Artist Olafur Eliasson has launched a new, web-based artwork titled Your uncertain archive. The piece brings together images, sketches, texts, thoughts and ideas by the artist, all displayed in a drifting, engimatic landscape that visitors are invited to explore. CR talks to Eliasson about his thinking behind the work.
Described by the artist as a new “homepage”, Your uncertain archive can be found on the main homepage on his site by clicking on a mysterious symbol, or reached directly at olafureliasson.net/uncertain. The work was designed in-house at Eliasson’s Berlin studio by a small team led by Daniel Massey over a period of four years. It uses WebGL technologies and the three.js Library to produce a 3D environment, accessible via Google Chrome and Firefox on a desktop computer, which will constantly change and grow over time.
The olafureliasson.net homepage, with the symbol for Your uncertain archive featured
The floating landscape of Your uncertain archive
Eliasson is well-known for his large-scale installation artworks, which have been displayed in museums all over the world. In 2003, he created The Weather Project for the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, an artwork featuring a large yellow simulated sun which attracted over two million visitors. Other significant works have included four manmade waterfalls displayed in New York Harbor in 2008, and Your black horizon, a black cube created for the Venice Biennale in 2005 alongside architect David Adjaye, which was lit by a thin slice of light at the viewers’ eye level.
His installations demand physical involvement and interaction from the viewer, and this in part is what he wanted to bring to this online work. “We started talking about the emotional relationship – or rather, the lack of emotional content – you have when working with an interface on a computer,” he says. “The focus was really on the interface. Instead of trying to nail down the right architecture for the homepage, it was more about how could we find a way so the user of the homepage also becomes the generator of the homepage. So instead of you being a consumer, and ‘taking’ the homepage, you actually become an author, or maybe a co-author, and instead of consuming, you produce the content. That is directly taken from how I would normally talk about my work, and how I think about my work – the experience of the work is what constitutes the work.”
Stills from Your uncertain archive
As visitors drift around the online space, they can click on the images to find out more about work featured, and also visit a ‘Connections’ section which offers up links between the content. There is an element of chance to everything though, which Eliasson is keen to encourage, as well as allowing visitors to experience a different kind of online atmosphere from what they might be used to. “I wanted Your uncertain archive to be a sphere or a thing inside of space,” he says. “I looked at different computer programmes … looking around at who has successfully mapped more atmospheric conditions. As we know, the internet has become a consumer-driven, very commodified and highly structured system, where quantifiable success is the primary driver. So this means all the non-quantifiable content, like soft structures … are really marginalised.”
Eliasson also deliberately wanted to avoid the dogmatic structures that most websites, and certainly online archives, tend to have, where visitors need to know what they are searching for in advance. “I wanted the chance to allow for a higher degree of negotiability, and also that little bit of discomfort in being slightly lost sometimes,” he says. “Not too lost but lost in the sense of having to work a little harder to find your path…. We’re so used to commodified home pages, everything is about predictability, in order to make people feel safe. So feeling safe is very often associated with generating profit – the internet has become a consumer-driven money-maker, it’s become a shopping mall. The lack of predictability also has to do with allowing for a space where you have to work a little bit harder without necessarily having to buy something.”
More stills from Your uncertain archive
Eliasson is very active on Twitter and other social media sites, and is conscious that the internet has brought many people to his work, who may not have experienced it ‘in the flesh’ at galleries and exhibitions. “At the beginning of the year I travelled though China quite a bit and I met so many artists who were very familiar with my works and they all knew it from the internet,” he says. “I’m teaching at the university at Addis Ababa in Ethiopia in the arts department and there they use the internet all the time because there’s a certain limit to how much contemporary art is being shown in Addis Ababa – there’s a big creative community, really vibrant and they totally depend on the internet to make a frame of reference.”
Despite how much art is now accessed via the internet, Your uncertain archive is a fairly rare example of a major artist engaging with the medium to create something unexpected online. Eliasson thinks this will change in time, however. “At the art school where I’ve been teaching for five years in Berlin, there were several people who were really very talented in programming and it was not the primary thing they did,” he says. “I think that what we’re seeing is the older generation of artists are having a harder time but I do think that a lot of younger artists do have incredible homepages. For somebody my age programming is an abstract language, I’m slowly understanding a little bit it’s potential and limitations, but for people younger than me programming is really not so far away.”
Visit Your uncertain archive at olafureliasson.net/uncertain. Eliasson’s work can also be seen in a major solo exhibition by the artist at Louisiana Museum in Denmark, which is on until January 4, 2015. More info is here.