Olafur Eliasson (1967-present) is a Danish-Icelandic multidisciplinary artist famous for his installation art, sculptures, photography, and use of natural elements to create immersive experiences. Driven by his interest in perception, movement, embodied experience, and sense of self, Eliasson creates work aimed at tackling societal concerns such as climate change.
Born in Copenhagen, Eliasson’s parents separated when he was eight, leading him to live with his mother and stepfather. While Eliasson was raised in Copenhagen he spent summers and holidays with his father in Iceland, absorbing the natural scenery that would eventually influence his work. He had his first art show at age 15 in Denmark, but also spent his youth competing in breakdancing, forming a group with two close friends called the “Harlem Gun Crew,” who eventually went on to win the Scandanavian breakdancing championship.
From 1989-1995 Olafur Eliasson studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, and after graduating opened his first studio in Berlin, which he has since maintained. Working with a variety of practitioners from architects, engineers, craftsmen, archivists, administrators, researchers, cooks, programmers, art historians, and specialised technicians, Eliasson creates large-scale projects and commissions across the globe. Since the 1990’s, Eliasson has created famous installation pieces from the Tate Modern in London to the Palace of Versailles in Paris as well as winning a multitude of awards, using natural elements such as light, color, water, and movement to alter viewers’ sensory perceptions. Producing work in both public and private spaces, much of Eliasson’s work aims to draw attention to the climate change crisis as well as the natural world and how we interact with it, using reflection and natural elements to connect art and science, heightening viewers' awareness of their own impact on the planet.
Alongside his studio work, Eliasson runs Little Sun, a certified B Company working to provide clean, renewable, and affordable light to communities without access to electricity by producing small solar-powered LED lamps. From 2009-2014 Eliasson was a professor at the Berlin University of the Arts, leading the Institut für Raumexperimente (Institute for Spatial Experiments) located in the same building as his studio. In 2019, Eliasson was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for renewable energy and climate action by the United Nations Development Programme. Today, Eliasson works and lives in Copenhagen and Berlin with his wife and children.
In this part of the course we will explore the influences, work, and life of Olafur Eliasson.