Artist Olafur Eliasson releases interactive works for Earth Day

Public invited to stare at series of dots for 10 seconds and consider each afterimage

Olafur Eliasson says he wants the public to be the artist for his latest work but it may not be a straightforward task – we are urged to rethink how we see the planet Earth.

To mark Earth Day 2020, Eliasson has begin to release what could be one of his most ambitious works in that it invites mass participation on a global scale.

Olafur Eliasson
Olafur Eliasson: ‘Maybe it is not the planet which is in danger. It is in fact us, the human race, making itself extinct. The planet will be fine’ Photograph: Walter Bieri/EPA

The artist will release, hourly from 10am on Instagram, nine luridly orange and pink coloured images of the Earth with a dot in the middle. People should stare at the dot for 10 seconds and then focus on a blank surface where an afterimage will appear in different colours. That in effect is our work of art – a new view of the world.

Eliasson admitted it was not an easy subject. “The wonderful idea of Earth Day allows one to take a step back, look at the planet from the outside and recognise that it is an object that is so hard and impossible to comprehend. It sort of escapes us.

“It is a bit like the climate, it is so vast and abstract and full of numbers and crazy people … how on earth am I going to help? Or have an opinion on it?”

The work, titled Earth perspectives, is about encouraging people to reflect on the co-existence of multiple world views. The after-image is a kind of “ice breaker” for bigger conversations, Eliasson said. There are many ways of thinking about it.

“Maybe it is not the planet which is in danger. It is in fact us, the human race, making itself extinct. The planet will be fine. Give it a few thousand years after the humans have fucked up everything and the Earth will thrive and be green and be wonderful.”

The nine images of Earth will be shown with different places at their centre. They include the Mariana Trench in the Pacific ocean, which at 11,000 metres, is the deepest trench on Earth yet still a place where human-made plastics have been found.

Other locations are the Great Barrier Reef, the Ganges river in India, the Greenland ice sheet, and the Simien mountains in Ethiopia and Ecuador “because they are so unbelievably progressive on the rights of nature”, said Eliasson.

There is also Chernobyl in Ukraine, a fascinating story according to Eliasson in that it was the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history yet is now a place where rare and endangered wildlife thrives.

Eliasson said the project was about looking at the Earth from a distance, taking a step back to reconsider and redesign it.

He said he did not want to suggest how people should respond because “it will always end up excluding someone who is very likely smarter than me.”

The Danish-Icelandic artist is probably still best known in the UK for his Weather Project installation in the gallery’s Turbine Hall in 2003. It was one of the most popular installations in the Tate Modern’s history, with people lying down and basking in the dazzling fake sunlight.

Eliasson was back at Tate Modern last year when it staged the largest ever survey of his work with pieces, including a corridor of fog, which messed with human senses.

His Earth Day work was commissioned by the Serpentine gallery in London, part of its Back to Earth programme asking artists, architects, designers and thinkers to respond to the climate emergency.


Mark Brown Arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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