Olafur Eliasson’s impossible-to-miss new show at the historical Strozzi Palace is a psychedelic journey in the multifaceted possibilities of light.
Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson is a household name in the world of contemporary art. Over the years, the 55-year-old’s works have been put on display at major galleries around the globe (including the MOMA, the Tate Modern and Serpentine Gallery, the Pinakothek in Munich, Chicago, and Tokyo). This year, we are lucky enough to have him here in Florence’s city center!
Eliasson’s works consist primarily of large-scale installations that employ and incorporate simple basic elements like light, water, and air temperature to draw the viewer in and produce novel visual and bodily experiences.
The stress on light is part of the artist’s cultural heritage. Scandinavian countries are cold and dark for a large part of the year, so buildings with big windows and fissures to let as much light in are very common. Light is a precious commodity in the north.
The most striking thing about the show is the way in which the contemporary installations mix with the historical space of Strozzi Palace, a space with large windows but also dark corners and thick walls, a protection from the crazy Italian heat. Eliasson plays a lot with this, constructing spaces with strange lights, and channeling what is outside into beautiful patterns inside.
Water also gets the same treatment, with an installation that brings rain indoor. Using a mixture of water and sugar, and mixing it up with light, Eliasson creates a fascinating semi-lit environment where rain is not really wet, and that once again questions the inside-outside boundary. It also makes for a great spot for pictures!
The deeper you get into the exhibition, the more you feel sucked into a psychedelic journey within the mind of the artist. Patterns begin to confuse you, and the games that Eliasson plays are disorienting on purpose. Walls are transformed into windows, ceilings turn into floors, and the natural brightness of a yellow sun is reproduced to an almost blinding extent in a room that would be instead rather dark, transforming the color of your skin.
Before you head downstairs to the final and most intriguing part of the exhibit, it’s worth stopping a little longer to look at two large kaleidoscopic objects. Their size draws you in, and the many colors change as you move. It’s a child-like type of fun, and, to use Eliasson’s own words: “Kaleidoscopes play on the fact that what we see can easily be disorganized or reconfigured.”
In the basement of the palace, there is a smaller part of the exhibition, and without a doubt the most engaging and fun, because it involves VR. Spread around three rooms are VR visors – the good thing is that there are a lot of them so you don’t really have to queue – which will take you through a number of geometrically shaped environments that are made to disorient you. To pass from one to the next, you have to walk through walls, and when you reach the final one you find yourself – spoiler alert! – within the shapes, forms, and colors of the kaleidoscopes we encountered above. It’s so unique and fun that it will be hard to take the visor off, believe me.
Lastly, it is important to reflect on the name of the exhibition, “Nel tuo Tempo” (“In your time”. You can do that while admiring a massive elliptic structure hanging 8 meters above the grounds in the historical courtyard of Palazzo Strozzi. As you move around the courtyard, the pattern of the ellipse shifts and evolves, encouraging you to really “take your time” to see all it can turn into. Meanwhile, the show can also be interpreted as a commentary of “our time”, a time in which old certainties are dwindling and the look and shape of the world is changing forever because of human intervention.
To enjoy the show: Open everyday 10am- 8pm. Thursdays: 8am – 11pm.
Address: Palazzo Strozzi – Piazza Strozzi
Ticket price range: 16,00 Euros – 20,00 Euros
Maddalena Chiellini is SAI Florence Assistant Program Coordinator