Olafur Eliasson's solo retrospective "Take Your Time" at SF MOMA (2007) invites us to participate in physical experiences that make us reflect on our environment, and how we perceive and alter it.
We wander through the galleries as we would roam an amusement park funhouse, with surprise and delight greeting us at every turn.
Each room offers a different experience in which we focus on a particular sense.
The artist works with elements like water and light to stimulate our perception.
Eliasson creates experiences in which we interact with the art and participate in the act of creation. Mirrors used in many installations literally make us reflect on what we see, and bring our own image into the art.
"Seeing yourself seeing," is how Eliasson describes this phenomenon.
"360˚ room for all colours" surrounds us in a circular room whose walls emit light that slowly changes color.
Without seeing shape, form, light source, shadows, lines, or depth, we are immersed in pure colored light. It's a novel experience to which our eyes are unaccustomed.
"Beauty" is soft falling mist in a dark room,
illuminated by a spotlight that creates rainbows from one angle
and a mysterious cloud-like shape from another.
"One-way colour tunnel" transforms SF MOMA's catwalk bridge with mirrors tinted in pink, yellow and violet hues while traveling one way; black while traveling the other way; and blue and green when looking at it from outside.
Under the gaze of SF MOMA's great cyclops eye, it's like being inside a kaleidoscope.
"Your mobile expectations" is Eliasson's contribution to BMW's Art Car program.
The artist has transformed a BMW hydrogen-powered race car by stripping it of its shell, encasing it in a futuristic husk of mirrored steel, lighting its interior with amber colored bulbs, and freezing it in ice.
We view the car by walking into a freezer while wrapped in a blanket.
The bracing, invigorating cold feels refreshing in contrast to the stuffy museum atmosphere.
A statement about the car manufacturing industry's impact on global warming,
it looks like a futuristic space vehicle or shelter, frozen in time.
A winking visual pun, it's clear that this car is going nowhere, fast.
While well-behaved museum-goers find themselves being transformed into giddy children at a carnival,
there is a serious message within the fun.
Eliasson's photographs of rivers and glaciers of his native Iceland show the effects of global warming.
A wall blanketed in Icelandic moss suggests the delicacy of life on Earth and the tragedy created by loss of habitat and natural diversity.
Eliasson's references to natural, outdoor experiences have an ironic twist when reproduced in an indoor museum space through artificial means.
Eliasson wants to awaken our senses to appreciate life in every moment,
and not reduce our experiences of the natural world to only a few specimens preserved in sterile institutions.