Archive for Olafur Eliasson

Variations on the Theme of Northern Lights

Posted in Art, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on December 9, 2015 by telescoper

This morning I woke up as usual to BBC Radio 3. Unusually however this morning’s breakfast programme was broadcast live from the picturesque town of Tromsø in Norway, which is well inside the Actic Circle so is dark all day at this time of year. The broadcast from Norway part of a three-week extravaganza called Northern Lights, which focusses on the music and culture North of 60° latitude.

Anyway, this prompted me to do a brief post about a couple of related matters connected by the theme of Northern Lights.

The first is to draw your attention to the fact that, to coincide with this Nobel Prize Week in Stockholm, the artist Olafur Eliasson has set up a temporary public artwork in Stockholm called Your Star, which involves putting an artificial star into the sky over Stockholm. I gather it has been quite difficult to get the star to behave in the windy conditions, but in any case you can use the website to view six short videos and even create your own star..

The second is this wonderful video of the  Aurora Borealis? If you haven’t seen this before then take a look. It’s not a fake. This is what it’s really like.

I stood under a show like this once, in Tromsø in fact, and I can tell you ever the word “awesome” applied to anything, this is it. The curious thing is that I had the definite feeling that there was a booming and whooshing sound to go with the light show. I wasn’t the only one there who thought they could hear it as well as see it. And I wasn’t drunk either. Well, not very.

I’m reliably informed however that there is no physical mechanism that could produce sound waves of sufficient power to reach ground level from the altitude at which the light is generated. It must have been psychological, as if the brain wants to add a backing track when it sees something as spectacular as this. Any views on this phenomenon would be welcome via the comments box..


UPDATE: here’s an interesting take on the Auroral Sounds issue.

Little Sun Charge by Olafur Eliasson

Posted in Art with tags , , on September 29, 2015 by telescoper

You might remember a piece I did a while ago about Little Sun by the artist Olafur Eliasson. This is a solar-powered lamp that charges up during the day and provides night-time illumination for those, e.g. in sub-Saharan Africa, without access to an electricity grid. I supported this project myself, including writing a piece here as part of the Little Charter for Light and Energy.

Well, it seems that in his travels around the world promoting Little Sun, Olafur received a lot of comments about how great it would be if the same principle could be used to provide a solar-powered mobile phone charger. So now – lo and behold! – there is a new product called Little Sun Charge. Here’s a little video about it:

I’m mentioning this here because Olafur is attempting to crowdfund this project via a kickstarter campaign. The campaign has already exceeded its initial target, but there are five days still remaining and every penny raised will used to reduce the price of the charger so that it can be sold to off-grid customers for even less than originally planned.

So please visit the link and pledge some dosh! There are treats in store for those who do!


Posted in Art with tags , , , on December 16, 2014 by telescoper

As I mentioned in my previous post, yesterday evening  I attended the opening of a new show at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. The first thing to say is that the Fondation Louis Vuitton building, designed by Frank Gehry, is an absolutely amazing structure. It was dark and rainy when I arrived there yesterday and I failed to get any decent pictures of the outside but if you google around you will see what I mean. The interior of the building is an extraordinary as the outside; indeed, it’s such a complex topology that the distinction between inside and outside gets completely lost. It’s definitely a work of art in its own right and enormous fun to wander around, although some of the terraces and balconies are not suitable for those of us who are afraid of heights especially since the only barriers are transparent.

Anyway, the installation I mainly went to see, by Olafur Eliasson,  called Contact, is built around two large spaces on the lower ground floor of the Fondation Louis Vuitton building. The first room is semi-circular in shape and darkened. Along what would be the diameter were it a full circle there is a mirror, just in front of the centre of which there is a bright light surrounded by metallic structure in the form of a mesh. The light illuminates a strip of the circular wall, with darkness above and below, and not only casts a shadow of the mesh against the curved wall but also does the same for the people in the room. The radius of the semicircle is about 25 metres so the room can accommodate many people.

First impressions entering this space are quite strange. First, the room seems to be exactly circular. Then you realise there is a mirror and the mixture of geometrical and human shadows on the circular section of wall. Once you have taken in the true geometry, however, there is stull the fun of watching how people behave within it. Like many of Olafur’s works, this one is as much created by the people who enter the room as it is by the artist.

My phone wasn’t really up to taking pictures of this – and in any case it’s something to be experience rather than seen in a photograph, but here are some attempts. In this one,  very large shadow in the middle is mine:




The second room is a quadrant rather than a semicircle, with mirrors along the two straight edges creating the impression of a complete circle. This time, instead of a single point of light in the centre there is a horizontal illuminated stripe of an intense orange-red which, in the mirrors, creates in the viewer the impression of being in the middle of a ring of light.

My first impression when I entered this part of the installation was to recall some of the lighting effects near the end of the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind:



This is evocative of attempts that have been made from time to time to construct cosmological models with a compact topology, such as a finite flat space with its edges identified to form a torus.

In between these two large spaces there are a number of smaller pieces involving curved mirrors devices that invert and otherwise distort the images of people moving around inside the exhibition, one in particular producing an amazing holographic effect. Knowing how these things work does not diminish their power to amaze and to make you want to reach out and try to touch what is not really there..


Anyway, that’s all just a taster. You really have to see it to appreciate it. It’s a show that asks very interesting questions about we use light in order to perceive space and indeed how we construct space itself through our own imagination.

Arrivé à Paris

Posted in Art with tags , , , on December 15, 2014 by telescoper

Well, here I am in a misty and murky and rather cold Paris. My first trip on the Eurostar from St Pancras as it happens. I’ve used the train to get to Paris before, but the last time was a long time ago when it departed from a temporary station at Waterloo. Anyway, there’s a direct train from Brighton to St Pancras International. Although it was about half an hour late, I still had time for a bite to eat before boarding. The train was pretty full, but ran on time and I got into Gare du Nord just before 4pm local time. A short (and inexpensive) trip on the Metro brought me to the hotel where I’ll be staying the night.

There is a conference going on in Paris this week about Planck but that’s not why I’m here. In fact I’m attending the opening of “Contact”, an exhibition by Olafur Eliasson at the Fondation Louis Vuitton.


I was toying with the idea of combining this event with the Planck meeting, but (a) I’ve got too much to do to stay for the whole week and (b) I don’t think there’ll be much new at the Planck meeting anyway.

Anyway, Olafur very kindly asked me to write something for the  catalogue, as the exhibition has something of an astronomical theme and I guess that’s why I got the VIP invitation. There’s something called a cocktail dinatoire afterwards which I presume involves large amounts of alcohol. That may fortify me for the impending REF results, which are due out later this week..

Anyway, I’ll post about the exhibition if I get time tomorrow morning before the  journey home. It doesn’t open for the general public until Wednesday 17th December, by the way, in case you’re in Paris and thinking of taking a look for yourself.

Ice Watch

Posted in Art, Politics with tags , , , , , , on October 30, 2014 by telescoper

I thought I’d share this video about an installation called Ice Watch, which involves one hundred tonnes of inland ice from Greenland meltinging on the Radhusplads, Copenhagen’s City Hall Square. With Ice Watch, Olafur Eliasson and Minik Rosing direct attention to the publication of the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report on the Earth’s Climate. The ice now melted, which happened faster than expected owing to the unusually warm weather for this time of year…





Posted in Art with tags , , , , on August 20, 2014 by telescoper

Yesterday afternoon I skived off the last session of the workshop I’m attending and took the train to the small town of Humlebæk, which is about 35 north of Copenhagen and is the site of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. The purpose of my visit was to attend an invitation-only preview of a new installation by Olafur Eliasson called Riverbed. The invitation to this came relatively recently and it was only the coincidence of my being here at this workshop that made it possible for me to attend.

As it turned out, I arrived quite early and the weather was fine, so I took the chance to wander around the sculpture park before the main event. There are many fine works there. This, for example, is by Henry Moore:


This one is by Henri Laurens


And so to Riverbed. This is a large work featuring boulders and gravel, brought all the way from Iceland, which have been used to recreate a section of the landscape of Olafur’s native land. The distinctive colouring and granularity of the raw material produces terrain of a texture that must look very alien to anyone who has never been to Iceland. The installation is contained within a space which is contained within and divided by stark white-painted walls, with rectangular gaps where necessary to let the water through from room to room. These boundaries, with their geometrically precise edges, affect the experience of the naturalistic landscape in a very interesting way. The Riverbed itself may look “natural” but the structures surrounding it constantly remind you that it isn’t. Viewers are permitted to wander through the piece wherever they like and interact however they please, sitting down on a boulder, paddling in the stream or even just watching the other people (which is mainly what I did). I don’t know what’s more interesting, the work itself or the way people behave when inside it!

Here are some pictures I took, just to give you a flavour:


Anyway, after that we adjourned for a drinks reception and a splendid dinner in the Boat House, which part of the Louisiana complex. Being neither an artist nor an art critic I felt a bit of an outsider, but I did get the chance to chat to quite a few interesting people including, by sheer coincidence, a recent graduate of the University of Sussex. The Boat House looks out towards the island of Hven, home of the observatory of Tycho Brahe, so naturally I took the opportunity to drink a toast to his memory:


After that I had to return to Copenhagen to write my talk, as I was on first this morning at 9.30. This afternoon we have a bit of a break before the conference excursion and dinner this evening. The excursion happens to be to Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (although we’re all going by bus this time); dinner is in the cafeteria rather than the Boat House, though..

Share Your Sun

Posted in Art with tags , on October 19, 2013 by telescoper

It’s now ten years since Olafur Eliasson’s amazing instllation, Weather Project at Tate Modern. To celebrate this event people can share their responses to this unique experience online here or via the Grauniad website by contributing videos and photographs to a special archive.

My Little Sun

Posted in Art, Biographical with tags , , on January 9, 2013 by telescoper

I’m so excited to have won something other than a dictionary for a change!

I’ve just received delivery of the Little Sun that I was promised after entering a little competition on Twitter. It’s a solar-powered light that charges during daylight hours to provide a bright safe source of illumination at night. “Little Sun transforms the light that is for all of us into light that is for each of us…”


This gives me an excuse to mention that later this month my contribution to the Charter of Light will go live on the website. Please follow the campaign, which aims to improve light and energy access in the developing world.

Olafur Eliasson: Space, Art and Little Sun

Posted in Art with tags , , , on July 13, 2012 by telescoper

I recently found a report about a new project by Olafur Eliasson at Tate Modern called Little Sun which seems very intriguing to me. Basically the Little Suns in question are solar-powered LED lamps, with a running time of about 5 hours. Similar, I suppose to the things some of us have in our gardens that charge up during the day and light up at night. Anyway,  the idea is that on Saturday evenings from 28 July to 23 September  the lights at Tate Modern will be switched off, and each visitor given a Little Sun so they can wander around and see the exhibits in the dark. I can imagine that this will a fascinating experience, changing as it will the usual relationship between the viewer and the viewed, and the space enclosing them both. During the day there will also be a gallery open on the building’s third floor, where visitors can learn about solar power, global energy problems, light and its importance to life, as well as create light graffiti, as demonstrated on the little video here:

I’m not sure I’ll the chance to see Little Sun but I hope this encourages at least a few of you to check it out.

I also found this talk by Olafur Eliasson at TEDX some time ago, called Playing with Space and Light. A while ago was invited one of the gatherings of artists and scientists he mentions at the beginning, and found it absolutely fascinating…

Experiment Marathon, Reykjavik 2008

Posted in Art, Books, Talks and Reviews, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on May 8, 2012 by telescoper

A while ago I blogged about an event I attended, called  Experimental Marathon, which was held in Reykjavik Art Museum in May 2008. I was reminded about this for various reasons recently and managed to dig up a couple of pictures of my presentation, which appeared in the glossy book of the event that was produced later on.

As you can probably infer, I gave a talk which was basically about the cosmic microwave background. My “experiment” was a television set that wasn’t tuned properly producing a screenful of static. I pointed out that some (actually not that much) of the buzz was coming from the beginning of the universe. Pretty unoriginal and gimmicky, I know, but it seemed to go down quite well with the audience and I had some nice questions and comments at the end of my 20 minutes.

During the three days of the event I also got to meet quite a few artists, scientists and other luminaries whose names are on the list here.:

You can find one of the numerous reviews of this event here, which also includes quite a few pictures of various experiments including one that some might consider to be NSFW …