Los Angeles

Olafur Eliasson

Marc Foxx Gallery

Our species’ relationship with nature is as long, awkward, and enigmatic as any we have known, and in his second solo Los Angeles show, Olafur Eliasson continues his ongoing meditation on the subject with works that, using culture and technology as an interface, deliver landscapes light, and even rainbows.
Included in the exhibition are two photographic series featuring vividly green rivers in both urban and pastoral settings (in each case, the artist added a temporary, environment-safe dye to the water shortly before snapping the shutter). On one of the gallery walls, one notices the graceful pattern of light and shadow cast by sunlight streaming through two windows. The rays, however, come from halogen spotlights set up on tripods in the windowless gallery. Along with the photographic images, this installation, entitled Double double hung windows, 1999, leaves the viewer to drift in a mix of reverie, satisfaction, uneasiness, and even suspicion about the opportunity to experience nature in a seemingly enhanced yet culturally and technologically mitigated version. This mediation flows the other way in a series of drawings generated by pigment-coated balls rolling across sheets of paper on the deck of a boat—the conditions for art-making facilitated by the artist, but the actual production carried out by the rocking of the waves.

Two other groups of photographs document resemblances between naturally occurring forms. The large stone series, 1998, consists of a cluster of six photographs depicting boulders perched on top of smaller rocks, culled from the artist’s forays in the countryside of his native Iceland and conveniently brought together for viewing in one place courtesy of the camera. The cave series, looking in, 1998, is a grid of forty-nine images of the mouths of caves—an odd hybrid of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s photographic studies of species variation among industrial structures and nineteenth-century landscape painting (say, Courbet’s Source of the Loue, 1864, though Eliasson’s pictures of rock orifices come with graffiti that even Courbet the Realist would have had to paint out).

The show also includes an off-site installation: In a vacant store, Eliasson set up what one might define as a “rainbow machine.” Appropriately titled Beauty, 1994, this lovely work consists of a ceiling-mounted spraying mechanism, which bisects the room with a wall of fine mist on which a spotlight has been trained. While the artist has provided the requisite physical ingredients to whip up a rainbow, the work requires the viewer’s perception to round it out. From the way the color and intensity shift as one approaches the prismatic halo to the sensation of passing through it, each experience of the phantasm in the ever-changing shroud of mist is unique. Here is a construct that has been enabled by technology and positioned within culture, consisting of natural ingredients yet finding its form in the consciousness of each viewer, blurring the lines between nature, natural, man-made, and man-perceived.

What is refreshing about Eliasson’s work is its capacity to function like an ongoing soliloquy, letting his viewers in on the fact that, without any scripted angst or heavy moralizing, he’s still sorting things out. And if at times his works are tinged with irony, melancholy, or light humor (or even seem to offer up a bit of that infamous sublime), it seems likely that the artist discovered these qualities in much the same way as his viewers—on the back end of things, without a preconception of the experience. Such an approach might appear a tad easy in a time when art often is expected to have been planned backward and forward before the artist ever lifts a finger, but Eliasson is careful to keep the work simple and let the ramifications be complex.

Christopher Miles