Pablo Picasso once famously said, “Art is a lie that makes us realize truth at least the truth that is given us to understand.” This statement could easily be applied to Olafur Eliasson’s artistic practice with its dedication to generating installations, photographs and sculptures that use illusion to understand reality. This simple, and yet profound, relationship between light, shadow and reflection is explored in Olafur Eliasson’s Shadow Projection Lamp. One side of a circular pane of glass has been mirrored with concentric rings, so that when exposed to the light from the lamp positioned in front of it, that light reflects off the mirrored rings to casts a pattern of concentric circles on an opposite facing wall, while the shadows of the same rings are cast on the wall behind the glass.
The interaction of light and space as a means of engaging a viewer’s perception in Elliason’s work bears formal and conceptual resemblance to László Moholy-Nagy’s experimental light sculptures, especially the Hungarian Modernist’s Light Prop for an Electric Stage from 1930 with its large circular disk, perforated so that light may pass through it. As the philosopher Mieke Bal has elaborated, “Eliasson’s art, like Maholy-Nagy’s, makes space a coordinate of movement, compels perception to realize its dynamic nature, theatrically stages this realization by means of machinery, and activates the viewer’s participation beyond the mere act of looking “(M. Bal, “Light Politics,” in Time Your Take: Olafur Eliasson, San Francisco, 2007, p. 166). These concerns are evident in Shadow Projection Lamp and were enlarged in The Uncertain Museum, an installation from the same year in the collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, which also uses the concentric circle motif. Four disks similar to the one in this work rotate from a structure wrapped in a projection screen. Light frames both the viewers and the mirror-ringed glass to cast an organic and spontaneous choreography of shadow and silhouette. In this way, Eliasson’s Shadow Projection Lamp reinterprets with a variety of shadow, light and projected related technologies of the nineteenth and early twentieth century when Modernists Picasso and Moholy-Nagy were at work, including engages with a range the shadow play of the ombres françaises, the magic lantern as an early prototype of the projector, the panorama as a precursor to the cinema.