I’ll be honest. Out of the hundreds of art exhibitions I’ve experienced, most of which with my artist sister, this was my favourite. The cherry on top: how Eliasson sprawled over Tate Modern.
The work was outside: a scaffolding water fountain spraying everyone, moving with the mind, creating a puddle of water assymetrically. People gravitated towards it, carelessly getting wet. If you’d look away, it could be natural - participating in city life amongst brutalist concrete.
The work was inside, before the exhibition: a fan hanging from the ceiling spinning itself into G-force cycles. Fluorescent orange-yellow lights that saturate everything.
Eliasson even curated a vegan menu which my father and I splurged on. Reasonable prices, great quality. I even met the man himself - I’ll get to that later.
I’ve experienced a fair quantity of mass-produced, meaningless drivel - enough to last a lifetime in the Tate itself. It’s possible to an outsider of environmental narratives, that this exhibition could be the same as a Damien Hirst. The work is totally experiential. Being aware of Eliasson prior, and an environmentalist, I knew I had to persist, and it was worth it.
Everything comes together. We all come together. Perhaps more aptly, we see his mind coming together. For instance, one work consists of a giant circle with a mirror ceiling. People could cross the circle from the beginning of the exhibition or the middle of it. I placed myself in the corner of the tight room to analyse this interaction. I took a photo of myself, someone took a photo of themselves: both of each other. Another person came in, backed right into me while taking another photo. Such is life. But inadvertently, I asked: how do we live together, and what determines how we behave?
Eliasson knows, and permitted, filming and photography in every part. He knows the vast majority of attendees would document the highly-Instagrammable works. Another example: a fountain in a pitch black room. Every few seconds, a bright light illuminates the water. Outside, waiting to enter, was a queue of at least 75 people. Inside, about 10 people, many of which trying to take a decent photo. You can imagine this scenario repeating for the next 6 months: every person realising that each moment is precious, in which we are alive, that we cannot always record. Indelible in our minds.
It becomes very clear very quickly that Eliasson was fascinated by the environment growing up. And in augmenting reality, taking certain parts out of nature and placing them in a gigantic, cold museum, I see my own intentions. Collecting and storing and attaching myself to the natural world. Which, of course, is every part of the world. In order to document at all, we have to document others. Plants, landscapes, man-made objects, man.
What really distinguished this exhibition, what cemented its favourability in my own mind, was the last piece. Barely in the realms of art: an information wall collecting countless environmental documents - possibly thirty or forty foot long, alphabetised but otherwise messy and thoughtful and crafted. I am a data and information visualisation junkie, and this blew my socks off. From Latour to XR to The Last Whole Earth Catalog, a favourite of mine growing up. Yes, it was important to end the exhibition with a repository of information that people could take from and utilise, but the emotion of it. The need to strategise and organise and disorganise. And it wasn’t even in the exhibition guide.
When I met Eliasson after lunch, I asked him why. He told me it was last minute, there’ll be a reprint of the guide soon. Maybe the board was his own personal project he decided to let us in on. I told him I saw myself in the exhibition, and I’m sure others did too. I think you probably would.
In Real Life is on at Tate Modern until 5 January 2020. Isabella saw the exhibition on the day of its public opening.