Famous for his installations that manipulate light, water, and air as part of his commitment to the environment, Olafur Eliasson has a new project up his sleeve, or rather that of Castello di Rivoli, where his latest intervention is installed in the museum’s Manica Lunga wing. (The name translates to “long sleeve.”)
This 16th-century wing, situated on the third floor of the Turin-based castle, is home to “Orizzonti tremanti” (Trembling Horizons), a display of six immersive artworks, inside which viewers are confronted with lines dancing all around, an optical illusion created through mirrors and light projection meant to expand our horizons. They take you out of our regular field of vision, beyond the visible and into your own mind, putting you in touch with your emotions—or even your inner landscape.
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Eliasson’s first museum exhibition outside Scandinavia came in 1999 at Castello di Rivoli. (The resulting piece, Your Circumspection Disclosed, is now part of the museum’s permanent collection, and has been re-installed for this new show.) Curator Marcella Beccaria, who was behind both projects, wanted to show another side of Eliasson, more than 20 years later. “I am proud to be featured in a museum that takes science and art seriously, in a place where research is at the heart of a mission,” Eliasson told ARTnews.
“Sometimes his works are connected to the history of the site, sometimes to the natural ephemera around it but in this case, he was inspired by the shape of the Manica Lunga,” she said. “All six installations, which use mirrors to open up 360-degree views, appeal to the imagination.”
Since the late ’90s, Eliasson has been combining art and science in his practice, with a strong focus on ecology and climate change. His works often require the participation of those who experience them. What better way to involve the public than to deprive them of light?
Upon entering the show, you are plunged into almost total darkness. (There’s just enough light coming from one artwork to prevent visitors from bumping into each other.) The works on view are all a result from experiments conducted by the Danish artist in his Berlin studio. Eliasson was inspired by scientific instruments—Eliasson is a compass collector, owning about 25 different types. He considers them as playing a fascinating role in history as they are constantly replaced. “We keep inventing new tools to help us find our way, but we have never been more in need of guidance,” he said. “Shouldn’t we change perspective? We keep looking straight ahead but the earth is crumbling beneath our feet.”
The Manica Lunga display, on view until March 26, opens with Navigation Star for Utopia (2022), a compass-shaped work hanging from the ceiling that reflects a shadow onto a nearby wall. With its colorful beams, it looks like a slightly futuristic orientation tool meant to point visitors in the right direction—the end of the hall, perhaps even the end of the show. Further down this long corridor is Your Non-Human Friend and Navigator (2022), the show’s final installation that consists of two pieces of found driftwood from Icelandic beaches. On the floor are veils of pale blue watercolor meant to evoke the sea currents that have carried these wooden fragments over thousands of miles. This work may be what causes the Castello’s team to see in Olafur Eliasson’s art “echos of the Arte Povera movement”, born in Turin and spearheaded by Giuseppe Penone, Pier Paolo Calzolari, Giovanni Anselmo and Marisa Merz.
Between both extremities are six works essentially based on reflections that in turn reflect off one another, zigzagging down the gallery. Each is titled similarly: Your Curious Kaleidorama, Your Self-Reflective Kaleidorama, Your Memory of the Kaleidorama. Eliason came up with the term kaleidorama by combining the words kaleidoscope—beautiful (kalos), shapes (eidos), and instrument fashioned to examine (scope)—and panorama—the complete (pan) and wide view (orama) of a space. Once inside these kaleidorama, you’re confronted with reflections of yourself, of your neighbors, and of lights projected onto a side water source or via lenses, which creates colorful and elaborate shivering lines.
Those lines may also refer to Eliasson’s lesser-known passion for dance. “Most of my late school education was more or less interrupted by the fact that I was obsessed with dancing. I almost failed my exams because I was simply not there enough. The truth is that I was out dancing all the time,” he told Beccaria, the show’s curator, in 2013. “It has certainly had an influence on my understanding of what a body is and what a body can do.” Beccaria wanted to show another side of Eliasson, who will soon appear in a video clip. (The project being in the making, his team would not elaborate.)
Eliasson holds a fascination for mirrors. “I am not interested in the reflection as much as in the object itself, so familiar and yet tied to such a complex phenomenon,” he said. “I collect obsidian mirrors, which the peoples of ancient Mexico used as instruments of divination.”
The installations could then be interpreted as time capsules where space unfolds into infinity. The trembling horizons reflected inside the kaleidoramas are waves, a new motif in Eliasson’s work which he connects to how our current climate crisis is impacting bodies of water: “We keep taking from it. How can we give back? We don’t have the capacity to pay for modernity. We cannot afford to look forward anymore. We should hit pause, look down and work with what we have, make up for our mistakes first.”
He added, “We take water for granted but it is ephemeral, whether it’s a liquid, a solid, or a gas. The phenomenon may be complex, but it is familiar to us. That’s the beauty of it.”