Life is not bound by a human sense of time… Instead, it slowly started emerging in April and will fade away in July.
Olafur Eliasson’s Life, at Fondation Beyeler in Basel (https://life.fondationbeyeler.ch/en/) , Switzerland is an open space exhibition inviting its visitors to contemplate within an exceptional gallery setting. Eliasson resigned from the conventional, enclosed space and invited the surrounding landscape into the museum, blurring the distinction between the inside and the outside. It is yet another astounding example of the artist’s work, prioritizing the experience of art over representation. Life is an ever-changing landscape, just as the surrounding nature. The exhibition has a circle of daily changes. It is alive, it has its own biological rhythms. Life is not constrained within opening and closing time; it is free to enter at any point of day and night, independently of the museum hours.
Blurring the distinction between the museum room and the natural landscape
There are no doors or windows providing the usual enclosed museum setting. We experience the surrounding landscape, which extendsits reach within the gallery space – green water flooding the floor of the building, leaving very little space for any other artificial installations. Visitors walk through the exhibition space by a labyrinth-like dark wooden path, wandering among the green waters of the inner pond. This walk is explicitly multisensory.
Passing through the water, we recognize all sorts of different visual and vocal impulses. They combine the enforced effects of the exhibition with the occurrences in the surrounding nature. Inside and outside world becomes one. The artist blurred the distinction between the museum room and the natural landscape, embracing them both in a symbiosis that Life creates. To succeed at providing this transcendent experience, a section of windows has been removed from the original design of the Fondation Beyeler’s building. Eliasson opened up the museum to create one coherent landscape, extending from the outside park to the interiors of the gallery.
Becoming one, the inside, as well as the outside is subject to constant, yet circular changes. Just as the changing conditions of the outside world, so are the features of the exhibition, subjected to a constant alteration. The changes of the surrounding environment are reflected by the changes within the exhibition space. In the daylight, the water corridors appear bright green and then fluorescent at night. During daytime, the light in the gallery is bright. At nights, as the sky dims, so do the lights inside of the exhibition, becoming dreamy blue. During the whole daily circle, the water surface mirrors reflections of the surroundings, so that walking through the aisles, the visitors become part of the water reflection – part of the artwork, part of the artist’s microecosystem. This effect was achieved by a combination of ultraviolet light and a fluorescent, non-toxic dye in the water – uranine. Known in science as an organic dye, it allows to observe and track water currents. The artist selected water plants, such as water lilies, shell flowers and water ferns, to his aquatic landscape. The water lilies enrich the space with a dreamy sentiment of Claude Monet’s impressionist landscapes. Apart from providing the fluorescent effect, the UV lamps installed in Life support the process of the plant’s photosynthesis. Therefore, there is growing life within Life. The game of lights, characteristic of Eliasson’s work, now bears a particularly significant role. Light becomes the source of life. Its circle aligns to the circle of natural light and its vitalizing properties.
This artwork is a collective experiment. It challenges our conventions of art, nature, institution and life and attempts to dissolve their boundaries. Plants, animals, humans and microorganisms live together in this work.
— Sam Keller, Director of Fondation Beyeler
Life is about involvement; it is about our complicity with nature. The created landscape is a new cultural landscape where humans are equal to their surroundings. We hold no superiority; we blend within the landscape of beings. Every biological entity that enters the space is equal in its adaptation to the landscape. All the living and non-living forms, such as winds or light, are equal in the composition of this art work. We experience the landscape as biological cohabitants. We align with the space to understand that the experience of Life, and life, comes into existence only through entanglement.