blog

Olafur Eliasson's 'Utopia' for the new year

For the third and final installment of their ‘Utopia’ series, Denmark’s Arken Museum of Modern Art installed Olafur Eliasson’s “Din Blinde Passager (Your Blind Passager),” a 300-foot-long tunnel filled with a fog so thick that visibility is limited to five feet and visitors are forced to rely on senses besides sight to guide them through to the end of the tunnel.

When you first enter the installation you’re bathed in the magical sensation of what feels like a pool of bright light shrouded in mist, but the mist quickly thickens, the light changes colors and the initial feeling of a kind of new birth gives way to disorientation and confusion. So how, exactly, does this fit in with the Arken Museum’s idea of utopia?

Eliasson explains that to him, “utopia is linked to the now, the moment between one second and the next. It constitutes a possibility that is actualized and converted into reality, an opening where concepts like subject and object, inside and outside, proximity and distance are tossed into the air and redefined. Our sense of orientation is challenged and the coordinates of our spaces, collective and personal, have to be renegotiated. Changeability and mobility are at the core of utopia.” That’s basically a lot of artspeak for  Eliasson’s idea that a utopian society demands that people be adaptable and open to change.

I’m not sure I would get all that from a long walk down a foggy tunnel, and I’m not sure that it matters, (I’m more prone to interpret Eliasson’s game of sensory deprivation in a more literal sense. Am I the only one who thinks these photos look like a zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic world?) but this is a good example of how, in installation art especially, the artist’s intentions are seldom ‘guessed’ or ‘gotten’ by the viewer (after asking around my zombie-notions were corroborated). While any creative work ought to allow for the open interpretation of the viewer, in this case I think a little explanatory placard might help. Sometimes knowing the artist’s intention is a hindrance, and sometimes not knowing it is. For example, would you have guessed that Carsten Höller’s “Soma” is his hallucination manifest just from walking through his installation?