Olafur Eliasson in Conversation with Adrian Searle
The first thing that strikes me about your work is a word that is not often used for contemporary art these days: pleasure.
Sometimes the pleasure of a work can colonise its potential. I’d like to provide a key for the viewer’s engagement with the work. If something is very exciting it can provide a point of entry and can encourage people to become more involved with the work.
The pleasure lies in its complexity, similar to how a wave builds itself up and then confuses itself when it comes back at you... I was at the exhibition and there was someone walking about and they didn’t understand how it was all happening. They thought that there were things happening behind the scenes – whereas, in fact, you make everything visible.
It is very simple. And it is nothing new. All in all, it is almost nothing. The danger of entertainment is that it is disconnected from time and treats space as if it was a picture. I think the quality of good entertainment is where time is integrated into the experience. If I succeed in implementing the duration of an experience into the experience, then it has been successful and then pleasure is able to have consequences. This is what waves are. They are a consequence of the way you move through the space. Do you actively create the space or does the space create you?
Did you always believe in the social role of art?
At the beginning I wasn’t so sure, and it wasn’t always articulated in that way, but it was always there. Fundamentally, I was always interested in people, rather than in nature or science or whatever people would say about my work. It’s just like a robot. A robot is only interesting because it says something about us. This little Sony or Honda robot – if there were no people, a robot would be completely insignificant.
One aspect of your work is exactly the freedom of the spectator, who is not bound to stand in front of something, but can go to the side or behind and can examine the mechanisms by which things are being made. As you have said yourself “You are experiencing yourself experiencing.” Giving that freedom back to the spectator – that seems to me to be the lesson you want to impart.
I hope it is not too patronising, but I wouldn’t mind considering it a lesson. I hope there is something in this work that allows for more than just being taught. There are almost no places in society that support this idea of evaluating the nature of one’s own experience.
It is about the ability of really participating, but also about evaluating the structure of your participation and actually being critical. Who supports criticality? Who supports this kind of experiment? Nobody, because it is not profitable. Relationships are being commodified, and so is time and the body. Art has the precise ability to make a great statement and to evaluate the frame in which this statement is executed – as a part of the statement!
How are you resisting the globalisation of your art?
There is no escaping it. The institutional systems have become so powerful, that even trying to resist is hopeless. There is no outside of the institution; it is just one system. But we still have to introduce notions of responsibility to that argument. I’m trying to demystify and dematerialise the work more and more to the extent that the experience really becomes the crucial thing. So, the machinery that I make is in a way nothing: it is just a machine. But then this machine can travel around the world quite easily, and the experience will always be a different one.