Beyond the Canvas
Experience and participation in Olafur Eliasson's The Weather Project
Updated: Jan 26, 2021
“Having an experience is taking part in the world. Taking part in the world is really about sharing responsibility.” – Olafur Eliasson
I saw this dazzling installation in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern, and I'd be lying if I said I remember what I experienced at the time - I'm drawing a blank. But for some 80 anti-war protesters, this humbling light-clad space became a stage on which they could voice their anger. It's 2003, American and British troops have invaded Iraq and President Bush is about to land in Britain for a state visit. People are angry. So they decide to lie on the floor of an art museum and engage with an installation to spell out their message to the US President: "Bush go home". What is interesting is that they had to do it in reverse so that the words could be reflected on the mirrored ceiling above. It was an extraordinary manifestation of social interaction where people used their bodies to speak their mind.
Fast forward to 2021 and, sure enough, people are still angry. If Eliasson's installation had still been there today, and had Tate Modern been open to the public, I know which message I would like to read: "Fu*k You Boris Johnson". Just as a side note, I refuse to refer to the British PM by just his first name. I loathe this fake sense of informality and he's no friend of mine. Alternatively, I'd go for: "Impeach Trump". But I digress, the point I am trying to make is that art like Eliasson's creates spaces of participation, where every person's experience is unique but also unifying.
The beauty of the Weather Project is that it provided a platform for the broadest form of expression, above and beyond politics. A couple thought it would make a lovely spot for a picnic, hamper and all; a delegation of 50 people in Santa Claus outfits descended on the Turbine Hall to spread the Christmas cheer; a young couple was caught engaging in passionate love-making and, wait for it, a man turned up in his canoe and sat on the floor for 15' pretended to paddle towards the (artificial) sun.
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The weather project, 2003
Turbine Hall, Tate Modern London (The Unilever Series)
Photograph: Ray Tang/Rex Features