Friday 9 January 2015

Contact: Otherworldly New Exhibition by Olafur Eliasson In Paris

An affirmation of humanity, peace and beauty in Paris, the new show of Icelandic-Dutch artist Olafur Eliasson transports us into the sublime world of outer space. Called the alchemist of the art world, Eliasson gives viewers an experiential rush, report Jeanne-Marie Cilento and Antonio Visconti

Frank Gehry's Foundation Louis Vuitton, Bois de Boulogne
THE evocative exhibition opened at the remarkable new winged glass confection Frank Gehry designed for the Foundation Louis Vuitton in the Bois de Boulogne. Called Contact, inside the show people are enveloped in an atmospheric, ethereal space and invited to touch the installations such as the rough surface of a meteorite. “Normally, you are not supposed to touch the artwork," says Eliasson, “but when I touched a meteorite, it was the first time I touched something which was not from this planet.”
Meteorite fragment at the entrance to the Contact show 
The show has a cave-like entrance showing the fragment of meteorite as an enigmatic messenger from space. Beyond this small room are dark passages leading to one cavernous space after another. “The route through the exhibition is derived from the geometry of the circle and founded upon the underlying principle of circularity,” says chief curator and artistic director of the foundation Suzanne Page. 
The relations between self, space, and universe are explored 
“By bringing viewers into contact with a meteorite, an extraterrestrial object with a magical, even symbolic, character, the exhibition begins with a gesture intended by the artist to place visitors in a state of perceptiveness that expands the horizons of our imagination.”
There is an interplay between moving light and shadow
The exhibition feeds the senses and explores ‘the relations between self, space, and universe’ by creating a surreal, alternate reality within the newly-built museum. The installations immerse visitors in an interplay between moving light and shadow, a chiaroscuro which seemingly transports the audience into the complete darkness of outer space. The show is part of Eliasson’s on-going study of human perception and the construction of space.

“My exhibition addresses that which lies at the edge of our senses and knowledge, of our imagination and our expectations,” Eliasson explains. “It is about the horizon that divides, for each of us, the known from the unknown.”
The show is like walking across the top of a planetary sphere
Entering the show, visitors move on the sloping floor as if walking across the top of a planet, the light passing along the circumference of the space is reminiscent of one planet passing in front of another.
There are eight installations part of the extraordinary Contact show 
“Olafur Eliasson often bases his work on cutting-edge advances in scientific thought, placing emphasis on the situation of humanity in the world,’’ says curator Suzanne Page. “Tapping into the visitors’ capacity for empathy, the artist strives to activate their participation, implicating them in a complex, multi-sensorial experience. The constant oscillation between shadow and light, presence and absence, and affirmation and doubt causes us to question our visual perceptions and, in consequence, our convictions.”

The show exhibits eight works including the rooftop heliostat 'sun tracker' that refracts rays onto a polyhedron sculpture suspended near the museum’s entry. Eliasson’s site-specific Inside the Horizon, has 43 illuminated triangular columns staggered out along the museum’s grotto. 
The show is an exploration of the known and the unknown
Eliasson says he and architect Frank Gehry share complementary visions: “All of my spaces are generally something you can put down to basically two or three geometrical shapes – circle, cone, triangle – unlike Frank’s building, which is all about waves and free forms and unpredictable."
The Big Bang Fountain shows a split-second of earthly forces
One of the installations, the Big Bang Fountain, is Eliasson’s water experiment capturing the split-second between upward pressure and downward gravitational force, illuminated with a strobe light so that a splash becomes a wondrous cosmic phenomenon. The fountain dances in a sphere of glass refracting images from the outside world, like an alchemist’s orb. 

Another great, cave-like gallery opens out revealing a crystalline, icy realm of white light and black shadows. The temperature in this space is noticeably cool. Overhead, a black moon-shaped shadow moves over the ceiling. Gradually you realise only half the awe-inspiring oval space is real: it is bisected by a mirror. This place exists fully only in your own mind.
A cavernous chamber feels very hot with a golden horizon
Eliasson reveals that light and space themselves are created inside the brain. His illusions are grandiose, but he lets you know they are illusions. Outside the show, two glass balls revolve mechanically as he reveals the simple truth behind what looks, from inside the grotto, like a pair of dancing eyes in a shimmering surreal ballet.

Another grand chamber feels very hot and you are surrounded by a thin orange line of flame. But the last and most compelling installation is a fountain sputtering in darkness. Every few seconds it is illuminated by a  seeming flash of lightning. The dancing water leaves a lasting impression on the mind ~ like the rest of this magical, otherworldly exhibition. 

Contact is open until 16 February 2015 at the Foundation Louis Vuitton in Paris:

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