I’ve been very inspired by the idea of making explicit what we otherwise take for granted in our everyday lives. Like water, for instance. 

Olafur Eliasson, The New York City Waterfalls, 2008

Olafur Eliasson, The New York City Waterfalls, 2008

Photo: Julienne Schaer; Courtesy Public Art Fund
© Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson The New York City Waterfalls, 2008

Olafur Eliasson, The New York City Waterfalls, 2008

Photo: Christopher Burke
© Olafur Eliasson

With The New York City Waterfalls (2008),I wanted to make water explicit, since it tends to just be a surface – the river – that surrounds the iconic skyline of the city. So I was hoping to turn people’s attention even just briefly to the water and this great natural wonder of the waterfall and how it might change your perception of New York. The Little Sun lamp works with light in a similar way. With it I hope to make light and the inequality of energy access in the world explicit.

Olafur Eliasson Your windless arrangement 1997

Olafur Eliasson, Your windless arrangement, 1997

© Olafur Eliasson


Some years ago, my good friends Bruno Latour and Peter Sloterdijk made me aware of the importance of making things explicit. In Bruno’s words:

The great German thinker, Peter Sloterdijk, has proposed that history was never about “modernization” or about “revolution”, but was rather about another phenomenon, that he names “explicitation”. As we moved on, through our technologies, through our scientific inquiries, through the extension of our global empires, we rendered more and more explicit the fragility of the life support systems that make our “spheres of existence” possible (“sphere” is the theme of Sloterdijk’s three volume magnum opus unfortunately not yet translated into English). 
Everything that earlier was merely “given” becomes “explicit”. Air, water, land, all of those were present before in the background: now they are explicitated because we slowly come to realize that they might disappear —and we with them.

Since “we have never been modern”, we have always been living through a completely different history than the one we kept telling ourselves about: until the ecological crisis began to strike hard and tough, we could go on as though “we” humans were living through one modernization after another, jumping from one emancipation to the next. After all, the future was one of greater and greater detachment from all sorts of contingencies and cumbersome ties.
Free at last!
What happens to our identities, if it finally dawns on us that that very same history always had another meaning: the slow explicitation of all of the attachments necessary for the sustenance of our fragile spheres of existence? What happens if the very definition of the future has changed? If we now move from the taken into account of a few beings, to the weaving of careful attachments with an ever greater and greater list of explicitated beings? Attached at last!
Dependent! Responsible! 

Extract taken from A Plea for Earthly Sciences. For the full text see www.bruno-latour.fr

Olafur Eliasson Moss wall, 1994

Olafur Eliasson, Moss wall 1994

Photo: Koinegg, 2000
© Olafur Eliasson