“Nel Tuo Tempo” showcases Scandinavian artist Olafur Eliasson
In Nel Tuo Tempo (“In Your Time”), Olafur Eliasson toys with interactions that span over centuries and pull the viewer into his world and conversations. His largest exhibition in Italy to date collapses time while simultaneously expanding awareness: are we large, or small? Observing, or being observed? Trapped, or free?
To enter into this world is to meet these questions, face to face and viscerally. There are no answers, only fleeting perspectives, specific to each moment for each person.
Nel Tuo Tempo is Olafur’s first exhibit in a Renaissance building. Entranced by the lines and forms of Palazzo Strozzi when he first visited Florence, he expresses his respect for the venue in a playfulness that rejuvenates it. To create this exhibit in Palazzo Strozzi is to give it new life as we approach the stately residence in innovative ways: lines broken, light refracted, visions curtailed and expanded through windows and archways. The old is turned into new; the new into old.
The exhibit begins in the internal courtyard with Under the Weather, a piece commissioned for the show. Standing under an enormous, flat ovoid that resembles a restless sky suspended in midair, the skyscape changes overhead as you change position and move around the courtyard. It all depends on where you’re standing, as your position sets the tone for your role in the exhibit. After all, you are “nel tuo tempo”, in your time.
Artists have gently included the viewer for centuries – from Las meñinas by Velázquez (1656) to the modern installations of the Olafur contemporary, Yayoi Kusama. The interactive exhibit employs light and shadow that both enchant and disorient. You find that your eyes need time to adjust when you step into the exhibit. You’re not in a typical museum space, littered with halogen spotlights positioned over visual art. The artist has transformed light into an artistic medium.
Light holds a place of special importance in Scandinavian culture. At the northern latitudes, the summer light feels infinite, and honestly, you’re not sad to say farewell when it begins its journey south to create sacred shadows of relief. In winter months, the sun disappears almost completely for months. You hold your breath until its return – in fact, in the extreme northern city of Trondheim, Norway, a celebration is held when the sun reappears in February after its prolonged absence. These sensations and cell memory of sunlight are all present in Olafur’s pieces. Solar compression (2016) gives us a crescent of sun, eclipsed or partially hidden. He offers further solar meditations in Red window semicircle (2008), in which an almost-tactile light mimics a sunset suspended in a mirror, never completely sinking, catching its final moments.
Many of the pieces displayed in Nel Tuo Tempo are so bright that you squint when you first encounter them. The light feels warm on your skin. The surrounding space is muted and dark, further contrasting with the bright light and pure color. Eye see you (2006) gives the sensation of viewing the sun itself at close remove. But wait – who’s in the sun? A mirror hidden in the eye dares you to draw close, and as you do so the heat from the light becomes palpable in its own psychological meditation. Draw near and discover, but you’ll feel it.
Olafur gently prodds you to change positions in the space to alter the shape or form of the art. In other pieces, such as How do you live together? (2019), he sets a playful foil where you least expect to find it. You look up, and the art is reflected in the glinting eye, along with your gaze (surprised or transfixed, but present nonetheless). Downstairs in the Strozzina companion gallery, Your view matter (2022) offers VR headsets that place you in a dreamworld of the five Platonic solids. Once more the viewers become the participants, in turn expanding the piece as they are observed by onlookers, drifting around the floor in a slow solitary dance.
Olafur’s artistic pursuits have crossed lines, into the fields of architecture, science, technology, and math. His frequent invocation of Platonic forms and the Golden Mean lend a cognitive purity to his work. Here is a mind that thinks and creates, challenging the viewer to think and co-create with the artist.
Olafur’s dialogue with the viewer is especially poignant with respect to the modern presence of screens and selfies. Here we find time at a slower pace. Gentle synthesizer music provides a further auditory landscape for some of the pieces, recalling Scandinavian musicians like Múm and Sigúr Rós. Do you glimpse yourself in a reflective surface here and there, and how does this center the viewer in the piece, making art the frame for a wry selfie?
The easy tone and accessibility of the exhibit make it a great option for curious people of all ages. Step into Olafur’s world – he’s created it just for you.
The show Nel Tuo Tempo, featuring art from the Olafur catalog as well as newly-commissioned pieces, runs at Palazzo Strozzi from September 22 to January 22.
UNTIL 22 JANUARY 2023
Piazza degli Strozzi
Thursdays until 11pm