Investing in the great expanse that is the Chateau de Versailles and its sprawling gardens is no mean feat, as the environment-focused Danish-Icelandic visual artist Olafur Eliasson found out. The artist, who has showcased his work around the world – most famously with The Weather Project at Tate Modern in 2003 and Ice Watch, which saw blocks of ice arranged in the shape of a clock in Paris during COP21 in 2015 – took several months to get a real sense of Versailles before attempting to tame its grandeur and create works for the project.
'I visited it several times, even at night. Every time I came here, I would see something new. It’s only after the first few times that I really dared to open doors and see what was behind the facade,' the artist told Wallpaper*. 'And I eventually felt I had some control over the masterplan, the intentionality of the layout.'
Every year, Versailles president Catherine Pégard invites a contemporary artist to put their spin on the 17th-century architectural masterpiece. Following in the footsteps of Anish Kapoor – who was commissioned last year – Eliasson has created eight works that question perception; five mirror-focused pieces that sit within the chateau and three that play on the elements in the gardens.
'It’s possible to pass the works without seeing them, just being seen by the works,' says the artist. Scale is key for Eliasson; unlike Kapoor’s monumental pieces, his works take a back seat in relation to the palace itself. Waterfall, in the Grand Canal, is the most noticeable work. 'The gardens’ scale ingenuously manipulates perception; you don’t know how long it will really take to walk from one point to other. But the falling water adds scale and temporality, because of the time it takes for the water to fall.'
Displacing perception of intention is one of the exhibition’s main themes. 'I want to encourage us to explore Versailles without there being a particular intention – not like in life where most things tend to be planned. I want people to really experience the works, even to be part of them,' says Eliasson. 'Changing our perceptions and perspectives of the world.'