A visit to the Chateau Versailles, France, is a spectacle in itself; the grand building lavished with gold and other decorations, the decadent interior, and not to forget the immense gardens surrounding it. It was commissioned by Louis XIV (1638-1715) to replace the hunting lodge his father had built at Versailles. Also known as the Sun King Louis XIV established his monarchy firmly and had the longest reign in European history (1643-1715). His palace had to fit his position and express his autonomy.
Currently the Chateau Versailles is a touristic attraction in the Paris region. Every year an artist is invited to show their work on the palace grounds. In previous years there were exhibitions by Jeff Koons (2008), Takashi Murakami (2010) and Giuseppe Penone (2013), among others, up to the much debated exhibition by Anish Kapoor in 2015. This year Olafur Eliassion got the honors.
The Danish Eliasson (1967) received his arts education at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Currently he has his studio in Berlin, producing installations that question perceptions and ratios, thus challenging our view of the world. Eliasson believes that art can change our way of looking at our surroundings. And it does not stop at just thinking this; he realized the Little Sun project where affordable solar powered light is provided to communities with no access to electricity.
The exhibition at Versailles has two parts, inside and outside. Inside the palace Eliasson worked with mirrors and light, subtly merged with the environment, to enhance your self-awareness in these surroundings. For example The Curious Museum, a wall of mirrors outside covering the full height of the palace, lets you see yourself behind the window of this palace.
In Solar Compression, two concave rotating mirrors hanging from the ceiling with light in between, you see yourself and other people in the room looking at the decorations.
And in Your Sense of Unity, two mirrors in v-shape with a ring of light in between, you see yourself in the space from different angles.
The light and circular forms in all these installations could refer to the nickname of Louis XIV, the Sun King, to link you even more to the palace and this historical figure. Mirrors are a sign of vanity, but they reflect more than outward appearances here. They question your presence in the palace among hordes of tourists visiting, and their behavior, your perspective on the grandeur around you, your relation to history and your place in the world, etc.
In the garden Eliasson put installations involving natural phenomena without hiding the constructedness. In doing so he accentuates the cultivated form of nature you find in the entire garden and again questioning how you relate to this. Noticeable from the palace because of sheer size is an enormous waterfall in the gardens biggest pond. From a distance you can see only water falling from the air, but close up you discover the construction making this possible.
Another part of the yard harbors Fog Assembly, an iron circle on poles producing mist which encloses the visitors.
Glacial Rock consists of a circle of thickly layered of moraine* surrounding the sculpture of Pluto abducting Persephone, the goddess of fertility. Here Eliasson worked together with geologist Minik Rosing who plans to use moraine to ‘revitalize depleted soil’.
In these works we recognize different forms of H2O, namely mist, water and ice, and the effects these produce; going up in the air, producing ripples and sound on its own surface and grinding stone.
In this exhibition Eliasson not only challenges your perception, he also shows how brilliant nature is and how we as humans can achieve great things if we set our mind to it.
*Moraine is granite that was turned into fine powder over centuries by moving glaciers. It contains lots of mineral nutrients.
Olafur Eliasson at the Palace of Versailles
From June 7th till October 30th of 2016.
78000 Versailles, France
Photographs: Courtesy of the Chateau Versailles.