Currently on view through December 22 at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery is Volcanoes and Shelters, an exhibition of new photographs and installations by Olafur Eliasson, who is best known for work that merges art, science, and natural phenomena to create multisensory experiences. The exhibition at Tanya Bonakdar, however, focuses on Eliasson’s straightforward collection of photographs of the Icelandic landscape.
Eliasson was born in Denmark to a family who hails from Iceland, and the young, untouched and awe-inspiring Icelandic landscape has long influenced his practice. Volcanoes and Shelters was created during trips to Iceland over the past few years to document natural phenomena.
Three large grids comprised of photographs take up the ground floor of the gallery, each grid focusing on a single element of the landscape. These compilations of photos look like systematic inventories or encyclopedic documentation, however with nuanced photographic choices, Eilasson calls attention to the relationship between the viewers’ physical presence with the land.
The largest series focuses on Iceland’s major volcanic craters. Volcanoes are a significant part of Iceland’s landscape; the photographs highlight the staggering beauty of the craters that seem to take on different personalities. Volcanoes are the embodiment of the natural land come to life, crevices signifying impending uncontrollable natural activity.
The next grid focuses on natural hot springs, a product of the volcanoes’ presence on the land. The vibrantly colored water and raw beauty of surrounding topography is mesmerizing, but the series also plays with our perception. Eliasson photographs the pools from various distances giving the impression that each one is the same size when in reality some hot springs measure only a few feet wide and they appear comparable to the size of the immense craters.
The final series of photos introduces a human element to the landscapes. Small hiking cabins appear in remote locations, dwarfed by the vast expanses of the landscape. Unlike the pure landscape photographs where the perception of space and distance is confused, the hut photographs ground the viewer in spatial awareness.
Eliasson continues to alter our perception with a number of large format photographs called The Large Iceland Series (2012) which accompany the grids. Additional images of Icelandic terrain is documented, but the distance from which the photograph is taken is often unknown bringing into question whether a photograph is an aerial shot of a large formation, or a magnified image of a small piece of land made to look monumental.
The upstairs galleries house two installations that continue Eliasson’s exploration of our physical relationship to the landscape and further question our perception by bringing manipulated natural forms into the gallery. Your disappearing garden (2011) fills the space with shiny chunks of obsidian, evoking a landscape within the gallery space itself, inspired by Eliasson’s hikes through obsidian fields. The volcanic glass is reflective and images of a distorted gallery space and viewers bodies appear on the surfaces of the stone.
The show concludes with a set of three kinetic sculptures, water fountains that cascade in various formations, droplets stopped in mid-air by strobe lights. This work toys with time, space, perception and objecthood while manipulating natural resources.