Olafur Eliasson has done it again. The Danish-Icelandic artist who lured over a million sun-worshippers to Tate Modern in 2003 with The Weather Project , and who erected four giant waterfalls in the East River around New York City five years later, has achieved another coup d’art which, in its artificial reconstruction of a natural phenomenon, combines staggering physical heft with emotional welly.
For Riverbed, Eliasson has transformed an entire wing of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark into a rocky grey landscape with a small stream meandering through it. As you trudge towards the source of the stream, a deep layer of slate-grey pebbles and volcanic rock crunches underfoot. Despite its scale (it required more than 180 tonnes of Icelandic rock), it is a less inherently dramatic work than many of the artist’s earlier installations. The way in which the stream is staged so as to trickle rather weakly from some concealed apparatus in the uppermost gallery and end in a puddle of scummy froth feels wilfully bathetic.
The drama of the work is unleashed only by the viewer’s interaction with it. When, at the official unveiling last week, I spotted two small children gleefully trundling a boulder into the middle of the artificial stream I felt a lurch of horror – and not just because the children happened to be my own. So ingrained is our expectation of the imperative to look but not touch when encountering an artwork, that there is something disorienting about a piece that so openly invites intervention. Indeed, Riverbed demands it; every visitor who walks across the unstable surface of this artificial landscape necessarily effects a transformation in it, causes damage of some kind.
In its monochromatic colour scheme, Riverbed nods towards the aesthetic severity of a Japanese garden, but there is no formality to the arrangement of the pebbles here. In the days since the show opened, visitors have taken to piling them one on top of the other, making their own miniature artworks within the artwork . It is surely only a matter of time before someone suggests a game of Poohsticks.
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