Olafur Eliasson floods museum and removes wall, opening it 24-hours-a-day to ‘bugs, bats or birds’

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Installation view of the life installation by Olafur Eliasson in the Fondation Beyeler
With the kind permission of the artist; new belt cutter; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery. © 2021 Olafur Eliasson, Photo: Mark Niedermann

When a museum is flooded with water, a major failure has usually occurred. In the Fondation Beyeler at the gates of the Swiss city of Basel, the flooding of the museum is part of the exhibition: a new site-specific installation called Life by the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson.

The artist removed one side of the building designed by Renzo Piano (with the architect’s blessing) and left the pond – usually separated from the air-conditioned interior by a large glass wall – into the museum. Visitors can navigate the up to 80 cm deep water using a series of walkways that lead in and out of the building. At night the interior is illuminated with blue light.


An exterior view of Olafur Eliasson’s life installation at the Fondation Beyeler
With the kind permission of the artist; new belt cutter; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery. © 2021 Olafur Eliasson, Photo: Mark Niedermann

Eliasson also dyed the water fluorescent green and filled it with pond plants, including water lilies and shell flowers selected by landscape architect Günther Vogt. The water has been colored with uranine, an organic dye commonly used to observe water currents and which Eliasson previously used for his work on the Green River (1998), which stained rivers in cities such as Stockholm, Tokyo and Los Angeles .


Installation view of the life installation by Olafur Eliasson
Courtesy of the artist; new belt cutter; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery. © 2021 Olafur Eliasson, Photo: Pati Grabowicz

In an accompanying artist declaration Eliasson writes: “Together with the museum I give up control of the work of art, so to speak, and hand it over to human and non-human visitors, plants, microorganisms, the weather, the climate. Many of these elements museums usually work very hard on to stay away from. “

The south side of the building is open to the elements for the duration of the show, which ends in July. Eliasson writes: “Even if there are no human visitors in the room, other beings – for example insects, bats or birds – can fly through the room or stay there temporarily.” This possibility is an essential part of the job. The artist added that when he first spoke to the museum’s director, Sam Keller, about ideas for the exhibition, he thought, “Why don’t we invite everyone to the exhibition? Let’s invite the planet – plants and different species. ”


A night view of Olafur Eliasson’s life
With the kind permission of the artist; new belt cutter; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery. © 2021 Olafur Eliasson, Photo: Mark Niedermann

The show is open 24 hours a day. “Visitors can access the installation at any time. After 9:30 pm they no longer need a ticket,” says a spokeswoman. She adds that so far there have been “insects, spiders, ducks, a goose and cats” in relation to non-human visitors.

For those unable to attend the show, there is a livestream of the exhibition with cameras fitted with various optical filters that “point to non-human perspectives”.

• Leben, Fondation Beyeler, Basel, until July

Clarification (April 21): The spokesperson’s quotes have been added and the hours of operation have been updated to show that the exhibition is open to visitors 24/7