- Surroundings Surrounded: Essays on Space and Science
Although produced in conjunction with Olafur Eliasson's show Surroundings Surrounded at the Neue Galerie am Landesmuseum Joanneum (Granz, Austria) and ZKM/Center for Art and Media (Karlsruhe, Germany), Surroundings Surrounded: Essays on Space and Science is not a conventional catalog published to comment on the exhibition. Instead, and at Eliasson's request, the artist's work was interspersed with a number of essays, in lieu of a catalog. The resulting mosaic contains over 60 scholarly articles, many of which are reprints of previously published work, and the collection exposes the reader to a number of ideas that have influenced Eliasson's work. As Eliasson explains: "We spoke about collecting all my favorite matters into one system just like a studiolo, where the idea of the all-encompassing everything is organized as artifacts and objects in small systems and structures." The resulting "studiolo" gathers the work of many who investigate our understanding and perception of spatial relations, physical environments and other time-space related structures and concepts. Due to his decision to have the art function as an insert or interface to the individual chapters, I found the images almost secondary in the final product.
Perhaps it is because the book is both an anthology and an exhibition catalog that I find it so difficult to review. Based on Eliasson's epilogue it seems this publication met Eliasson's intentions and his goals as an artist. Yet, as a reader who had been hoping to learn more about Eliasson's art, I was disappointed to find that so little within the encyclopedic anthology connected me with his art, although there was some measure of success. The excellent reproductions do expose the reader to the beauty of his work, and these images also shed some light on how Eliasson combines the ephemeral, natural effects of light, water and wind with more tangible materials such as wood, moss and grass. Nonetheless, the commentaries did nothing to aid my understanding of what it is like to actually be face to face with the elegance he contrives. My belief that the book doesn't actively invite the reader to experience the art came to the fore when I began to write this review. I turned to the table of contents and, when I looked closely, discovered that the articles were not listed in the order in which they appear in the book. Instead, the order within each section seems to have been randomly generated. Given my exposure to Eliasson's interest in urging us to look closely at what we see, and my failure to find any elevating rationale on studying the format, I was led to conclude that this non-linear list was provided simply as a device to remind us of one of our assumptions about order. In my case, the reminder did not strike me as a particularly illuminating one. Perhaps I missed what I was supposed to uncover, and this explains why I concluded that, rather than leading me to a stimulating insight, the challenge posed by the enforced disorder, instead, seemed trivial, annoying, unnecessary and intrusive. It is not difficult to adapt to this kind of disjunction between reality and expectations. Being compelled to adapt does not strike me as being particularly creative or even a useful artistic device.
In summary, this book is most likely to be of interest to those who share Eliasson's intellectual inclinations. Clearly the articles are tied to his sensitivities. They also, in fact, cover areas of great interest to me as a reader. Yet I believe that those who turn to this book to learn more about Eliasson's art will find little contained in the book that explicitly illuminates his projects. The sourcebook approach makes the challenge of relating to his work more of an intellectual one, and this, in turn, seems to isolate his interspersed work from the text surrounding it. It is left to...