Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s first monographic exhibition 'BAROQUE BAROQUE' in Vienna – at the Belvedere Winter Palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy last September – turned out to be the springboard for a new socially conscious endeavour that has seen his return to the city this year.
The show was supported by Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21). While working on the exhibition with TBA21 founder Francesca von Habsburg, the influx of refugees to Austria – as well as across Europe – was becoming a crisis. Long conversations between the two convinced them that art could offer a platform ‘to address the situations of displacement, of feeling welcome, of exercising generosity and empathy’, says Eliasson.
Entitled 'Green light: an artistic workshop' (an overt metaphor for the plight of refugees and migrants in Austria and beyond), the exhibition comprises lamps made from recycled materials which function either as objects in themselves or which are assembled into more complex architectural structures. The three-month workshop, which began on 12 March, is a dialogue among migrants, locals and visitors to TBA21. Participants build an environment in which difference is embraced. It opens up the contested terrain between art and society, probing the question of what constitutes the ‘public’ and negotiating a field of difference and similarity.
‘It’s been a process, with participants first getting to know each other, being a little uncertain, then settling into a very informal and candid atmosphere,’ says Eliasson. ‘The project relies on the collaboration of many people: participants with a refugee background, translators, cultural practitioners; their energy, time, personal histories and memories.’ As a result, in an ideal world, everyone gives and everyone receives.