Review

Olafur Eliasson’s Investigation of Time and Space at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence

Carlotta Mazzoli 3 November 2022 min Read

Nel tuo tempo (In your time), which recently opened in Florence, is Icelandic-Danish Olafur Eliasson’s largest exhibition and first solo show in Italy to date. It’s a comprehensive retrospective of Eliasson’s work, enriched by site-specific installations the artist is presenting for the first time.

Olafur Eliasson (b. 1967) is one of those artists who is able to innovate and create powerful new works while also remaining true to themselves. With a career spanning over 25 years, the artist has presented his work in major museums and institutions around the world, bringing forward themes and ideas that have later become central in the contemporary discourse.

Eliasson works with a vast array of different mediums: from sculpture, painting, photography, and film, to installation and digital media; and his art is driven by his interests in perception, movement, embodied experience, and feelings of self and community. He has a central role in addressing broad themes from education to climate action, while also creating compelling installations and displays that are at once thought-provoking, enticing, and dense with references.

Olafur Eliasson - Red window semicircle, 2008

Olafur Eliasson, Red window semicircle, 2008, mirror, spotlight, tripod, color-effect filter glass. Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles © photo Ela Bialkowska – OKNO studio. Courtesy of Palazzo Strozzi.

The Florentine exhibition Nel tuo tempo (In your time) continues on this trajectory. The show, occupying the entire space of Palazzo Strozzi and its basement Strozzina, develops around two major elements – time and space – and how the artist and the viewers experience these two elements, blurring the boundaries between reality, perception, and depiction.

Mixing both well-known works, such as Beauty (1993) and Room for one colour (1997), with new ones, the exhibition accompanies the viewers on a path of discovery not just of Eliasson’s work, but of our senses and the subjectivity of our experiences.

At the very core of the exhibition stands Palazzo Strozzi itself. Fascinated by its architecture, its lines, and its elements, Eliasson developed five new works directly linked and inspired by the Florentine Renaissance palace. By creating a dialogue with the building and, more specifically, with its windows and architectural components, the artist connects his work not just with the museum but with the city at large, while also being directly influenced by both.

Olafur Eliasson - Just before now, 2022

Olafur Eliasson, Just before now, 2022, spotlights, wall mounts, mirror foil, rear-projection screen, color-filter glass. Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles © photo Ela Bialkowska – OKNO studio. Courtesy of Palazzo Strozzi.

As Arturo Galansino, Director General of the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi and curator of the exhibition, writes in the press release: “In 2015 Olafur visited the spaces of Palazzo Strozzi for the first time and was astonished by the Renaissance architecture, starting a long conversation between him and the 15th-century palace, a complex dialogue whose meaning is distilled into this” exhibition.

We read further in the press release Eliasson’s statement: “Nel tuo tempo is a meeting-up of artworks, visitors, and the Palazzo Strozzi itself. This extraordinary Renaissance building has traveled through the centuries to greet us here, now, in the 21st century – not as a mere host for art but as a co-producer of the exhibition.”

AdVertisment

Works like Triple seeing survey (2022), Tomorrow (2022), and Just before now (2022) all stem from the artist’s encounter with the palace itself. In these pieces, Eliasson uses the palace’s windows, the sunlight that filtrates through them, and artificial lights, to cast shadows and project external elements into the exhibition spaces. These works are not only site and time specific, as they change with the weather and light conditions, but they are also strictly connected to the visitors- each one receiving and interacting in a peculiar and personal way with the pieces presented.

The concepts of time and space are analyzed in the exhibition not just as abstract categories, but as tangible experiences. The time that Eliasson investigates is both the linear time that can be traced with a clock and the subjective time that visitors dedicate to their interaction with the works on display. The spacious rooms of Palazzo Strozzi are left almost empty, and the works seem to float in these vast spaces. Walking from one room to the other, this emptiness is a tool that the artist uses to force the viewers to experience the passing of time and how it influences our ability to decode our surroundings.

AdVertisment

The perception of space is the other major theme that informs the exhibition. Eliasson’s space is triggered by the presence of visitors and can only function when actively walked through.

For example, in the work titled Under the weather (2022), situated at the entrance of the beautiful courtyard of the Palazzo, Eliasson bends the palace’s lines, spaces, and elements to create a dialogue with his own work and the visitors. This site-specific installation comprises a large elliptical structure over 10 meters tall and suspended 8 meters above the ground and uses a moiré effect, activated by the gaze of the viewers, to challenge their perception of the palace and its spaces. Each visitor, moving around the courtyard, can be tricked by the optical effects of the installation, each one perceiving a different version of the work itself.

This idea of the deconstruction of one’s perception can be traced throughout the exhibition. Works like How do we live together? (2019), Colour spectrum kaleidoscope (2003), and the aforementioned Room for one colour (1997) are all pieces the artist created to challenge our senses through mirrors and mono frequency lights.

Olafur Eliasson - Your view matter, 2022

Olafur Eliasson, Your view matter, 2022, virtual-reality installation, audio. Metapurse. © photo Ela Bialkowska – OKNO studio. Courtesy of Palazzo Strozzi.

The exhibition culminates in the underground spaces of the palace, the Strozzina, where Eliasson introduces Your view matter (2022). Presented to the public for the first time, the work uses VR technology to explore bodily experiences in the digital space. Donning a special headset, visitors enter a digital world comprising a series of six virtual spaces that recreate geometrical complex solids – a tetrahedron, an octahedron, an icosahedron, a dodecahedron, as well as a cube, and a sphere. Accompanied by a pulsing minimalist soundtrack created by the artist, the visitors can virtually move around those spaces, interacting with their geometries and patterns, experiencing, yet again, a constant shift in their perception of space and time.

As Eliasson states in the exhibition press release,

It’s a process of unlearning and relearning how vision works, involving not only vision but also the movement of your head, body, and brain.

Moving around the palace, which survived the centuries and arrived to the present day almost unaltered, one can truly experience the flowing of time and the unfolding of history. In a city like Florence, which so massively relies on its history and traditions, the Eliasson exhibition creates a bridge between the past and the future.

Olafur Eliasson - Eye see you, 2006

Olafur Eliasson, Eye see you, 2006, stainless steel, aluminum, color-effect filter glass, mono frequency light, API. Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles © photo Ela Bialkowska – OKNO studio. Courtesy of Palazzo Strozzi.

Olafur Eliasson: Nel tuo tempo

22 September–22 January 2023
Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, Italy

Conceived by Studio Olafur Eliasson
Curated by Arturo Galansino

Info and opening hours at the museum website.

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