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Becoming Part of the Work

Becoming Part of the Work: Phenomenology and Olafur Eliasson

By: Jacqueline Hampshire

Phenomenology is the study of that which appears to us and describes the process of meaning produced through encounter.  This methodological approach, sometimes used by art historians, insists on the presence of the viewer and relies on the spectator’s field of perception.  The viewer therefore becomes an essential part of the work.

Next time you’re in a gallery and you have no idea what you’re looking at, just apply a phenomenological methodology; whatever you perceive is the meaning.

Ok, the above statement may not be entirely true.  Phenomenology is an extremely complicated branch of philosophy and using the method doesn’t give you a free pass to invent meaning in everything you see, nonetheless it’s exciting as a spectator to play a crucial part in the work’s meaning.

This June you’ll be able to test out your phenomenological methodology at the MAC.

From June 21st to October 8th the museum will be showing the work of the Danish/Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. The exhibition will be his first solo show in Canada.

The Weather Project, Olafur Eliiasson. Image via

Olafur Eliasson has become an international sensation for his immersive art works that blur the boundaries between art and architecture and often address environmental issues in the process.  You may be familiar with The Weather Project at the Turbine Hall or his more recent waterfall at Versailles.

Eliasson’s large-scale works are immersive and challenge how spectators perceive their environment as well as their relationship to it.  The meaning of the works rely on this embodied experience.

One of my favourite all-time museum experiences was My Rainbow Panorama that sits atop the ARoS museum in Aarhus Denmark. The work is a 150-meter long circuit created with a rainbow spectrum of coloured glass.  The installation allows for a 360 degree view of Aarhus bathed in color.  The structures in the city do not physically change however one’s experience of the architecture below is drastically altered by the colorful lens.  On a sunny day, participants are also bathed in the colourful light and as you move through the work you change colour with it.

If you get the chance to visit ARoS make sure to allot enough time for multiple circuits of the rainbow panorama, there’s nothing else like it.

I have high hopes for Olafur Eliasson at the MAC.  The space may not allow for a giant glowing sun or a rainbow glass extension but I’m sure it will challenge the senses in all the right ways. 

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