Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life

At Tate Modern

Review by Dieneke Ferguson

29 August 2019

Olafur Eliasson returned to Tate Modern with a major exhibition of his career to date, spanning three decades and following his world-renowned installation the Weather Project exhibition at Tate Modern in 2003. The exhibition brings together around 40 works – almost all of which have never been seen in the UK, including some created especially for the exhibition, such as Lego.

Your Planetary Window, 2003 Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life, 2019. Tate Modern

Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life offers unmissable experiences and shows how Eliasson brings to our attention some of today’s most urgent issues. The work on display explores the unsteady link between perception and reality. Eliasson creates works that continually prompt viewers to think about the nature of perception. Many of his installations play with reflections, inversions, after-images and shifting colours, to challenge the way we navigate and perceive our environments. He has changed what it means to be an artist.

Eliasson hopes the show will challenge visitors’ perception of reality – a common theme in his work. “When one leaves an exhibition like mine, I hope that it’s not as if you had stepped into some kind of dream machine and then you walk back out into reality,” Eliasson says in his video. “I really hope that you step closer to reality and see things in higher granularity.”

Building a Future City with White Lego Bricks

One tonne of white Lego bricks is scattered across large tables in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall allowing anyone who visits to create what they hope will be the city of the future. It will keep evolving as people modify the efforts of those who had gone before them – a celebration of individual imagination and the “collaborative power of communities”.

Building a Future City with White Lego Bricks, Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life, 2019. Tate Modern

The works on show also reflect the artist’s interest in colour theory, geometry, the environment and natural phenomena such as waterfalls. He is as much an activist as an artist.

Model Room 

Model Room 2003 brings together around 450 models, prototypes and geometric studies of various sizes. Together they form a record of Olafur Eliasson’s work with his studio team and with Icelandic artist, mathematician and architect Einar Thorstein. Between 1996 and 2014 they collaborated on several projects and researched the geometric forms, symmetries and ratios that structure a number of Eliasson’s sculptures and pavilions. For many years they served as a reference ‘library’. They are now held at Moderna Museet, Stockholm. The studio continues to create models and prototypes as part of its research.

Model Room, 2003 Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life, 2019. Tate Modern

A selection of the artist’s kaleidoscopic sculptures including Your spiral view 2002 and the newly created Your planetary window 2019, play with light and space to create optical illusions that encourage visitors to see their environment in new ways.

Your Spiral View, Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life, 2019. Tate Modern

His work straddles architecture, ecology, food, education, sustainability, climate change, perception and collective activity.

Born in Denmark in 1967, Eliasson spent considerable time in Iceland as a child, and natural phenomena such as water, light and mist have been key areas of investigation throughout his career. In Iceland, Eliasson also became interested in the ways we experience space.

Further works in the show address the impact humans have on the environment, including a series of photographs of Iceland’s glaciers taken by the artist in 1999. Olafur has witnessed first and in Iceland how global warming is causing its glaciers to melt. The photographic series will be updated with a current one.

Glaciers, Inceland, Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life, 2019. Tate Modern

Ice Watch
For a piece of protest art called “Ice Watch”, Mr Eliasson harvested 12 blocks of ice from a fjord in Greenland. Arranged to resemble a clock face, they are intended to provide a “direct and tangible experience of the reality of melting arctic ice”. The first installation, in Copenhagen in 2014, recognised the publication of a UN report on climate change; the second, in Paris in 2015, coincided with a UN Climate Conference. Last year Mr Eliasson arranged the chunks of ice outside Tate Modern (2018) as well as the Bloomberg headquarters in London. He has often said that he is drawn to the idea of a “museum without walls”, and seeks to encourage people to learn and pay attention to what is going on around them.

Icewatch Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life, 2019. Tate Modern

Waterfall 2019 is a 36ft high new installation on the terrace outside Tate Modern. Moss wall 1994 is a vast plane 20 metres wide entirely covered with Scandinavian reindeer moss

Din blinde passager (Our blind passenger) 2010, which offers a visceral journey through a 39-metre-long corridor full of dense fog. It has just 1.5 m visibility which forces visitors to use senses other than sight for navigation.

Our Blind Passenger, Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life, 2019. Tate Modern

 Kaleidoscopic sculpture  plays with light and space to create optical illusions that encourage visitors to see their environment in new ways.

Kaleidoscopic Sculpture, Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life, 2019. Tate Modern

Your Uncertain Shadow

Five coloured spotlights, directed at a white wall. When the visitor enters the space, her projected shadow, by blocking each coloured light from a slightly different angle, appears on the wall as an array of five different coloured silhouettes. As visitors move about the space the silhouettes shift in colour intensity and scale.


Studio Olafur Eliasson is a collective of 100 or so people, based in an old four-storey brewery in Berlin. It’s a place of immense experimentation, collaboration, conversation and multidisciplinary making, Mark explains, employing craftsmen, technicians, researchers, administrators, cooks, programmers, archivists, architects and filmmakers.

The Expanded Studio in the exhibition explores Eliasson’s engagement with social and environmental issues. The pinboard wall is based on the walls in his studio where Olafur and staff Share questions, articles, images etc

History is a Record of Migration, Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life, 2019. Tate Modern

Olafur Eliasson: In Real Live at Tate Modern runs until 5 January 2020

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