I’m interested in how action is defined. Doing something – what does that mean and what creates the impulse to do something? Where does it come from? 

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  • The mediated motion, 2001, Olafur Eliasson

    Olafur Eliasson, The mediated motion, 2001

    © Olafur Eliasson Photo: Markus Tretter

  • The mediated motion, 2001, Olafur Eliasson

    Olafur Eliasson, The mediated motion, 2001

    © Olafur Eliasson Photo: Markus Tretter

  • The mediated motion, 2001, Olafur Eliasson

    Olafur Eliasson, The mediated motion, 2001

    © Olafur Eliasson Photo: Markus Tretter

Obviously knowledge alone – I know that I have to, or ought to, do something – doesn’t do it. There always has to be a motivation that makes you act. I’m interested in the threshold between thinking and doing. In the world today there is a tendency to know a lot and to do little. But art is a field of doing, not only of knowing. Making art is a creative process, where you start out from a thought, an intuition, a manifesto, and art has always been about translating what you think or feel into something else. This journey is very exciting and fundamental for me, which is why I have built my school, the Institut für Raumexperimente (Institute for Spatial Experiments), around this – around the idea of Umsetzung, or translation.

Olafur Eliasson, The body as brain, Lava floor, Projekt Sammlung 5 2007

Olafur Eliasson, The body as brain – Lava floor: Projekt Sammlung (5) 2007

© Olafur Eliasson Photo: Florian Holzherr

I refer to Little Sun as a work of art that works in life. In working on Little Sun, I have a strong sense of doing something. I’m now showing Little Sun at Tate Modern. Museums today struggle with the same challenges that society struggles with in general because they are a part of society. How is a museum not just about giving people knowledge, but about bringing people to action, participatory action, being part of society? Showing Little Sun as an autonomous object is not enough; I feel it is a much stronger idea to show Little Sun as part of a process, where you can use the Little Sun for something creative by moving.

Olafur Eliasson, Notion motion 2005

Olafur Eliasson, Notion motion 2005

© Olafur Eliasson Photocredit: Hans Wilschut

I’m trying to turn the museum, which, generally speaking, is an ocular regime, or a regime of the eyes, into a movement machine: we physically move around the museum, the architecture of the museum plays a huge role in how we see and experience and take in the exhibitions.

Olafur Eliasson, Little Sun: Tate Blackouts

Olafur Eliasson, Little Sun: Tate Blackouts

© Olafur Eliasson

Therefore, I think the bodies of the spectators can be used as the vehicle for understanding Little Sun. Putting a lamp in your hand, which defines what you see, is like putting your eye in your hand. This means that seeing is driven by our physical action. My ambition is to put our knowing into our bodies, to show that knowledge and physical presence are intertwined and inseparable.

Olafur Eliasson, Little Sun: Tate Blackouts

Olafur Eliasson, Little Sun: Tate Blackouts

© Olafur Eliasson