Your Watercolour Machine (2009) by Olafur Eliasson
With his new installation, Your watercolour machine, Olafur Eliasson stages the relationship between light, colour and movement. The artist’s fundamental interest in the observer’s sensory apparatus and experience of space is easily recognizable, but the premises of the work are new: In this work, Eliasson’s cinematic interests are evident through a structure composed of mirrors, water, light and a prism. The result is a complex but readily accessible and fascinating installation.
The cinematographic element consists of light projected on a large screen, with a viewer’s bench placed in front. Although Eliasson has previously created works consisting of overlapping colours and shapes projected in close alignment with a rhythmic cycle (The inside of outside, 2008), Your watercolour machine expands the traditional two-dimensionality of film media, challenging the observer’s immediate absence of physical engagement. On the other side of the screen stands the construction that enables this very basic optical phenomenon, a prism’s refraction of light into all the colours of a rainbow from a powerful projector. These shine on the surface of a shallow basin of water and are, through the use of two mirrors, cast upon the canvas as a vertical rainbow projection. This static pillar of colour is periodically affected by small waves in the water, adding a sudden life to the screen’s otherwise “paused” state.
Eliasson is drawing from historical avant-garde film experiments of the 1920s, where artists such as Hans Richter, El Lissitzky, and Lazlo Moholy-Nagy explored the relationship between light, space and movement. The latter sought a means of “painting with light” in works such as Light Prop for an Electric Stage (Light-Space Modulator) 1930. A similar relationship between painting, movement and light can be evidenced in Your watercolour machine.