“Olafur Eliasson: In real life” exhibition at Tate Mordern

Olafur Eliasson

Model room (2003), Olafur Eliasson in collaboration with Einar Thorsteinn


Although I have seen Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson‘s works before, I was still hesitant to visit his “Olafur Eliasson: In real life” exhibition at Tate Modern fearing that it has been overhyped. Then when I went with a friend on one Friday evening, we both enjoyed the exhibition immensely – it was also more fun to go with a friend.

As soon as I stepped into the first room, I was immediately captivated by all the geometric origami architectural pieces behind the glass case. Since I completed a paper art course recenly, I found these pieces utterly fascinating. These preliminary and experimental models enabled the artist and his team to develop larger geometric installations that could be seen in the other rooms. Though seeing these models helped us to understand the concept and work process.


Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson


Eliasson often creates works that aim to challenge viewers’ perception of reality. “Is Seeing Believing?” is the question that we sometimes ask ourselves, yet our past experiences are leading us to think otherwise, since we are constantly deceived by our brains. The truth is that most of us are able to grasp reality.

Eliasson’s most famous work ‘The Weather Project’ drew 2 million visitors to gather beneath his artificial sun installation in the Turbine Hall back in 2003. This ‘fake sun’ became the talk of town for a long time.

This time, an 11-metre-high waterfall constructed from scaffolding was installed on the terrace outside of the museum. According to Eliasson, the piece is meant to probe questions including: “Is nature constructed? Is nature real? Is it fake? Does nature exist?”


Olafur Eliasson


Since Eliasson spent much of his childhood in Iceland, nature and environmental issues play prominent roles in his works. In one of his earlier works Beauty (1993), for example, Eliasson wanted to recreate something he’d witnessed first-hand in Iceland. Visitors would enter a dark room and see mist coming out of a punctured hose pipe with light illuminated from a single light bulb. If you stand there long enough, you are likely to see a rainbow. Is this nature or manmade? It is up to you to decide.


Olafur Eliasson

Beauty (1993)


In another room, visitors would be surrounded by a dense fog that changes colours as you blindly navigate yourself through it. Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger) was first presented at Copenhagen’s ARKEN Museum of Modern Art in 2010, and at this exhibition, it has been recreated in a 39-metre long corridor.

The artificial fog is actially made from non-toxic polls, a sweetener often used in food production, hence you can taste the sweetness at the back your throat when you inhale the fog. Not only you might feel disoriented, but all your senses would also be evoked in this space.


Olafur Eliasson Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger) (2010)  Olafur Eliasson Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger) (2010)

Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger), 2010


Another immersive installation Your uncertain shadow (colour) focuses on light and colour. Five coloured spotlights, directed at a white wall, are arranged in a line on the floor. These colours combine to illuminate the wall with a bright white light. When the visitor enters the space, her/his projected shadow, by blocking each coloured light from a slightly different angle, appears on the wall as an array of five differently coloured silhouettes. The deceptive and playful installation is probably the most ‘instagrammed’ at the exhibition.


Olafur Eliasson Your uncertain shadow (colour), 2010

Your uncertain shadow (colour), 2010


Beyond the interactive installations, there are also works that employed a more conventional method focusing on the effects of global warming and climate change. A series of photographs of Iceland’s glaciers taken by the artist in 1999 are hung alongside with photos taken 20 years on to illustrate the changes in the landscape that are happening now. They act as a stark reminder that global warming is not a hoax and needs to be addressed asap.

His other ongoing prject, Ice Watch (2014–) is a collaboration with the geologist Minik Rosing in which large blocks of glacial ice cast off from the Greenland ice sheet were installed in three locations, including outside of Tate Modern a year ago. The melting ice installation raises awareness of climate change by providing a direct and tangible experience of the reality.


Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson


Like I mentioned earlier, many of his geometric origami models in the first room were later developed into larger installations, like ‘Your spiral view’ (2002), featuring a eight-metre-long tunnel constructed from steel plates that are assembled into two sets of spirals coiling in opposite directions. When visitors walk through it, they would find themselves within a kaleidoscope, in which the space they have just left is reflected fragmentarily together with the view out on the other side. It is another fun and disorientating installations at the exhibition.


Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson Your spiral view 2002

Olafur Eliasson Your spiral view 2002

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson


Outside of the exhibition, visitors could also view his other projects, including Little Sun, developed with the Danish engineer Frederik Ottesen. Little Sun is a very efficient solar-powered LED lamp, aimed at children in Africa and other developing nations. Since the lamp’s debut in 2012, more than 200,000 have been distributed, over a third of them to regions in Africa with no electricity, the rest at venues like Tate Modern or Coachella.


Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson The structural evolution project 2001.


In my opinion, Olafur Eliasson is undoubtedly a persuasive and important artist of our generation. It is hard to put him into a box as he is also a designer, philanthropist and environmental activist. Even if you don’t consider his works as ‘art’, he does have the power to make the public engage and think about our environment, which hopefully will bring about positive changes to our planet.



Nostalgia for the Icelandic sky


Sunrise in Reykjvik


One of my favourite documentaries of all time is Chilean documentary film director Patricio Guzmán’s ‘Nostalgia for the light’. The poignant, insightful and stunningly beautiful film was set in Chile’s Atacama Desert, and it is a meditation on life, history and the universe. The film touched me on many levels, but I was notably struck by the film’s cinematography. I was utterly mesmerised by beauty of the Chilean sky and desert.

On my recent visit to Iceland, the sublime and awe-inspiring nature not only reminded me of the film, it also made me appreciate the grandeur of our mother earth and the universe. The Icelandic sky in particular has stayed in my mind since my return, I simply cannot forget the serene and unpolluted sky.


Hallgrímskirkja  Hallgrímskirkja

reykjavik hateigskirkja

Top row: Hallgrímskirkja church; Bottm: Hateigskirkja church


Looking at the photos, it would difficult to guess the time of day (except for the night shots) when these photos were taken. In January, sunrise starts around 9.30 am and the sun sets begins at 4.30 pm. The sun remains low near the horizon throughout the day, hence even photos taken in the mornings and afternoons resemble sunsets in the UK.


iceland   iceland


iceland  iceland


I regret immensely for not bringing my watercolour set, because I was yearning to record the sky colours throughout the day while I was traveling on the road for three days. Pale blue and pink, blue and orange, violet and shades of blue… oh, how I wanted to record these colour combinations! I don’t think the camera did it justice, because what I perceived or experienced was far more vivid than what was captured.


iceland  reykjavik



Last 2 rows: Seljalandsfoss waterfall


Although we had sunshine and clear sky during the day, we were slightly unlucky with the weather in the evenings. The clouds blocked our encounters with aurora borealis (i.e. northern lights), and we only saw a glimpse of it when we were returning from the southern coast back to Reykjavik one evening.


iceland  iceland

Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon

iceland  iceland

Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon

Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon

Skaftafell Nature Reserve

2nd, 4th & 5th rows: Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon; last row: Skaftafell Nature Reserve


Yes, we saw faint green lights behind the clouds, but that was it. It was nothing like the photographs we often see when the entire sky is green. It was slightly disappointing, but it also provided me the incentive to return to Iceland again.


northern lights

A glimpse of the northern lights


I was lucky to have traveled extensively throughout my life, but I have never felt as exhilarated as I did in Iceland. It was the connection with mother nature that had a profound impact on me. Seeing nature as it is, with least human interventions, can be quite startling for city dwellers.


iceland  iceland

full moon

A view of full moon from the plane window


Still enthralled by what I saw and experienced in Iceland, I reluctantly boarded onto the plane back to London. Yet another natural phenomenon appeared right in front of me – an unobstructed and bright full moon in a distance from my window seat. At this point, I was simply grateful to be alive, and to witness the sublime beauty of the universe.

Human beings are so insignificant in compare to mother nature, and we have to do our best to protect it rather than destroy it. However, I fear that it may be too late already, and mother nature has started to retaliate against mankind’s perpetual destruction on the environment. The recent erratic weather patterns around the world is a wake-up call, and if we continue to ignore it, the consequences will be irreversible. And this time, I am on nature’s side.


A future without autumns



The title of this blog entry came up because of an article I read recently on BBC magazine regarding the effects of climate change. Higher temperatures and droughts across the globe are having big impact on the entire ecosystems, including the reduction of leaf pigments production and causing leaves to fall from trees prematurely.

There are tropical countries where autumns don’t exist at all, and so their inhabitants would miss out on the beauty of autumns. Personally, I love autumns and the article made me wonder what the world will be like without autumns, how will this affect us?


autumnleafsquirrelautumn squirrel


I have come up with a list of possible scenarios if this happens:

No more fall foliage – Tourism in Canada, America and Japan would be affected because fall foliage draws tourists to well-known spots every year. The local economies would no doubt be hit hard by this.

Starving squirrels – What would happen to the poor squirrels? In autumns, I frequently see squirrels out and about in London’s parks gathering and burying nuts and seeds in preparation for winters. Without autumns, they would not have enough time to store food away when it becomes scarce in winters.

Expensive mushrooms – Autumn arriving later (like this year) means that fungi is not appearing until the temperature drops. Mushrooms boom in autumns, without autumns, they would be scarce and harder to find. Outdoor activities like fungi foraging would not take place, and we may have to pay a double for our wild mushroom risottos!


autumn leavesautumn leaves autumn leaves


Halloween without pumpkins – Foods like pumpkins, sweet potatoes, figs and many root vegetables are harvested during autumn, a Halloween without the iconic carved pumpkin is almost unthinkable!

No more Sweet Purple Potato Kit Kat – Seasonal changes and festivals are very important to the Japanese culture. Not only do the Japanese celebrate each season with traditional activities and events, seasonal food and ingredients are also closely linked with their food culture. Food and drinks manufacturers, fast food chains and restaurants would launch limited edition seasonal products all year round. In autumn, sweet purple potato, pumpkin, mushroom, ginko nuts and chestnut are all seasonal foods that you would see everywhere. How boring would the world be without Sweet Purple Potato Kit Kat?


Tales from the autumn housee Tales from the autumn houseeTales from the autumn housee

‘Tales from the Autumn House’ exhibition at St John on Bethnal Green installed by graphic artist and illustrator Renaud C. Haslan


No autumn fashion and trends – The multibillion-dollar fashion industry depends very much on the seasons, and during fashion week in September and October every year, fashionistas are all out and about ready to be photographed in their latest autumn gear. Being seen in their passé summer outfits would be unimaginable!

An unusually warm October in the UK this year has caused a dip in sales of coats, jackets and knitwear, so fashion companies would need to be ready for more unpredictable weather in the future.

Autumn-inspired art, poems, music, films and novels will be meaningless – In the year 2114, people may have to rely on paintings, poems, films, books and songs to get a glimpse of what autumn feels and looks like. Yet these works would be meaningless to the generations who have never experienced autumns in their life time. Autumns would be part of history, just like the Ice age and they wouldl learn about it through their school textbooks…


I am sure I can keep on writing about this, but I hope that none of the above would take place. Skeptics may continue to dismiss climate change as myths or that humanity is not responsible for it, but how can industrial pollution and carbon dioxide emissions be beneficial to mankind and the planet? We need to be responsible for our actions and protect the environment regardless of whether global warming is man-made or not.

A future without autumns sounds frightening and yet plausible unless we take the warning seriously.