Y/Our Future is Now - Olafur Eliasson in Serralves Museum

June 01, 2020 | Anna Zielazny

It is the first time this well-known Danish-Icelandic artist has had a solo exhibition in Portugal. Even though Eliasson’s art cannot be simply classified, a common element of many of his works is a concentration on perception and using the four elements: water, earth, fire, and air, as well as a focus on senses.

The exhibit, curated by Philippe Vergne, Marta Moreira de Almeida and Filipa Loureiro, is situated both in the Serralves museum and park. As the Serralves Foundation is well known for exhibiting art both in its interior as well as in its park, Eliasson seems to be a perfect choice to discuss the relation between these two different spaces.

Olafur Eliasson and Günther Vogt Yellow forest, 2017 Birch trees, monofrequency lights Dimensions variable Installation view: The Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, 2019 Photo: Filipe Braga Courtesy the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles © 2017 Olafur Eliasson

For example, one of the two works situated inside the museum, A Yellow Forest (2017) includes trees in pots which are set up in a circle, with a path in the middle of if it. The natural element is highlighted by artificial yellow light, which gives a bright colour to the whole installation, reminiscent of an autumn forest. Bringing a forest into a museum can be associated with the practice of bathing in nature, shinrin-yoku: even though visitors are situated in a cultural institution in the city, they still can enjoy entering, literally, a forest.

The circle seems to be a common factor for all the artwork from this exhibition. In The Curious Vortex (2019), a steel trunk is growing from the ground, and, at the level of 5 meters, spreads its artificial branches around itself, creating a circle into which visitors can walk. Metal construction surrounded by nature evokes a 3D version of a mandala, where a meditative process can be practiced by entering its structure.

Olafur Eliasson - Installation view of Human time is movement (spring), Human time is movement (winter), Human time is movement (summer)), 2019 Stainless steel, paint (black, white)Installation view: The Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, 2019 Photo: Filipe Braga Courtesy the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles © 2019 Olafur Eliasson

Human Time is Movement (winter, spring, summer), created in 2019, includes three metal structures, the perception of which changes, depending on the angle of vision. From any point of view, however, the nature of the park becomes a part of it. The circular shape of this installation rejects the idea of vanishing, dying. Human Time here is eternal, closed in the spiral, the circle of life an inseparable part of nature.

All the installations invite visitors to interact with them. Open spaces between their inner structures are filled with people, who without hesitation enter into a relationship with a piece of art. As the border between the artwork and the outside space cannot be distinguished, it is easy to feel welcome.

Eliasson said that he believes that a piece of art is able to listen to what we have not yet said, but we want to say. The possibility to interact with this installation and its special exhibition space in the park allows treating an art institution as a place where we can look into ourselves, realise what we would like to say, and use this visit as a conscious, even meditative walk.

The dynamic of Eliasson’s work suits perfectly with the idea of Serralves being set up where art interferes with nature. The environment and its protection is a part of the Serralves mission, so bringing a forest into a museum, as well as creating sculptures and an installation in the park, seems to be an interesting move from the side of the curators.

Olafur Eliasson The listening dimension (orbit 1-3), 2017 Stainless steel, brass, mirror foil, steel, aluminium Installation view: The Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, 2019 Photo: Filipe Braga Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles © 2019 Olafur Eliasson


While visiting this exhibition, art becomes a meditative event, a journey, where visitors can immerse themselves into both culture and nature. Previously considered as two opposite things, nowadays they become more and more unified, and artists such as Olafur Elliason are exploring their relations and creative potential to talk about nature and engage in building awareness about each one.

Olafur Eliasson’s exhibition, O Vosso/Nosso Futuro é Agora (Y/Our Future is Now), opened at the Serralves Foundation in Porto on the 31st July last year and can be visited until the 14th June 2020.

I'm a polish art historian, specialized in Eastern European art. Currently, I am living in Porto, Portugal. I am a creative writer and the author of SlowMotionTravels blog.

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