This quote from Olafur Eliasson put me in mind of the New York Waterpod project I mentioned last week. “Water,” says Olafur Eliasson in the excellent TED Talk he did last month, “has the ability to make the city negotiable.” In a talk calledPlaying with space and light, he was discussing his Green River project, in which he dyes the water of rivers flowing through a city a bright, startling, green, cajoling citizens to notice the flows and eddies around which their cities grew up, and asking them to reconsider their relationship to water. (Just in case you’re alarmed, the green is non-toxic).
Eliasson is that rare thing, an artist who is beautifully articulate not only in his work, but in what he says about his work. He talks about how his art is about changing people’s relationship with what they see, and about with how a piece of work allows the viewer to renegotiate his or her position in relation to what they see. This, he says, means that art has a role in democratising the space that art exists in:
What the potential is, obviously, is to move the border between who’s the author and who’s the receiver, who’s the consumer and who has the responsibility for what one sees. I think there is a socialising dimension in moving that border; who decides what reality is. […] What consequences does it have when I take a step? Does it matter if I am in the world or not? Does it matter whether the actions I take filters into a sense of responsibility? Is art about that? And i would say yes, it is obviously about that. It is obviously about not just decorating the world and making it even better or even worse, if you ask me… it is obviously about taking responsibility.
Tucked away in the talk is the notion that this kind of art embodies not just a political position, but a unique one:
Art addresses great things about parliamentric ideas – democracy, public space, being together, being individual,… How do we create an idea which is both tolerant to individuality and also to collectivity without polarising the two into opposites? Of course the political agenda in the world has been very obsessed with polarising the two against each other in different, very normative ideas, and I would claim that art and culture – and this is why art and culture are so incredibly interesting in the times we are living in now – has proven that one can create a kind of space which is both sensitive to individuality and to collectivity.
At the very least this seems to be a nice distillation of the intentions of much of the best contemporary art…
Photo: Green river by Olafur Elliason, Moss, Norway, 1998