Ólafur Elíasson: The living observatory: The Art Space 193, Daejeon, South Korea

September 17, 2021

‘The living observatory’ is a multipart work of art that renders the viewer’s perspective both explicit and complicit through each element. It comprises six interrelated interventions, leading the viewer on a tour of forms, techniques, and concepts that Olafur Eliasson has continually explored throughout his practice. For Eliasson, the artworks are co-produced by the viewer’s physical experience of them.

 

The space is divided into four regions of four different colours – black (north), cyan (east), yellow (south), and magenta (west). These are the primary colours of the subtractive colour model, which is used in colour printing and analogue photography. Within these colour fields, the six interventions present geometrical pavilions, passageways, and tunnels for visitors to walk through. They centre around optical illusions, such as trompe l’oeil and anamorphosis, as well as an array of geometrical forms that refer to one another. Often shapes are first glimpsed at a distance as a spectral illusion, then re-emerge physically in the next space at a different scale: the visitor steps into the illusions to explore them from the inside. One intervention leads to the next, with recurring materials and motifs creating a spatial narrative and driving visitors ever further through the artwork. 

 

Along the way, the interventions repeatedly direct the gaze outwards, breaking the barrier to the world outside by borrowing views from the surrounding landscape – in mirror reflections, kaleidoscopic views, or the inverted image of a camera obscura. Similarly, from outside, the artwork makes its mark in the cityscape: the four colour fields are visible through the illuminated windows, transforming the building into a landmark from afar – a lighthouse for navigating Daejon.