The theme of the landscape has been a time-honoured subject for exploration for artists in the Nordic countries. From the late nineteenth century through to the present day, artists have represented their native surroundings in an attempt to capture the essence of the natural world that they exist in. Following in this tradition, Olafur Eliasson often creates works that cross the boundaries between nature and culture, and each projects a framework of shared connectivity. The aim is not to nostalgically refer to an idealised past or refer to a primitive idyll of nature, but to acknowledge face on, the curious and important beauty of the surrounding landscape.
It is natural that many of the Nordic artists choose to portray their surroundings, and likewise Eliasson's route to the genre of his creativity may indeed, be explained in part by his biography. While the artist was born in Denmark and is based in Berlin, he was mostly raised in Iceland, and still visits for the summer months, so he grew up surrounded by a spectacular and inspirational primordial landscape. Like many who live and breathe such strikingly elemental landscapes, he has the ability to remain at once intimate with it and also detached from it. In this way, his art is protected from either the glorification or domination of nature in his art, yet all the while celebrating it. As Madeleine Grynsztejn confirms: 'While nature certainly exerts a powerful influence on Scandinavian culture, the argument has been made that its constant presence has also produced in the region's artists a sense of the 'Nordic everyday', a more intimate, less sensational, but ultimately no less awed approach to nature's attributes.' (M. Grynsztejn, 'Attention Universe: The Work of Olafur Eliasson', London and New York, 2002, p. 54).
While the focus on this subject itself and they way the artist approaches it, can be intricately related to his daily experience, the focus that he has upon the specific and the regional run parallel to the general movement of art during the 1990's. It was a move that shifted towards art that celebrated often neglected biographies, places and geographic locales and our relation to them.
The basis for much of Eliasson's art can be found in the elements: gravity, erosion, turbulence, earth, greenery, light, colour, wind, heat, water (including the transitory phases such as fog, mist, steam and moisture). At the same time as producing sculptures that celebrated the formal composition of materials he used, he also produced a number of photographic works that further cement his ties to his native environment. While in Iceland, the artist would create an 'encyclopaedic visual inventory of its indigenous formations: glaciers, caves, islands, rivers.' (p. 60) The product of these trips are often individual photographs that in themselves are beautiful objects portraying in rich detail the idiosyncratic features of a particular view of nature (see lots 7, 8 and 9). In addition, he also makes larger works such as The Glacier Series that are composed of many individual works exhibited together to create an entity of it's own. While celebrating the individual merits of each part, one is instantly overwhelmed by the way in which each part works as a whole, where they become instantly co-dependent as their compositions, forms and shapes work together to consistently challenge the viewer's standpoint and their relationship to work in every sense.
The photos in The Glacier Series were shot from the air in order to document a vast expanse of glacier. 'Over the years,' Eliasson notes, 'so many photographs have amassed that they're gradually beginning to constitute a meta-series, a detailed documentation of the country'. (quoted in 'Cultural History, Not Natural History: An Interview with Olafur Eliasson,' db-art.info magazine, 2006). And it is this attitude that shows how the artist's methods and his driving force can be likened more to a scientific practise, driven by speculative observation and research rather than purely by an artistic declaration.