado (the most influential art space of the city).

As Eliasson usually does, his audience is attracted into a space from which reactions are expected, on the grounds of its peculiar special effects. Here, a large mirror suspended up to the gallery’s ceiling, attracting visitors, who looked, at best, entertained, at worst, afraid that the big piece could fall down on their heads.

The works that are drawing more public attention are those at the SESC Pompéia Gallery. A labyrinth of colored and transparent walls, first. The second one is a great hall, where people get lost as they ramble amid intense gas haze. All you can see is about two feet around of yourself, it is a sensation of loneliness, abandonment that it causes. Luckily you will be soon finding the exit.

Eliasson had never been in Latin America before. Thanks to the project “Southern Panoramas”, sponsored by Sesc, he can now show works produced since the early 2000s. Some of them are pretty much the beginning of his career, more focused on external interventions, similar to the land art.

He is a nature lover, that’s for sure. Curator Jochen Volcz reaffirm that these works may not be new, they are aimed at creating “dialogue” with the spaces in Brazil.

How to criticize Eliasson

The Danish artist has insisted in producing large works, confronting landscapes. In 2008 his installation over the Hudson River created an artificial waterfall at Brooklyn Bridge, in New York. Four years before he began designing an “artificial sun” (a yellowish, bright, circular light ball) in the city of Utrecht, the Netherlands, a sun that never was extinguished.

In interview to the The New York Times, Eliasson has dismissed he is only interested for the natural event:  “I’m not interested in weather, I’m no meteorologist. I’m interested in people, how they react to the qualities of time.” Eliasson’s work indeed does not foresee the conditions of the nature, in a technical sense, but one could easily say he aims to control the nature.

These experiments link natural resources to humans beings, but it does not seem a connection between the rational world with wild nature, but the wild nature that ceases to be wild. One realm reads the other (the waterfall that invades Manhattan) or forces species into discomfort, blindness, absolute silence (e.g. the mirror room and gas room). Therefore, there is nothing about nature here, except when it is encased into laboratory conditions, human elaboration and ultimate alienation from its real emotion.

Such scientific rigor, a cynic would say, leads the man to fall into human traps, what is environment or imagination? Leaving one of his exhibitions, one can think, “do I want to repeat that?” Or “Do I want to know more about that?”. The artwork itself has not challenged any certainty, rather, it has confirmed what we know about materials and the possibility of that scientific wealth.

As an artist, Eliasson does not choose to release the structures of his concept of “nature”, they all are, otherwise, apprehended, well-founded and ultra-designed. They have a shape and count on a huge apparatus for its perfect accomplishment. If this is his way to retain the reality, considering that he’s not used to produce pictures or videos, we could assume that what he makes is to simulated reality to then transform it into a peculiar type of frame.

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