Fondation Beyeler Comes to 'Life'

John Hill
20. avril 2021
Olafur Eliasson, Life, 2021. Photo: Pati Grabowicz. Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles © 2021 Olafur Eliasson

Artist Olafur Eliasson has "carefully and caringly" removed the glass facades of Renzo Piano's Fondation Beyeler in Riehen, Switzerland, flooding the museum with pools of water died bright green. The installation titled Life is on display 24 hours a day, seven days a week, until July 2021.

Life is a title loaded with meaning for the Danish-Icelandic artist, who says he has grown interested in "efforts to consider life not from a human-centric perspective but from a broad, biocentric perspective." These efforts include turning nouns into verbs — "I try to tree," he says, when going through the exhibition — and seeing life as "about con-spiring," in terms of humans' dependence on other living things: "We conspire with the tree, with others, and with the planet." Life captures the artist's preoccupations by literally opening up the Fondation Beyeler to people but also "plants, microorganisms, the weather, the climate," he explains, "[the] elements that museums usually work very hard to keep out."

Olafur Eliasson, Life, 2021. Photo: Mark Niedermann. Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles © 2021 Olafur Eliasson

One of the most interesting aspects of Life is the way it was born from Renzo Piano Building Workshop's design of Fondation Beyeler. Completed in 1997, the museum is a long rectilinear volume located in Berower Park, between a road on the east and vineyards on the west. The short ends facing south and north look onto shallow lily ponds that are covered by roofs extending past the building's glass facades and supported by stone walls aligned with the gallery walls. Visitors to the museum, under normal conditions, would stand in a gallery and see the water feature through the glass as an extension of the museum into the landscape: a fusion of inside and outside, building and nature.

Olafur Eliasson, Life, 2021. Photo: Mark Niedermann. Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles © 2021 Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson expands upon the existing convergence of museum and landscape at Fondation Beyeler, describing Life as a "naturalcultural landscape," borrowing a phrase coined by Donna Haraway. "I think we’re at a point," Eliasson says, "where we’re finally realizing that culture and nature are inseparable – in fact, they always were." Removing the glass walls and extending the lily ponds into the building (done with landscape architect Günther Vogt) is in an explicit expression of that inseparability, accentuated by the fact the installation has no opening or closing hours, just a three-month duration over which Life, and the museum itself, will evolve based on its interactions with various forms of life — from people to insects and even bats.

Olafur Eliasson, Life, 2021. Photo: Mark Niedermann. Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles © 2021 Olafur Eliasson
Olafur Eliasson, Life, 2021. Photo: Mark Niedermann. Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles © 2021 Olafur Eliasson

Given the 24-hour access, Eliasson devised a lighting display that gives the museum a stunning glow at night. The lighting interacts with the uranine, the nontoxic dye that gives the water its bright green color, to bathe the gallery spaces in shades of blue, green and purple.

Olafur Eliasson, Life, 2021. Photo: Mark Niedermann. Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles © 2021 Olafur Eliasson

As a companion to the installation at Fondation Beyeler, Life has a microsite with photos, videos, podcasts, the artist's statement, inspirational passages by other scientists and writers, and lots of other information — all seen across an undulating background of rippling green water. The website also points people to a livestream, with a handful of cameras show visitors — human or otherwise — experiencing Life at all hours of the day.

Photo: Screenshot from livestream of Life, via olafureliasson.net/life.

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