"What is the size of ‘we’?" – Olafur Eliasson on public art, building bridges, and his Experience of togetherness

Eliasson understands the limits of civic engagement, but says he is trying to push the envelope nevertheless
Olafur Eliasson, photograph by Anders Sune Berg
Olafur Eliasson, photograph by Anders Sune Berg

From his 2004 Weather Project installation at Tate Modern through to his 2018 Reykjavik pop-up restaurant, the Danish-Iceland artist Olafur Eliasson likes to bring people together.

This isn’t some simple, hippy-ish notion, he tells his friend and collaborator Anna Engberg-Pedersen in our new book, Olafur Eliasson Experience. “We are – all of us – always part of social systems and simultaneously co-producers of those systems. It’s therefore important to ask ourselves: Do these systems allow us to feel our own actions and their consequences? Do we feel like a part of civic society?” 


Cirkelbroen, 2015 Christianshavns Kanal, Copenhagen, 2015 Photo: Anders Sune Berg
Cirkelbroen, 2015 Christianshavns Kanal, Copenhagen, 2015 Photo: Anders Sune Berg

Gauging the size of any sense of togetherness – from the global to the local – is something Eliasson grapples with when creating big, public works. “I’m generally very keen on doing works in public space, because this allows me to reflect, together with the space’s other users, on what public space is and on who defines it,” he says. “I see my pedestrian bridge Cirkelbroen (Circle bridge) in Copenhagen as a contribution to this discussion. It leads to questions of ‘we-ness’: what is the size of our ‘we’ – is it primarily local? National? European? 

“This question is very present in Europe these days, linked as it is to migration and to the polarizing tendencies in our societies. I believe in Europe, but I recognize that the EU hasn’t made itself present as an entity that people want to identify with – it simply lacks a compelling narrative. I do think culture and art have the ability to address this lack – to discover models for engagement and communication that may help to inspire us.” 


Olafur Eliasson Experience

For more on Eliasson's experiential art order a copy of Olafur Eliasson Experience here. And to see Olafur Eliasson talk at the Southbank Centre's Queen Elizabeth Hall in London on October 26 go here

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