Olafur Eliasson on Abstract

This is part of a series where I write about episodes of Netflix’s Abstract that I really enjoyed and think you might, too.

Who is Olafur Eliasson?

Netflix describes Olafur as an artist, architect, and design phenom. The episode focuses on immersive experiences he has built throughout his career. Many of them use light, a ubiquitous but rarely used medium. A common theme in his works is the role a spectator can play as a part-creator of the art. He says, “what we consider truth depends on how you look at it.” Thus the viewer is an essential part to every artwork and their interpretation, however unique, is valid.

Some of Olafur’s work has a political component, too. Two of his works highlighted the reality of climate change: The Weather Project at Tate Modern and Ice Watch in Paris.

Olafur’s Creative Process

  • Olafur describes the studio as exciting, magical, and a place where his team gets to play. How much enthusiasm and whimsy does that statement convey? Enough for me to feel inspired!
  • As a child, he learned that his drawings didn’t have to be of quality in order to be successful. This encouragement probably led him to where he is today. It reminds me of something from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. An affirmation she provides is: “I’ll take care of the quantity if you take care of the quality, God.” Having this other definition of success might be vital for an artist to persevere in their craft.
  • When talking about his early career when he moved to Berlin to become a professional artist, Olafur saw all these other talented people and thought, “if I’m going to someday achieve something I’d better be myself.

What Blew My Mind

My favorite of Olafur’s works shown was the Harpa concert hall in Reykjavik (pictured above). His inspiration was basalt rock columns. With help from an associate of Buckminster Fuller, he was able to design the geometric facade which not only aesthetically achieves the goal of looking like a rock formation but also holds the structure with minimal material.

The episode concludes with a demonstration that challenges our assumptions about light. Natural sunlight looks very different depending on where in the world you are. We take that for granted. They show white balance shots from all over the world – Cape Town to Tel Aviv to Puebla – and prove that in some places it is warmer or cooler. This is the sort of thing that I think a layman watching the show would walk away from and start to see their world differently, maybe a little more like an artist.

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