Olafur Eliasson image

Olafur Eliasson


Olafur Eliasson’s Rainbow (2017) generates an ephemeral natural phenomenon – a rainbow – through interactive digital processes.

Viewers enter an immersive environment, encountering a fine curtain of softly falling water through which light passes. Just as a rainbow only appears when light, water droplets, and the eye are in alignment, so Eliasson’s virtual rainbow can only be seen when the viewer’s movement produces a correlation between these three points. Its coloured light slips in and out of view, responding to the viewer’s body as well as handheld controls, which allow direct interaction with droplets as they descend.

Rainbow (2017) is conceived to offer viewers an experience that is both intimate and social: multiple users are invited to join each other in a virtual space, regardless of where they access the work geographically. Each of their interactions with the falling droplets is visible to others, enabling viewers to recognise each other’s presence, and move in virtual space in full view of their co-participants.

Eliasson’s long-term interests in the relation between self and other and between self and surroundings have profoundly informed this new artwork, with the multi-participant function being a key feature that paves the way for new spaces for and of art in VR.

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‘You don’t see light unless it falls on something,’ muses Olafur Eliasson, who has become renowned for creating art that harnesses elemental materials including light, water and air. The focus formed the foundation of Rainbow, a virtual reality work produced by the artist in collaboration with Acute Art, which generates an ephemeral natural phenomenon. 

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’The work that I’ve made very much expects or encourages the user to become active,’ Eliasson explains. Viewers enter an immersive environment, encountering a glittering curtain of softly falling water which, from certain angles, reveals a virtual rainbow. The experience is both ‘neural’ and ‘muscular’, incorporating the brain and body in a combination the artist describes as one of the most ‘exciting’ aspects of working in VR.  

‘Instead of becoming a consumer, VR encourages you to become a producer,’ Eliasson continues. To view Rainbow is to be active in its creation, seeing as the artist does and pursuing answers to questions that have underpinned his practice for decades: ‘How can I propose that ephemeral qualities – atmospheric qualities – can suggest, not just sculpture, but art?’ 

Commenting on the process behind the work, Eliasson describes Rainbow as a continuation of an interest in materiality that first began in childhood: ‘I drew a lot,’ he says, reflecting on his earliest years. ‘I really enjoyed how you could add a layer to reality. Even as a child, it was a way of touching the world.’ 

Light is perhaps the most ephemeral of all of the elements that captivate Eliasson: ‘It’s this amazing material; it is there and not there at the same time,’ he continues. In Rainbow, it dances in and out of view— tantalisingly suggesting that the viewer might touch and shape fleeting phenomena.

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About Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson was born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1967. He is known internationally for creating large-scale installations and sculptures that employ elemental materials including light, air and water, engaging in urgent contemporary issues including sustainability, climate change, policy-making and education. He frequently works beyond the confines of the gallery, engaging in the public sphere through architectural projects and interventions in public space. In 1995, he founded Studio Olafur Eliasson in Berlin, a laboratory for spatial research comprising over 100 people, including craftsmen, architects, and specialist technicians.

Eliasson has shown internationally, and has been the subject of solo exhibitions at institutions including the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich (2018), the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris (2014) and the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo (2011) – a presentation that spread out across the city. In 2015, his presentation at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm became the museum’s most-visited show by a living artist. He represented Denmark at the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003 and, in 2017, his artistic workshop Green light featured in the 57th Venice Biennale, addressing the challenges of mass displacement and migration. In 2007, SFMOMA hosted Take your time: Olafur Eliasson, a survey exhibition of the artist’s work which travelled to venues including the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Eliasson lives and works in Copenhagen and Berlin.

Olafur Eliasson Behind the Scenes

The artist Olafur Eliasson goes behind the scenes of Rainbow — a virtual reality work that harnesses light and water to create glimmering colour  ‘You don’t see light unless it falls on something,’ muses Olafur Eliasson, who has become renowned for creating art that harnesses elemental materials including light, water and air. The focus formed […]

Olafur Eliasson Behind the Scenes image


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