PRINT October 2007


FEW ARTISTS have had Picasso’s arrogant confidence: “I do not seek. I find.” Far more typical of modernity was the desire to align one’s work with research: Constable’s cloud studies, Seurat’s Chevreul-inspired pointillism, Kandinsky’s work on synesthesia. Materialization could sometimes seem incidental—yet materialization was exactly what the artist could bring: a way to make research come alive as experience in the body of the viewer. Robert Irwin’s collaborations with scientists from Bell Labs began to mean something when he materialized those laboratory setups of the ganzfeld in public art museums. The theatricality of such maneuvers was rhetorically minimized by reading the work as dematerialized—feeding tensions between theory and materiality, research and production, that are more present than ever in contemporary art.

The case of Olafur Eliasson sharpens such debates. The artist insists on physical materialization, but in the service of experience (perhaps in the French sense of the word, as “experiment”). The built-in tension between research and production is fueled by Eliasson’s insistence that his studio is “like a laboratory,” while it also functions pretty effectively as a factory for contemporary art. The artist cultivates this dynamic—“the translation from thinking into doing is the radical thing”1—but it forces the question: Just what is being researched and produced? In the art of Eliasson (and, I would argue, much of his generation), the objects being produced, and the sociomaterial technologies they imply, are only part of the story. Seen in a broader context, the physical works are nodes in the ongoing activity of knowledge production. It is as if the “antiretinal” impulse of Marcel Duchamp emerged from the other side of a postmodern wormhole to take paradoxically embodied form (not only retinal, but acoustic, tactile, olfactory) in Eliasson’s subject-making machines.

“Knowledge production” needs pluralization into kinds of knowledge, and attention to the ethical frame articulated in Gilles Deleuze’s reading of Michel Foucault:

Everything is knowledge, and this is the first reason why there is no “savage experience”: there is nothing beneath or prior to knowledge. But knowledge is irreducibly double, since it involves speaking and seeing, language and light.2

Beyond double, in fact: For to the twinned systems of speech and vision we must add proprioception, ratiocination, memory, and the multiple flows on which the body surfs to constitute a constantly morphing subjectivity. An Eliasson installation can initially overwhelm, with streams of sensory data that activate both rapid “magnocellular” processing systems in the brain, and the slower “parvocellular” ones (the first feels intuitive; the other, reflective). The complex research, technical experimentation, and layers of representation in the work become evident only on a second, slower take. (“There is a degree of spectacle in my work, which I’m not afraid of, but I just need to manage it critically.”) In much contemporary knowledge production, what counts is nonuniversalist, localized, and embodied. The subjectivities generated by contemporary art can be performative, relational, networked, or (in Eliasson’s case) restlessly phenomenological.

The historical impetus for all this can be traced to the postwar shift from information to informatics, affecting economics, science, and art.3 These epistemic shifts were portended by factory models of aggregative labor (physicists scaled up from desktop experiments to the industrial assemblages of big science; artists shopped out work or set up basic assembly lines). While they implied de-skilling, such new forms of labor also freed art and science to reach new planes of conceptualization, and demanded radically new receptive frames. They drew on earlier machinic ways of being (machines for living [Le Corbusier] and readymade desiring-production machines [Duchamp via Deleuze and Félix Guattari]) and became in the postwar period the “large business” machines of particle detectors (physicist Luis Alvarez), “mechanical means” for mass image production (Andy Warhol), “executive” artists’ serial modes (Frank Stella), and eventually even ideas as machines for making art (Sol LeWitt).4 The machine was more than a metaphor. It retooled the producer and the receiver. The concept of knowledge production is thus useful only if it can capture these discursive dynamics, by which the “object” of art or science is nothing less than the local “subject” making meaning: of experience, of data, of sensory phenomena, of the broader social field.

The localized uptake of dispersed information followed the paradoxical logic of late modernism, which had ensured that “big science” (Alvarez) and “the business art business” (Warhol) expanded outward at the very moment they seemed most centralized. Responding to the anxiety produced by centralization itself, scientific centers of production were scattered in the cold war, but then linked by new superhighways (designed to function as military airstrips in the case of attack); telephone systems were wired for reliability through packet switching (backed up with redundant electrical systems). The artistic author function was centralized, in the guise of a work-stream manager, even as the author name was stamped on prints, films, national advertisements, and mass-distributed imagery. The structural implications for a future “network” of servers and users was already in place—even if relays were imagined as “nerve centers” subject to the control of the market or the state. It becomes possible to argue from this history that neither science nor art was simply “mimicking” a preexisting industrial model. Cultural agents’ dispersed informational activities in the 1970s and ’80s preceded and informed the design of industrial practices not widely implemented until the ’90s. In only the most dramatic example, microwave proto-Ethernet links first emerged on the West Coast of the United States in the ’70s to tie dispersing physics laboratories together; in 1989, the software innovator Tim Berners-Lee appropriated some of this net protocol to propose the ideas behind the World Wide Web. Still operating as a scientist, Berners-Lee made it clear that the laboratory was not merely responding to changes in the wider industrial world but was a prototype for everywhere else: “The problems of information loss may be particularly acute at CERN, but in this case . . . CERN is a model in miniature of the rest of the world in a few years’ time.”5

With the fundamentally decentering tools of the Internet and the Web, there emerged a new logic of multiple, interacting servers and users. In Perry Hoberman’s 1998 installation Systems Maintenance, for example, visitors are presented with life-size furniture, a model of the same objects at one-eighth scale, and a virtual room displayed on a computer monitor, all three of which can be manipulated and are then video mixed into a single-channel projection. Viewers become users and either maximize or “cure” the chaos of three different informational systems. Similarly, Ken Goldberg and his collaborators began to enlist the Web for what he dubbed “telepistemology,” encouraging users to explore the conditions of doubt and faith driving the production of knowledge.6 The old economy of maker/receiver shifted ineluctably around 2000, toward a “hive mind” of users and servers. In place of the studio as fi nal site of authentication, we were forced to accept knowledge production as inevitably hybrid, mediated, deferred, and diffuse.

Numerous practices emerged from this situation to characterize today’s art world. The “relational aesthetics” emphasized by Nicolas Bourriaud play readily into a server/user mode of distributed knowledge production via socially networked practices.7 (But if Bourriaud finds Rirkrit Tiravanija exemplary, we would want to add the social software of Cory Arcangel or look into Goldberg’s users, one of whom proclaimed that “the people who witnessed [my intervention] become something more to me than they were before.”8) Recent attention to the performative foregrounds intensely local knowledge (as in the work of Tino Sehgal or Santiago Sierra), without perhaps paying enough attention to the way documents and discourses form subjects outside the performance itself. Video is yet another vector for knowledge production (more obvious with the documentary thrust of artists such as Emily Jacir, Walid Raad, and Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla, but evident as well in Tacita Dean’s slow takes, or Bruce Nauman’s focus on durational phenomenology). As an object maker and installation artist, Eliasson can sometimes be left off such lists—but he shouldn’t be. His increasingly adamant insistence on the studio is one clue that his physical work needs to be seen in the context of research and other relations. The works’ fabrication, the embodied experience they require, and Eliasson’s efforts to shape his own discourse are all part of production.

Eliasson’s earliest “guerrilla” artworks reveal this commitment. Of his Green river, 1998, in which scientific tracer dye is released into an urban waterway, he recently commented: “Not knowing it was an artwork was important. If people knew beforehand there wouldn’t be the same discussion.”9 The intensely local quality of the “knowledge” accruing from these interventions is clear: The Stockholm police announced that the government had accidently dyed the river and that there was no cause for concern, while the Japanese authorities in Tokyo quickly put up posters soliciting information from a vigilant public.10 As with Yves Klein’s zones of “Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility” from the ’60s, such practices force us to ask where the artwork is being produced—in the studio where it is conceived? In the river where it is temporarily materialized? Or in the mind of the urban dweller/viewer/patron/critic/art historian who “receives” partial knowledge of the action? Klein’s patrons already “know” it is an artwork they are observing when the river swallows twenty grams of gold leaf. But Eliasson wants to slip observers into an unexpected relationship with the real: “That day, when the people in Stockholm looked at the river—to them, that the water moved was a surprise. The city wasn’t a postcard!”11 The idea was emphatically against “the art critic who found out I had done it and said that I ‘turned the city into a watercolor.’” The artist wanted instead to give “time and the idea of dynamics to the city.”12 The renewed conception that the river is moving in time connects through Heraclitus to phenomenology, referencing Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s observation that the metaphor of time as a river can only be explained “by our surreptitiously putting into the river a witness of its course. . . . Time is . . . not an actual succession that I am content to record. It arises from my relation to things.”13 This passage is a touchstone for Eliasson, whose work demands a body—one that needn’t know theory to build knowledge from an unexpected encounter with the color green in a river. The discussion that both Eliasson and Klein crave (notoriety is the negative term for this kind of cultural capital) is what unifies their practices as forms of knowledge production, in which the artwork is an instigator of information, put into circulation in the sociocultural field.

Unlike Klein, however, Eliasson hopes to displace (but definitely not do away with) conceptualization. Many works announce their antidiscursive, anticonceptual intentions (The blue window that never thinks, 2000), prompting fleshy thought that may begin “mute,” confused, or ecstatic. Eliasson’s yearning for embodied reception is scripted in the second-person pronominal shifter in many of his titles (Your foresight endured, 1996; Your sun machine, 1997; Your inverted veto, 1998; or, in the current San Francisco Museum of Modern Art survey catalogue, Take your time: Olafur Eliasson). Clearly a nod to ’80s postmodernism (particularly Barbara Kruger’s confrontational pronouns), this interlocutory style is linked by Eliasson to ethical philosophy (e.g., Jean-Luc Nancy’s Being Singular Plural [1996]). In the artist’s words:

To sustain an idea of the public, a sense of the collective, would be diametrically opposed to individuality and would sustain instead an idea of individualities. . . . I say this as an individual, but I also say this as a company owner . . . this can be said for the way you run a factory also.14

Thus, where Kruger’s pronouns emphasize difference, Eliasson dreams of a volitional community, mining English for the unique ambiguity between a singular “you” and a collective “You” that might eventually form. This “You” is not universal but aggregative—an assembly of differences that must be negotiated in time and in space. In other words, postmodernism’s dismantling of a false universalism does not prohibit the collective subject from reassembling during the experience of an encounter. This is central to the relational work of knowledge production—as in the public’s reception of The Weather Project, 2003, at Tate Modern. Rather than pass through the voluminous space of the Turbine Hall, visitors lay on the floor (sometimes for the better part of an hour), lolling on the concrete beach created by Eliasson’s simple solar illusion (mirror film, a disk of thin plastic, a mist machine, and monochrome yellow lights). The singular “you” became a collaborative “You,” as individuals (former strangers?) negotiated to link themselves into complex figures—in one case, forming backward letters that would spell “Fuck Bush” in the ceiling mirror for all to see.

The status of Eliasson’s “You” is suggestive for the server/user mode I want to emphasize here. Of course there are all types of knowledge production (and parallel forms of ignorance production perfected by the US media and scary creationist blogs). But it is Scandinavian socialism that drives the artist’s hope that his works might have “socializing potential.” Add to this the technological utopianism encouraged by his work with visionary Icelandic architect, amateur mathematician, and Bucky Fuller acolyte Einar Thorsteinn, and you have the charismatic ingredients necessary to hold “team Eliasson” together.15 As the artist says, his staff “supplement rather than replicate” his functions, generating a “studio as Wunderkammer” where it is exactly what is most foreign that is brought near. The Wunderkammer trope plays out in his constantly evolving Modelroom (the studio fragment at the heart of the Eliasson retrospective now in San Francisco), which reveals Eliasson’s interest in the trading zones among art, architecture, mathematics, engineering, and physics.16

Fullfilling the artist’s self-professed “desperate” need to engage with the world, Studio Eliasson is many things. It is roughly thirty employees; it is a two-and-a-half-floor, 15,000-square-foot former train depot behind Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof; it is a corporation, a factory, and a dynamic knowledge-production machine (as the etymology of studio still wants). This hub of activity has recently garnered much attention (the current article being no exception). It was featured in last year’s New Yorker profile of Eliasson, in the June 2007 Art + Auction, and in a hefty Taschen volume (Studio Eliasson), and it is central to a stream of publications forthcoming from the studio itself, such as TYT magazine (an acronym for “Take Your Time,” pronounced in German as “Teut”). Eliasson’s studio emphasis strategically underlines the increasingly marketable physical objects with their shadow in research. Allowing the artist to be manifestly generous, self-deprecating, and collaborative, Studio Eliasson also leaves him intact as the central point through which all information must pass, proclaiming, We are producers of knowledge, not (just) objects.

Addressing the “Dear Visitors” directly in a wall label at Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria in 2001, Eliasson stated, “In fact I did not make anything in this show—I only decided what should be a part of the show and what shouldn’t.”17 The studio is central to this dynamic, defying standard fantasies of solitary creation with the complexities of production one might have seen during the baroque: master geometers projecting coordinates for a ceiling painting, woodworkers crafting moldings, sculptural technicians producing casts of putti, lowly assistants grinding pigment, and patrons putting in their two cents about emblems and iconography. The baroque artist was only as good as the team he had assembled, but effective in the given economy only if an “Andrea Pozzo” (for example) could still be the contractual result.

Studio Eliasson is both less and more than that baroque model might suggest. Less, because once a prototype is produced or a design completed, outside fabrication can be used to extend operations to steelworkers in southern Germany or carpenters in Switzerland. More, because the studio itself incorporates wildly disparate forms of expertise: digital parametric draftsmen, lighting technicians, architects, an archivist, a documentarian, cooks, babysitters. But if the current setup seems extraordinary, it will be surpassed by the expansion planned for January 2008. Taking over a former brewery in Berlin’s Prenzlauerberg neighborhood, Eliasson plans to clarify functions that now overlap in the crowded site on Invalidenstrasse. The “ground”—in both senses—will remain the workshop, where thinking becomes doing. The floor above will have offices, with areas designated for archives, meeting rooms, and architects’ desks (currently in a warren upstairs from the offices). On beyond zebra, Eliasson has visionary plans (if funds, negotiations with a Berlin-based art school, and zoning regulators allow): an entire floor for working with students and outside researchers, and perhaps a rooftop apartment for the artist’s family.18

Studio Eliasson is thus more than a stage for propelling objects into the world; it is a world, providing all the artist needs to complete himself. He has remarked of his employees, “They represent me and all of not-me.” Of this group (its ranks increased by temporary workers as needed), roughly a third are skilled fabricators (carpenters, welders, electricians), a third are architects and designers, and a third are discourse workers (trained art historians, an archivist, a secretary). The knowledge factory is clearly productive, yet the “laboratory” function insulates and buffers it from the booms and busts of the art market. Huge commissions (like a recent one from BMW) are so open-ended that designs in progress can often be adapted; “failures” are grist for future milling. The laboratory mentality also inoculates Eliasson and his coworkers against formalization in the white cube: “For of course we need a sort of bank of resources, a laboratory where we create some of the questions we are trying to answer in the institutional systems.” Knowledge is thus resource and product, sustaining the collective’s belief that theirs is a “flat” organization, antihierarchical in its distribution of labor, and permeable to restless streams of intelligence from all its players. (When I mentioned to one assistant that her reading material was cropping up in Eliasson’s discussions, she said gravely, “It goes both ways.”) Given the compelling nature of this laboratory model, the world of Studio Eliasson needs to be further parsed. It is a world, but it is just a world. The artist knows that it means little unless he can insert the “laboratory” function back into the white cube, making an aggressive incision into the institutional fabric of complacency and completeness.

Does it work? That is the ongoing question, perpetually adding itself to Eliasson’s research agenda. If we describe this studio as I think we must, as a dynamic aggregate of flows and productions (informational, material, economic), then our own mental model needs to imagine a four-dimensional object in space-time. The various exhibitions, installations, and publications are mere slices of that object (n-1 dimensional representations). Studio Eliasson needs a public interface. Financially, two-thirds of studio funds come from public commissions. But the artist also continues to make those frozen time-slices of research (“exhibitions”) because experience thickens in the flesh of viewers. Per Eliasson: “I need the world. When the institution is not around, I’m not afraid of running out of ideas or places to work. . . . I need to be a part of society, that’s it, and I need to see myself in some relational aspect to society.” Who knew people would lie down at the Tate? Or that visitors to his show in Paris would trace wormlike paths through the lava on the gallery floor? No one reckoned that the ice he had installed for the São Paulo Bienal would generate such enthusiasm that it would have to be roped off in a special area, or that depressions would form where people had been sitting to cool themselves off. “There was this whole getting-to-know ice. In a sense we know, but physically we don’t.”19 The installations are invitations, and guests will behave—but not necessarily as anyone thought.

Eliasson’s invocation of the laboratory is aimed at the art world—an attempt to buffer the machinic phylum’s associations with commerce and trickery. Referring to his spring 2006 Tanya Bonakdar Gallery installation Your negotiable panorama (which a viewer described as “a 360-degree horizon line reflected from a pool . . . concentrated into the undulating line of light on the wall, and on the spectators surrounding the pool”20), Eliasson remarked: “A show like this comes out of the laboratory. It’s not about foil and water. It’s about how we feel about those things. The pool is a machine that can produce a phenomenon.” The machine needs bodies and feelings to navigate the slippery slope between a stimulus-construction and an architectural folly—“I’m very aware that it can come close to being a setup.”21

Crucial to this navigation are the discourse workers, chief among them the artist himself. Interviews, titles, publications, wall labels, and the titles’ “you”s provide constant reminders of durational experience, sensing, and the dismantling of sensation. They demand something from the viewer. Sure, we might see a strobe-illuminated fountain turning up on Chicago’s Navy Pier (not to mention the city’s annual “Green River” for Saint Patrick’s Day), but it won’t have Eliasson’s interpretive apparatus, or the hard-won ethical frame. It’s a risky operation, since the moving edge of knowledge production can quickly turn materialized ideas into kitsch or decoration—particularly for an artist who literally works with smoke and mirrors, or ravishingly beautiful refractive colored glass. Eliasson remarks:

The real thing is to be more inclusive and less exclusive. The neo-exclusivity . . . which essentially puts us into some purified universalistic idea about what it really means to actually look at a Matisse painting is counterproductive to what I think can be quite liberating in my work. What is the socializing potential of having a moss wall, for example?

Well, it depends on whether the moss wall is a pioneering 1994 installation by Eliasson at the Cologne art fair, or just a clever backdrop set up for a display of antiques in a Paris shop (where I saw a “moss wall” in 2006). The “expectation threshold” changes.

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-laden 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.” (Such a piece is Beauty, 1993, which creates a hovering rainbow from the “dumb” technologies of a mist machine and a spotlight. As viewers move, they can realize that all rainbows—all beauty—live only in the eye of each beholder.) The artist contends: “Exposing the representational layer sort of clears the experience and makes it possible for us to see our self 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.”22

Eliasson struggles against the collapse of his work into formalism (lubricant for cultural capitalization), as when he met with his design team last July to work through the lighting plans for his temporary pavilion at the Serpentine Gallery in London, developed with Norwegian architect Kjetil Thorsen. The project was set to open the following month, and the lighting had to be resolved in a matter of hours. There were three areas in question: the spiral walkway, the structure’s exterior, and the interior’s central stage. The core value was simplicity (given budget and time constraints, judgments of “too complicated” ruled out many an option). But a productive friction also operated between architectural desires for seamlessness and the artist’s insistence on “exposing the representational layer.” Killing phrases included “too arty,” “too sexy,” “too kitschy,” “too fussy,” and, of course, “too complicated.” In the most anxious space of illusion, the pavilion’s theater, Eliasson convinced the architects (who needed convincing) that the best solution was to purchase off-the-rack tripods (just like one being used in the studio) for mounting recycled Moonlights from a previous show. The mounting of the formerly hanging fixture would work to dissolve the theater’s “fourth wall” in ambient light, and, more important, it would reference the studio. The team’s workflow manager murmured that they would need to change the Moonlight “to look a little different,” but Eliasson seemed unconcerned. Recycling (or “adaptive reuse” as designers would say) is intimately connected to research—stoking the flow by converting one project’s prototype into another’s handy resources. The pragmatic desire is to foreground the pavilion’s program of experiments, marathon lectures, and concerts that team Eliasson is also working hard to complete.

Eliasson describes the community of workers he has gathered as a “psychographic anatomy”—a body whose various desires need to be negotiated. “I profit from their uncertainty,” he says of his skilled design team: “Everybody is slightly hesitant about whether the consequences of the choice I’m about to make are foreseeable. That can be very productive . . . in the artistic context of having acknowledged that what we work on are prototypes and models, constructions of reality. Which essentially are real.” Commerce requires invariance and replication; Eliasson’s practice aims to locate a given effect more unpredictably, in the monad of the percipient. There’s nothing “scientific” in the gathering of data from such targets. For in contrast to the normative body science builds, Eliasson wants embodied interpretation in specific platforms that may not prove to be transferable at all.23

The server/user mode locates production in local knowledge, massively distributed. The contemporary obsession with experience or “relation” is empty, without attention to the murmur of uncertainty, doubt, confusion, information, and reorientation by which the body summons its representations of the world (its self). This is how “an Eliasson” can best be understood. It is not enough to have installed a strip of LED lights at standard viewing height in a black box at the 2005 Venice Biennale (Your black horizon). Wall labels, Web chat, exhibition catalogues, press coverage, and word of mouth are part of production, informing viewers that the LEDs waxed and waned as a function of photon levels emitted by the city of Venice from dawn to dusk, data compressed and transmitted into a repeating twelve-minute cycle. Suddenly this folly’s seemingly pure phenomenology is entrained in a larger discourse about energy consumption and urbanism. We even wonder about the algorithm. (Is all the data compressed temporally, so that an hour’s light becomes a minute’s? Or is it astochastic sampling of particular minutes within the hour?) Your black horizon may even begin worming its way into a darker space of anxiety about a global future without oil, an “event horizon” of black nights, a future catching up with us faster than we would like. Similarly, The Weather Project may eventually take more of its meaning from the city outside the Tate’s Turbine Hall than it did from the “beach” below, as the industrial pollution that once produced London’s famous fog is reinterpreted as the culturally produced “weather” of our global climate.

Studio Eliasson pursues multiple modes of production—outsourcing, collaborating, prototyping, fabricating, experimenting, representing, exhibiting, publishing—all of which fuse at the level of knowledge production. Like the communities of servers and users being established in contemporary scientific practice, these artistic experiments are dispersed social-technical-spatial entities in which no single author holds priority on the production of knowledge or power over its distribution.24 We can see in all this the harbinger of larger shifts, in which the dispersal of contemporary knowledge production offers considerable freedom to form local subjects and volitional collectives. Makers become nodes in a net; takers are just other nodes generating further meanings. The studio is a model, but of a larger world of servers and users. Its imagined dominance cedes to the ones who imagine, and the “user function” may be what we need to think about next.

Caroline A. Jones is professor of the history of art at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA.


1. Olafur Eliasson, interviewed by the author in Berlin, July 6, 2007. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from this interview.

2. Gilles Deleuze, “Foldings, or the Inside of Thought (Subjectivation),” in Foucault, trans. Séan Hand (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988): 109.

3. This discussion draws on various collaborations with Peter Galison; see, for example, our “Centripetal and Centrifugal Architectures: Laboratory and Studio,” in Cynthia Davidson, ed., Anyplace (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995). For different but related accounts, see Reinhold Martin, The Organizational Complex: Architecture, Media, and Corporate Space (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003); Michael Gibbons et al., The New Production of Knowledge: The Dynamics of Science and Research in Contemporary Societies (London: Sage Publications, 1994); and David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1989).

4. For an analysis of some of the science/art parallels, see my essay with Peter Galison, “Factory, Laboratory, Studio,” in Galison and Emily Thompson, eds., The Architecture of Science (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999).

5. Tim Berners-Lee, “Information Management: A Proposal,” 1989, online at

6. See in particular Goldberg and Joseph Santarromana’s work Telegarden, 1995–2004, discussed in conjunction with other works in Ken Goldberg, ed., The Robot in the Garden: Telerobotics and Telepistemology in the Age of the Internet (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000).

7. Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, trans. Simon Pleasance, Fronza Woods, and Mathias Copeland (Paris: Les presses du réel, 2002).

8. Anonymous user response to Telegarden, 1995–2004, online at

9. Olafur Eliasson, quoted in Cynthia Zarin, “Seeing Things,” The New Yorker, November 13, 2006: 76.

10. Olafur Eliasson, “On the Relativity of Reality” (lecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, September 19, 2006).

11. Zarin, “Seeing Things.”

12. Eliasson, “On the Relativity of Reality.”

13. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “Temporality,” in Phenomenology of Perception (London: Routledge, 1964): 411. In addition to excerpting this passage in Olafur Eliasson: The mediated motion (Cologne: Walther König, 2001), Eliasson refers to it frequently in interviews; see the hilarious book by Eliasson and Hans-Ulrich Obrist, The Goose Lake Trail (Cologne: Walther König, 2007): 58–59.

14. Jean-Luc Nancy, Being Singular Plural, trans. Robert Richardson and Anne O’Byrne (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000).

15. Eliasson asked Einar Thorsteinn to help him fabricate some structures in 1996, and their mutually influential relationship has continued. Thorsteinn was instrumental in building the first polyhedral domes for such Eliasson works as The Drop Factory, exhibited at Rochelle Steiner’s “Wonderland” show at the St. Louis Art Museum in 2000. See Thorsteinn and Eliasson, To the habitants of space in general and the spatial inhabitants in particular (Vienna: Bawag Foundation, 2002). The German-language edition of Joachim Krausse’s edited volume Your Private Sky: R. Buckminster Fuller (Baden, Switzerland: Lars Müller Publishers, 1999) sits prominently on a bookshelf at Studio Eliasson, and buckyballs constitute many of the wondrous objects in the ongoing Modelroom.

16. On “trading zones,” see Peter Galison, Image and Logic: A Material Culture of Microphysia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997).

17. Eliasson, Olafur Eliasson: The mediated motion, 10. In very, very small type on the cover of the catalogue, one can just make out: “in cooperation with Günther Vogt, landscape architect.” It must be said that in all the annals of knowledge-producing art, the author function is the hardest nut to crack. Duchamp’s pseudonyms were rapidly unmasked; Sol LeWitt made a principle of crediting all the drafters of his wall drawings, yet this did not disturb the apparatus of the “one-man show,” and even the anonymous interventions of Space Invader make it into art history (thanks to Michelle Kuo, writing in these pages in January 2007). The operations of the market and its art-history partners (to say nothing of the legions of critics, librarians, and museum registrars) are too dependent on the author function to give it up without losing their very reason for being. And although announcing his withdrawal from artisanal involvement, Eliasson makes less effort to credit the designers, fabricators, engineers, and others who are doing the “handwork.” What seems to be his standard practice is to provide a long but unannotated list of studio team members on the back page of each catalogue.

18. “The only thing my studio needs now is a small academy. A little Black Mountain College, where I . . . would educate my own staff. . . . Then I can start going into production in the perpetual mode, and reproduce myself. [laughs] . . . The idea [is] of opening up the doors increasingly to the studio and actually having an educational infrastructure [of] guest teachers, guest professors, scientists . . . architecture people, design people, fashion people, the film world, music, dance.”

19. Eliasson, “On the Relativity of Reality.”

20. Greg Allen, “What He Really Wants to Do Is Not Direct,”,

21. Zarin, “Seeing Things.”

22. Eliasson, Olafur Eliasson: The mediated motion, 32.

23. Eliasson is adamant that he is not a scientist, but he recently collaborated with one, physicist Boris Oicherman, in a 2006 show at Ikon gallery in Birmingham, UK, “Your Uncertainty of Colour Matching Experiment,” in which viewers matched colors in an effort to calibrate the exact differences between, say, your yellow and my yellow. At his MIT lecture that same fall, Eliasson fantasized about expanding the experiment to include tens of thousands of data points: “That’s a nice science project. . . . So if any of you want to do that, I don’t have the scientific knowledge. But I know a museum in every country that I could convince into taking this show.”

24. See, for example, the massive Grid Physics Network (GriPhyN) set up by the National Science Foundation to pool data for cosmology, genetics, and other research requiring petabyte-scale data-crunching across multiple computers. Transparent and transitive in a way that science has rarely been, the grid takes as its goal a mode of production in which “national and regional facilities are able to interwork effectively over a global ensemble of networks, to meet the needs of a geographically and culturally diverse scientific community.” GriPhyN called the metaprotocol for extrapolating significance from this mass of data “Chimera,” acknowledging its fantastically hybrid and mediated properties.