Walk Into Orange Mists At The Mind-Bending Olafur Eliasson Exhibition

Olafur Eliasson, Tate Modern ★★★★★

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 43 months ago

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Walk Into Orange Mists At The Mind-Bending Olafur Eliasson Exhibition Olafur Eliasson, Tate Modern 5
Create multicoloured shadows. Photo: Dmitry Baranov. Copyright Olafur Eliasson.

A fine mist of water rains down with droplets of water gracefully sliding off the ground as they make contact. Seen from the right angle a rainbow can be observed within the mist and it's mesmerising. This isn't some outdoor phenomenon, but a work inside the spectacular Olafur Eliasson exhibition at Tate Modern — the must see exhibition of the summer.

The work is simply titled 'beauty' and that isn't an arrogant claim by the artist. This is genuinely beautiful. There's no description and no explanation of the work, because it doesn't need it. We live in a city filled with countless wonderful experiences, but standing in a dark room for half an hour and watching water drizzle down from the ceiling, is better than nearly all of them. It reminds me of the dumbstruck feeling you get when confronted with a natural wonder such as the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls — words escape you and you simply stop and stare.

Get lost in the mist.

If we Londoners won't leave the urban jungle then Eliasson is going to bring the natural world to us. This contrast of the natural and the man-made is once again apparent in a large gallery where an entire wall is covered in Reindeer Moss. You can stroke it and smell its pungent aroma from metres away — it's a marked contrast to the adjacent sterile white walls.

Look outside and see a waterfall cascading off a scaffold. The image is refracted through water running down the window, I presume that patented English summer rain has struck again. But hold on, the people outside don't have umbrellas or raincoats — it's a trick, the water flowing over the window is another part of the exhibition.

Broken reflections may be spotted in this mirrored tunnel. Photographer: Jens Ziehe. © Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works often play with perspective, such as the tunnel where my reflection is broken into shards. Sure it makes for a great selfie — and surely countless visitors will indulge — but it also feels poignant for the times we live in, the self has never felt more fractured than in 2019.

There's entertainment to be had by standing in front of coloured lights and creating different coloured shadows on the opposite wall. Children will love it forming different shapes with their bodies, but I stand there for a good ten minutes trying to figure out why it doesn't feel right. Then it hits me. The shadows I'm creating are the same colour as the lights. If I'm blocking the light then surely that shouldn't be the case? It's typical of Eliasson's work — there's fun to be had on the surface, but plenty of food for thought for those willing to dig deeper.

Visibility drops rapidly in the foggy tunnel. Photo: Thilo Frank. © Olafur Eliasson

The work everyone is talking about is a long tunnel filled with coloured fog. Visibility drops to about a metre so that people suddenly appear out of the mist as if they've just materialised using some Star Trek-esque transporter technology. I'm bathed in the orange light and all my clothes turn a shade of orange — am I becoming one with the work? The tunnel ends with a transition to white light and the whole experience feels spiritual, as if I've been transformed and re-born at Tate Modern.

The exhibition ends by showcasing how Eliasson has been helping those less fortunate by working with refugees and creating solar powered lamps for the developing world. These are fantastic initiatives that drive home the environmentalist message that sits within much of his work. It's the blend of mind-bending art and his need to engage with the wider world that convinces me he's one the world's most important living artists.

Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life at Tate Modern is on from 11 July to 5 January. Tickets are £18 for adults.

Last Updated 10 July 2019