'Contact' – The Eliasson effect

What do you get when you cross Olafur Eliasson with Frank Gehry? An art show worthy of a starchitect…


He’s created waterfalls in New York, a riverbed in Copenhagen, a sun-kissed weather project in London, and a multi-sensory pavilion in Venice. Now Olafur Eliasson has come to Paris, where his stunning high-impact art encounter, ‘Contact’, is lighting up the Fondation Louis Vuitton.

You’ve heard of the ‘Gehry effect’. Now imagine that crossed with the ‘Eliasson effect’. Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry was behind the striking new Louis Vuitton arts centre unveiled in Paris in October, topped with ethereal glass sails. Its first contemporary show, by Danish-Icelandic artist Eliasson, brings an other-worldly immersion in light and space to the gallery. Just as Gehry’s buildings (think the Guggenheim Bilbao) have boosted city’s economies, Eliasson’s shows are worth travelling for, putting venues on the map.

‘Contact’ explores ‘the relations between self, space and the universe’ by generating a cosmos within the Fondation. Like a road trip with physicist Brian Cox, the exhibition is an interactive odyssey that ‘envelops visitors in a choreography of moving light and shadows, seemingly transporting them into the darkness of outer space.’ Close encounters of the Eliasson kind...

ABOVE: 'Touch' allows you to get up close and personal with a meteorite
BELOW: Starry starry night: inside the 'Double infinity' tunnel

ABOVE: 'Map for unthought thoughts' turns you into a giant shadow puppet

Starting at 'Touch', you can feel a meteorite. So far, so extraterrestrial. ‘Parallax planet’ inverts your field of view. ‘Map for unthought thoughts’ throws your shadow into monochrome orbit. The 'Double infinity' tunnel disorientates. Dark and sloping spatial work ‘Contact' allows you to gaze at a light phenomenon, reminiscent of a mesmerising eclipse. Sculptural vortex ‘Bridge from the future’ gyrates, evoking the energy of a black hole and the exhibition's circular structure. Connecting water and optical devices, ‘Big Bang Fountain’ emits periodic liquid flashes, wrapping up the journey.

ABOVE FROM TOP: 'Contact', a mesmerising light field within Eliasson's show; The gyrating 'Bridge from the future'; Frozen in time: water splashes in the stroboscopic 'Big Bang Fountain'

Outside, tracking equipment on the roof – 'World illuminator' – charts the sun’s movements, directing sunlight back onto 'Dust particle', a multifaceted, geometric sculpture suspended inside the building. Small spheres along the way also explore the mechanisms of perception, drawing the exterior in.

ABOVE: Hall of mirrors: the dizzying walkway of 'Inside the horizon' 

Playing with daylight, yellow light, shadows and reflections, ‘Inside the horizon’, in the Grotto zone beyond the show, is a separate, site-specific commission by Eliasson, with a sound composition by Finnish percussionist Samuli Kosminen. It offers constantly changing perspectives of Gehry's architecture for the Fondation building, with visitors connecting the soundscapes as they progress along the passageway.

‘My exhibition addresses that which lies at the edge of our senses and knowledge, of our imagination and our expectations,’ said Eliasson. ‘It is about the horizon that divides, for each of us, the known from the unknown.’
olafureliasson.net  fondationlouisvuitton.fr

‘Olafur Eliasson: Contact’ runs until 23 February 2015. Fondation Louis Vuitton, 8, Avenue du Mahatma Gandhi, Bois du Boulogne, Paris. Photos: Iwan Baan