Olafur Eliasson Behind the Scenes

The artist Olafur Eliasson goes behind the scenes of Rainbowa 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 the foundation of Rainbow, a virtual reality work produced by the artist in collaboration with Acute Art, which generates an ephemeral natural phenomenon. 


‘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.