"The bartender presses a button, and just like that the rain stops."
-Barry Yourgrau, A Man Jumps Out of an Airplane
Olafur Eliasson's show at the MCA has two types of artworks: objects and experiences. The first experience is the yellow-lighted hall (Room for one colour, 1997)which seems at first like a crushing disappointment, Dan Flavin Part Deux. Then you realize that everyone around you is in greyscale. You are in a living black and white movie. The lady with the red blazer? Grey. Green shirt = grey shirt. Black shoes stay black.
Now you're starting to get it. You are a part of the show.
I always tell non-art people that there's no such thing as color, it's an optical illusion, something that evolved in humans so they could better de-code their environment. Maybe like me, Eliasson got sick of everyone not believing him and just put them in a position to prove it to them. Much of the show is about colors and light.
The most impressive thing about Eliasson is that he makes amazing art with ordinary things, like a garden hose (I'll get to that) and a ordinary hardware store fan. The fan (Ventilation, 1997) is a loudly whirring fan hanging from a cord that's swinging fairly wildly around the room right above everyone's heads. I had the experiential experience of fear of being whacked by a swinging fan and my hair getting into it and sucking me in. But all the other press people in the tour seemed calm. Maybe they didn't stick their hand in a fan at the age of 12 out of curiosity.
Back to the hose. Beauty (1993) is a dark room with a hose and little holes poked to release mist, which a light shines on and makes a rainbow. And you can walk under it and it feels misty and warps your notebook and you walk out feeling refreshed.
I sat alone in the ring of changing color (360º room for all colours, 2002) starting at rounded walls as they passed through green and pink and aqua and orange - until my eyes started to make colors of their own. I saw the red I see right before I pass out (when I pass out).
It would be great if Eliasson could do a show and not have to worry about insurance or liability. Walk on the hexagon brick wall instead of look at it. Walk in the incredibly soft Reindeer moss (Moss wall, 1994) instead of standing in front of vertical field of it, get lost in a house of mirrors he could probably do a hell of a job with, as opposed to the one-room mirror room.
Iceland is amazing, Bjork, Sigur Ros, and Olafur Eliasson, all from a broke country that has a population four times the size of Evanston.
I left the MCA, and realized that Eliasson had accomplished the very core goal of art, to change the audience's way of seeing the world beyond the museum walls. The rain outside felt almost identical to the mist room, and suddenly it was an experience, rather than weather. I had to throw my hazards on in the MCA garage and the red lights flashed on and off, bouncing off the grey walls. I stared with amazement, transfixed by the ordinary.