ArtSlant: Eliasson’s Essentials

The Pavilion, Vitamin Creative Space, 2503-B-Building 2, Northern District, Pingod Community, No.32 Baiziwan Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100022, China

May, 2012 –

Reflecting Vitamin Creative Space’s approach to the artwork as a “daily activity,” the four pieces by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson currently installed in their Beijing space (The Pavilion) are not quite an exhibition – there was no formal opening and no general announcement made, and there is no official end date to the show. Such an arrangement is part of Vitamin’s way of leaving space for the public to discover the works in conditions that strengthen their place in the world rather than as idealised art objects removed from it, potentially leading to more meaningful experiences with them.

This rather quixotic mode of presentation is reflected in the location of The Pavilion itself, perched on the top, 25th floor of an “art district” on the southern periphery of Beijing’s CBD. The relative inaccessibility of The Pavilion—there are no signs indicating its presence, you need to phone up for entry to the building, and the room is un-signposted and unannounced behind a standard white door at the end of a nondescript corridor—serves to place it in strange relation to its aims at engaging with “daily life.” This daily life came up a lot in a conversation I had recently with Zhang Wei, the founder of the space and her staff. On the level of a business, Vitamin seem to place themselves in something of a mid-point between acknowledging their role as a commercial gallery and as something akin to a non-profit space which might allow them to work with the art free from market constraints – something their ethos of “daily life” seems to embody.

Olafur Eliasson at The Pavilion

Vitamin have found a kindred spirit in Eliasson and have been in discussions with him for a few years now. They will ultimately produce a book based on his work, but they have also been sharing ideas about art making and the experience of art, and see their approaches as in some ways compatible. Zhang Wei explained that their activities both deal with this idea of daily life. For Vitamin it is by being something other than a regular gallery space that simply provides space to show and sell work. Instead they aim to work productively with their artists, as well as creating an environment that allows the visitor to experience the work as part of their own life. This “working/living experience” with the works of art is a means to open up to “the universal,” the daily situation becomes the medium to create awareness, to create and shape the situation for the audience. The gallery provides “a platform, a transformation space, rather than a space you need to fill.”

For Eliasson, his art investigates physical phenomena as a way to focus our attention on our bodily experiences through these phenomena, most often through the manipulation of light via materials such as glass or mirrors. In The Pavilion Eliasson has installed four pieces. The prosaically titled Blue Lamp sits on the entrance level and is a freestanding metal structure forming the Platonic solids of a cube enclosed within a dodecahedron. The faces of these forms are made up of thin, coated glass panels, which look handmade with their many air bubbles and imperfections. These panels are coloured a royal blue, purple or green (depending on which angle you view the surface from), and a bulb inside the structure projects light through the panels, casting faceted shadows onto the surfaces around it. Sunset Door is a shallow, semi-circular piece of coated glass, fixed at right angles to the wall and illuminated by a spotlight in a metal bucket on the floor below it. The light interacts with the coated and semi-mirrored surfaces of the glass in such a way as to create a bi-colour, blue and yellow circle on the wall, as if of a sun setting into water.

Upstairs, Flywheel mirror places another semicircular piece of semi-mirrored, coated glass at right angles to a round mirror on the wall, one’s reflection becoming mono-coloured in either yellow or purple when looking from either side of the glass. Greeting you at the top of the stairs, Your Momentum Device is a set of metal hoops fixed inside each other, holding mirrored sections which seem to work together to upset the viewers understanding of the spaces being seen through and reflected in them, and again casting shaped and coloured reflections on the walls.

Eliasson’s manipulation of sensory phenomena might be seen to be somewhat idealised, and esoteric in its semi-scientific approaches. Indeed, the works’ ability to focus our attention on our own personal experiences of the objects may be said to parallel Vitamin’s own approach. I said at the beginning that Vitamin’s mode of existence was somewhat quixotic, especially their retreat from the usual systems of announcement and publicity. By that I meant that one would think those systems would serve a valid purpose for them, considering the difficult physical location of the Pavilion that works against discovery without prior knowledge.

But to say there has been no publicity at all is perhaps is perhaps disingenuous on my part, as I was one of a small group that was invited to experience the works while sharing a dinner and conversation at the space. This kind of invitational, potentially more in-depth, experience of the works is Vitamin’s way of promoting the engagement with them. I can see why Vitamin like to work in this way, and appreciate the personal touch afforded by it, but I am also wary of the enforced restrictions of the process. I would suggest this “daily life” that they speak of is not in itself “a universal” that they can aim to reach, but in the way they work it becomes Vitamin’s daily life – a very selective daily life, and not everyone’s.

That said, this maintenance of a certain distance does allow for a contemplative situation and does provide the opportunity for more meaningful engagements with the activities in the space, something that The Pavilion as a concept (and as a practicality) successfully promotes and keys into. This approach has its benefits and serves as an interesting alternative to the usual approaches to presenting art via a gallery space. In conjunction with Eliasson’s works, it gives a new angle to what an artwork means in a gallery space and how it relates to the audience.

Author: Edward Sanderson

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ArtSlant: Eliasson’s Essentials by escdotdot is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International

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