– Spring/Summer 2000
Walter De Maria
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Olafur Eliasson, Looking for hot water in Gunnar’s Island 24 photographs, 8” x 12” each, detail, 1998. Courtesy the artist.
There is a Swedish university course titled Fysik för poeter (Physics for poets) that is taught, among others courses, by Institutes of Technology. By poet, here, they do not mean someone who writes poetry, but one who views the world in a 'poetic' way. Underlying the philosophy of the course is Romanticism's notion of correspondences in nature, but also its hope of achieving transcendence through art, and of seeing the good and the beautiful in nature.
Northern Europe is still fascinated by German Romanticism. Throughout intense industrialisation, war, occupation, struggles for independence and peaceful revolutions, and into the new high-tech, information society, the romantic dream of correspondences and analogies with nature has lived on.
From this viewpoint Olafur Eliasson is a very Nordic artist. In his artistic attitudes he is both an engineer and a romantic poet. This double vision is not applied to the other romantic themes, such as love or life or death, but to nature. Yet, a certain matter-of-factness is also typical. There is nothing mystifying about his project, trhough he works with phenomena rather than with objects. His works answer the question 'how does that happen?' with complete openness. Astounding romantic phenomena are revealed as clearly as in a physics experiment. In Beauty (1993) he produces a rainbow, in the simplest possible way, with all the mechanisms clearly displayed. The rainbow is an emblem of Romanticism, the fairy tale source of gold, the refuge of the dreamer and an object of wonder for the inquisitive child - 'How does that happen?'. The experiment is part of the physics teacher's repertoire, saved for when he wants to get his pupils interested in the more imaginative