Olafur Eliasson, Touch, 2014. All images courtesy of Fondation Louis Vuitton, Photo: Iwan Baan.
"First imagine that you are an asteroid," Olafur Eliasson's voice intones purposefully. "Focus on the feeling of floating through space and try to be present in that idea." He pauses. "Now be aware of your asteroid self and at the same time the endless space around you." He continues, encouraging you, the listener, to experience the artworks as other asteroids, sliding by you as you continue on your asteroidal trajectory. "Now you have familiarized yourself with the possibility of orbiting through the exhibition," he concludes.
Frank Gehry, Fondation Louis Vuitton, 2014.
This exercise in apprehension and movement, titled "Asteroid," is one of eleven exercises for exhibition viewing developed by Eliasson for his mobile app "Your exhibition guide" (available for iOS and Android). The short videos, available with German or French subtitles, feature Eliasson delivering a series of prompts for viewing exhibitions, from mindful approaches to durational practices. In his words, the exercises "may help you see yourself seeing - and feel yourself feeling."
Olafur Eliasson, Parallax Planet, 2014.
While these exercises can certainly be practiced in the context of any art exhibition at any museum, they were specially formulated for Eliasson's exhibition, Contact, which is on view until February 23, 2015, at the brand new Frank Gehry-designed Fondation Louis Vuitton. Viewing an exhibition from the vantage point of an asteroid in orbit does not sound like such a strange proposition when applied to this particular exhibition, not least for the fact that a substantial meteorite is affixed to the wall at the entrance to the exhibition, which the audience is encouraged to pet on their way in. The piece, entitled Touch (all works 2014), is the first point of contact for the viewer, an encounter with the stuff of the cosmos, a truly extraterrestrial object.
Olafur Eliasson, Map for unthought thoughts, 2014.
For those familiar with Olafur Eliasson's constructed environments, the exhibition at the Fondation Louis Vuitton is standard Eliasson fare: the artist has devised a series of fully immersive environments in which the viewer encounters various physical sensations, from the visual to the tactile, encouraging a state of heightened perception. Every detail of the installation is tightly controlled, from light sources to the contours of the galleries. Since his major 2002 exhibition at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (MAM), his method of working stipulates full control over the design of everything associated with an exhibition.
Olafur Eliasson, Contact, 2014.
Contact is Eliasson's first solo show in France since that pivotal exhibition at MAM, and only the second solo exhibition presented at the Fondation Louis Vuitton (the first is devoted to the works of its architect, Frank Gehry), which opened its doors in October 2014. By all accounts, the architecture, with its sweeping glass and steel sails has been described as potentially "overpowering" as a space to exhibit art, and has already attracted some detractors. Drawing his initial inspiration from the soaring glass ceilings of belle-epoque Paris's Grand Palais, Gehry's design alternately resembles the hull of a great ship and the tip of an iceberg floating in the Bois de Boulogne. Eliasson, however, is more than up to the challenge of engaging with Gehry's architecture--here, the iceberg is transformed into a spaceship.
Olafur Eliasson, Double Infinity, 2014.
When discussing his approach to the "strong architecture" of the site, Eliasson explained, "While Gehry follows highly complex principles, I've chosen to use simple geometry, eventually reducing my intervention to basic shapes that provide the exhibition with a 'geometric metronome.'" An overhead view of the exhibition reveals his geometric sensibilities: a series of curving spaces and galleries in the round, where the viewer travels through space in wide orbital trajectories or narrow labyrinthine twists. Spherical windows opening onto inverted vistas of Gehry's building punctuate the space, like portholes.
Olafur Eliasson, Bridge from the future, detail, 2014.
The exhibition revolves around two large-scale, circular installations. In the first, Map for unthought thoughts, a light source situated on the floor of the gallery illuminates a lattice structure that casts a choreography of shadows across the wall, with the viewers' bodies playing an integral role in the dynamic interplay of shadows. A mirrored wall completes the illusion of an entirely circular space. In Contact's second installation viewers encounter a sloping floor, emulating a planetary curve, and a bright, golden horizon line, reminiscent of a celestial eclipse. In a transitional space set between the installations the space titled Double Infinity forms a passageway in the shape of the infinity symbol, with two portholes on either end, perhaps suggesting the looping pathways of electrons or satellites, the future and the past, or the grip of space. The walls are textured here, covered with black sandpaper.
Olafur Eliasson, Big Bang Fountain, 2014.
As the viewer continues the orbit, one moves from the expansive, meditational space of Contact and into a hallway that leads to the sculpture Bridge from the future. Based on a model of a black hole, the stylized spiral recalls other forceful whorls that occur in nature: tornadoes and whirlpools. The final installation brings the viewer to the moment of the inception of the cosmos: in Big Bang Fountain, a strobe light flashes, bringing into momentary focus a burst of water. With each successive flash, a new eruption of water splashes and the shape changes, frozen in an image of collapsing and expanding forms.
Olafur Eliasson, Inside the Horizon, 2014.
Finally, the viewer is let out at the center of Eliasson's installation commissioned by the Fondation, Inside the Horizon, a series of mirrors and lighted panels emanating a golden glow, lining a promenade along a pool of water that spans the museum's lower levels. Here one is given a choice: turn right and continue to other sectors of the museum, perhaps to take in the Gehry exhibition featuring maquettes of his major works, or the permanent collection, currently featuring works by Ed Atkins, Isa Genzken, Maurizio Cattelan, Annette Messager, Wolfgang Tillmans, and others. Or, you could turn left, to continue on in a second orbit of Eliasson's cosmic installations. It's up to you. As Eliasson advises, "It is about feeling your own presence, taking charts of your own trajectory, your own orbit, in your new 'asteroid' self."