Until April 24, New York:

‘Your ocular relief’, the central artwork of Olafur Eliasson‘s current solo exhibition at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York is on view through 24 April 2021.

On a curved screen in the darkened gallery, an evocative light show of ever-changing shapes, colors, and shadows, created through reflection and refraction of light, emerges and evolves. The sequence develops and vanishes in a slow continuum that is at once two-dimensional and architectural. The viewer, despite knowing that the shapes she is watching emerge are only light projections sees space and three-dimensional forms where there are none. Behind the screen, the viewer can glimpse the apparatuses that are responsible for the complex light show – an orchestra of lenses, prisms, mirrors, and color-effect filters. Many of these lenses were languishing in storage at the studio, the leftover pieces from other artworks and experiments, before being retooled for this artwork. Motors turn the various elements within the spotlights so that the movements unleash a sequence of distortions, reflections, and refractions on the screen. The resulting composition makes visible the physical phenomenon of light bending and splitting. Although the sequence repeats in a continuous loop, the abstract nature of the work makes it appear always new, beyond simple comprehension.

As inspiration for his projection works, Olafur Eliasson cites the experiments in film and photography of the early twentieth century by constructivist and expressionist artists like Hans Richter and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy.

Since the early 1990s, Eliasson’s practice has concentrated around the investigation of perception, often using natural phenomena to heighten our understanding of each other and our surroundings. ‘Your ocular relief’ continues Eliasson’s long-standing investigation of the cognitive and cultural conditions of perception, seeking to offer an alternative to the current pressures that shape our existence.

I hope that “Your ocular relief” offers a moment to exhale. In this past year – at a time when it felt as if there were no release, no relaxation – I became convinced that we need a moment of relief, of beauty, of letting go, in order to conceive of a better tomorrow. Before you have hope, you have to have relief.’

Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson works with sculpture, painting, photography, film, installation, and digital media. His art is driven by his interests in perception, movement, embodied experience, and feelings of self and community. Not limited to the confines of the museum and gallery, his practice engages the public through architectural projects, interventions in civic space, arts education, policy-making, and climate action. Eliasson is internationally renowned for his public installations that challenge the way we perceive and co-create our environments. In 2003, he made ‘The weather project’, a glowing indoor sun shrouded in mist at Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in London. In 2008, Eliasson constructed four expansive artificial waterfalls along the Manhattan and Brooklyn shorelines for ‘The New York City Waterfalls’. He has also explored art’s potential to address climate change: for ‘Ice Watch’, he brought large blocks of free-floating glacial ice to the city centers of Copenhagen in 2014, Paris in 2015, and London in 2018. Passers-by could touch fragments of the Greenlandic glacial ice and witness its fragility as it disappeared before them. In 2019, Eliasson was named UNDP Goodwill Ambassador for climate action and the sustainable development goals. Located in Berlin, Studio Olafur Eliasson comprises a large team of craftsmen, architects, archivists, researchers, administrators, cooks, art historians, and specialized technicians. 

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Photo: (c) Tom Powel