Home > Article > Nothing Always Happens > Eliasson in Artforum

For
the first time in what seems like years, I‘m actually reading a copy of
Artforum, and surprisingly (to me at least,) enjoying it. It's the best contemporary art exhibition I've seen in months- even if its virtual. Especially notable is
Caroline Jones article on Olafur Eliasson. The magazine issue concentrates on “issues
of production,” so her article revolves around his studio, where he employs a
fulltime collaborative team of 20 or so, including engineers, architects,
craftspeople, an archivist. With Marfa still on my mind, Eliasson
strikes me as one of the most visible, natural descendents and heirs to the ideas and
approaches of the Judd posse, with significant differences neatly encapsulating
the distinctive concerns and approaches of our moment.

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I
particularly liked this paragraph: “Attempting
to counter spectacle with interpretation, the Eliassonian tropes of the
revealed power cord, the raw spotlight, the visibly plywood platform, and the
ungainly tripod (all signifiers of the laboratory’s rough-and-ready equipment)
produce knowledge that unmasks illusion. Yet wonder must be allowed (as the
germ of curiosity); leisure permitted (as the font of contemplation); beauty
possible (as the seduction into knowing). Eliasson’s burden is to locate these
feelings in the culture-body of a viewer, rather than in Kantian universals: “The
first challenge is to embrace the kind of stored production of reality that
this viewer always carries with him…Exposing the representational layer sort of
clears the experience and makes it possible for us to see ourselves seeing – or
knowing that we are seeing and seeing that we know. In this way our knowledge
of the representation is used to deconstruct the sample and replay it.”

A
potent batch of ideas there, some of which are explored at length in the full
article (I recommend it.) There are a few ideas that the piece found expression
for that have been latent and kicking around in my bean. Like, “Countering
spectacle with interpretation”; a lovely phrase. If we live in the society of
the spectacle (which is at some/many levels undeniable; I hear Entertainment Tonight on in the next
room right now, actually) one of art’s central functions is the inversion, by
re-contextualization, of the elements of the spectacle into an environment that
serves no other essential purpose other than to allow them to actually be Seen,
witnessed. Unmasked, unveiled – yes, deconstructed. At the most fundamental
level, it is the claiming of our own oft under-experienced,
under-recognized subjectivity (leaving alone all the complex political issues surrounding these contexts in this short appreciation.)

One
example used in the article is an Eliasson work from 1993, where lights shined
into water mist refract into gauzy rainbows. These aren’t relatively “objective”
rainbows seen on the horizon, but intimately personal ones seen only from one’s
exact point in space and time. As important as the experience of “your” personal
rainbow is, however, is the awareness of this rainbow’s artificial manufacture
viewed in a carefully managed environment, and the fact that everyone around else walking gets
their own rainbow too. And no one gets to keep any of them. These
fundamental qualities – the subjective experience of manufactured “natural”
phenomena, before or after called Art — are the keys to most of his work, even
as the production values and costs have expanded exponentially. it fuels more wonderful devolution of the idea of artist as romantic, singular
auteur (historically, such a brief phenomenon.) Eliasson’s work is about
collaboration at every level – even, especially,
at the level of one’s own mysterious psycho-physical happenstance.

Art
that points toward you – from Judd to Eliasson, what good art doesn’t?
Personally, I’m generally drawn to the stuff that bypasses ratiocination, and
gets closer to the bone; toward awareness of the actual electricity of the synapse,
rather than its products. However, usually a good thought is better than a stick
in the eye. And sometimes, a stick in the eye might be the antidote to, say, an
issue of Artforum. Just, happily, not this month.

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