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LOOK & LISTEN: Abstract, The Art of Design with Olafur Eliasson

Abstract: The Art of Design is a docuseries on Netflix featuring artists and experts in the field of design and abstraction. Season 2, Episode 1 features Olafur Eliasson, examining the way he approaches his thought-provoking interactive art installations. 

Eliasson is a Danish-Icelandic artist well known for his large-scale works of art and architecture. One of his most notorious pieces is The Weather Project, installed at the Tate Modern in 2003. The massive scale of this work left the visitors in sheer awe.

Much like Eliasson's work, the Netflix episode opens up as an interactive experiment where he invites the viewer to participate in an exercise with him. By stating, "you are a co-author with me," he emphasizes the viewer's relationship with the artist, creating a dynamic that feels dependent on the success of the work, not an optional or passive experience.  

This documentary centers around the spectator, the viewer, and how their experience of and interaction with a work of art creates its meaning. Eliasson speaks about the way his work empowers the viewer, critiquing the museum's trend of overly explaining work to its audience, which creates preconceived notions before the viewer experiences the work. 

Instead, Eliasson wants to give the viewer co-creative power to produce their own narrative. He encourages us to ask questions. What are our perceptions of the work? What do we see when we look at it? What happens when we shift our perspective? What happens when time goes by while viewing? How is reality manipulated or constructed? How do we choose to use our eyes? Eliasson explains, "a lot of my work is about exploring this notion of what we consider truth depends on how you look at it. We create reality as we go through space." 

The episode also offers a look into Eliasson's process of creating, which starts with an idea stemming from "somewhere or something". These concepts can be difficult to express in words, so art becomes the language through which he communicates with the world. The visual language he creates is then translated into drawings and models, transforming an intangible idea into something that occupies space. From these models, he determines whether it will make a good final piece of art or not. According to Eliasson, what drives every decision through this process is not "how will I do this, but why am I doing this."

Olafur Eliasson thoughtfully closes the episode by asking the viewer: why are you watching this episode? What is in it for you? What are you actually doing here? These questions cause us to contemplate the spaces we occupy, forcing us to not take them for granted. His prompts allow us to think about what we perceive as reality and act as a reminder to consider a multitude of perspectives when creating a work of art. Watch it on Netflix!


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