Sunday 9 February 2020

Olafur Eliasson - In Real Life

In Real Life, by Olafur Eliasson

at Tate Modern.

This exhibition consists of over 40 works of art made between 1990 and today by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliason. Eliasson's art comes from three important interests. These are his concern with nature, honed through his time spent in Iceland, his research into geometry, and his investigations into how we perceive, feel about and shape the world around us. 

Eliasson puts experience at the centre of his art. A heightened awareness of ourselves and other people creates a sense of responsibility. Ultimately, he believes that art can have a strong impact on the world around the museum.

We did not realise that the eerie, and, to be honest, unpleasant light we encountered on the landing as we came down the stairs, was part of the exhibition, until we started queuing. 

The queue was long: another packed exhibition, we thought, and we were right.

The Cold Wind Sphere, 2012, outside the entrance to the exhibition, cast an attractive shadow on the wall

The Model Room:

In the Model Room, a case contained around 450 models, prototypes and geometric studies of various sizes. Together, they form a record of Olafur Eliasson's work with his studio team and with Icelandic artist, mathematician and architect Einar Thorsteinn.

Between 1996 and 2014 Thorsteinn and Eliasson collaborated on several projects and researched the geometric forms, symetries and ratios that structure a number of Eliasson's sculptures and pavilions. These models are made from different materials including copper wire, cardboard, paper photocopies, Lego, wood, foam and rubber balls. 

Early works:

Wavemachines, 1995

Moss Wall, 1994. Created from Scandinavian reindeer lichen.

Looking closer

Rain Window, 1999, (metal, water, sprinkler, nozzles)

 Looking out of the Rain Window

How We Live Together? 2019

This room consisted of just a mirror on the ceiling - by looking up we could see ourselves reflected there.


Over the years Eliasson has created photographic series that document Iceland. He has witnessed first-hand how global warming is causing its glaciers to melt.

Sunney, 1995, (transparent plastic sheet - yellow)

This plastic sheet divided the room into two.

We then moved on the other side of the plastic sheet to look at the Glacier Series:

'In 1991, I photographed a number of Iceland's glaciers from the air. For years, I had hiked to the glaciers while visiting family in Iceland. As a child and young adult, I took the natural environment of Iceland for granted as something eternal, separate from the world I was growing up in, in Denmark. For me, Iceland was nature and Denmark was culture, and I thought these glaciers as beyond human influence. In comparison to the experience of standing on the glaciers, surrounded by the vast expanse of ice, I was always disappointed by how they appeared in photographs. How can you capture the magnitude of a glacier in a single image? This led me to take a small plane over the glaciers and shoot them from a distance that could show their scale.

This summer, twenty years later, I went back to photograph the same glaciers from the same angle and at the same distance. The resulting images form a new series. When compared with the older photographs, it bears testimony to how much has disappeared in the last two decades. Flying over the glaciers again, I was shocked to see the difference. Although I expected them to have changed, and I knew the situation was dire, I was not prepared for what I saw. All of the glaciers have shrunk considerably, and some are even difficult to find again. Once a glacier melts, it is gone forever.

The photographs show that this moment must not go to waste. The international community must act now. We have a moral responsibility to future generations to work together to protect our remaining glaciers and to halt the progress of global warming. Every glacier that is lost reflects our inaction. Every glacier that is saved will be a testament to the courage and purpose that we can muster in the face of this emergency. One day, instead of mourning the loss of more glaciers, we must be able to stand tall in celebration of their survival'.


Your Uncertain Shadow (colour), 2010

Your Spiral View, 2002

We obviously, went into the tunnel

In Real Life, 2019

A hanging sphere, structured by a complex yet regular geometric principle, creating a sense of energy within the object and outside it through the shadow and light play on the surrounding walls.

Your Planetary Window, 2019

Another example of Eliasson's interest in kaleidoscopes

Your Blind Passenger, 2010

This is the Fog Room, a 35-metre long tunnel installation: a densely fogged environment, it provides visibility at 1.5 metres, forcing visitors to use other senses than sight to orient themselves.

While we were waiting to go in, we saw people coming out as their children could not cope. It was very disconcerting and disorienting indeed: we held hands and I used my other hand to hold on to the wall as we slowly walked through the tunnel. It was a very intense experience.


  1. Hello, would you happen to still have the exhibition poster from “In Real Life” and if so would you be willing to sell it? I collect exhibition posters and sadly accidentally damaged mine from this exhibition. Would be thrilled to replace it. Thanks for considering.

    1. Hi Natasha, unfortunately, I do not have the poster, I never did. Like you, I used to collect exhibition posters, but stopped when I started this blog. Interesting - I had not thought of the connection, but there must be one. I hope you manage to find one. All the best