Olafur Eliasson – Riverbed

When attempting to understand material memory and how all of these ideas are somehow linked to some form of escape or ‘yearning to a preceding significant time’, I believe it is important to attempt to understand and define the idea of sensibility as a correspondent to the issues explored due to its importance in duality and ambiguity. Just as it is important to explore the memory of the past it is also important to define the feelings attributed. What is sensibility? And how does it condition our understanding of our material memories.

Sensibility is best defined under twofold that of ‘making sense’ and ‘the senses’, making sense refers to how we order and understand the world around us; where as ‘the senses’ refers to mans ability to be able to answer and value complex emotional or visual influences. Although different, both are grounded in the understanding that sensuous experience is an ‘understanding that is grounded in previous experience and expectation, each dependant on sensual and sensory experiences (Rodway 1994). For myself, sensibility is best understood in relation to our environment, Paul Rodway would describe this as a ‘sensuous geography’ of sorts. the senses mediate the apprehension of space and in so doing contribute to our sense of place” (Yi-Fu Tuan 1972) to Frame this idea, picture that of a large football stadium a building designed to be visually dramatic and captivating, to draw in large crowds and have a sense of grandeur. Within this stadium the spatiality of the environment would ultimately denote your senses to an awareness of where or what kind of place you are in or surrounded by. What becomes interesting is if your vision is impaired and on this particular day it heavily snowed, your focus and attention may be captivated elsewhere; you may perhaps be more captivated by the feel and texture of the snow rather than the dramatics of the stadium; thus, creating a dramatically different perceptual experience mediated by the senses, these feelings are therefore completely subjective to your sensibilities above and below the threshold of consciousness. We are all different and have different attuned levels of sensibilities, therefore our perception and material understanding are extremely complex and personal; but, broadly speaking to some extent we all share a grouped opinion of the same experiences. The majority of us, as we step into the millennium stadium will feel that sense of ‘grandeur’ taking in the atmosphere of our material surroundings.



Art in its nature, is an imperative component with regards to understanding memory image, from both the artist’s and the viewer’s perspective, it is influenced by environment, context and state of mind, but above all is both situational and personal, collective and subjective. But

what if the context of our environment is changed, crossed or to some degree purposely and deliberately manipulated; how does our mind and further our sensibilities register the space that surrounds us and importantly how does the juxtaposition between artificial and natural environments challenge us?  do we ground our understanding in past experience clutching at what we know rather registering what is in front of us through sensuous understanding? How do we register real from fake?

In Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Riverbed’ (seen above) The Danish/Icelandic artist blurs the lines between natural and man made. Eliasson has manifested a large grey rocky riverbed within the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark. The white wall gallery space has been filled with 40 tonnes of native Icelandic granite rocks and stones with a river bed sitting at the centre trickling small amounts of water into small pools that are spread across the space. we as viewers are invited to interact, meander and navigate ourselves through and under archways. The art work questions both the meaning and understanding of the museum context, its complexities and the relationship between both building and participant. As you ramble and twist your way through the art you can hear the rocks crush beneath your feet, you lay your hands down on the damp rocks and pull yourself back up again; as you raise your body up through the archway you elevate yourself to the next room to only repeat the same set of events. We as a society tend to register physical and visual response in similar ways and further as children have all been receptive to the geographical motions that I have described at some point in our life, often memories we associate with early environmental exploration and discovery. What begins to become hard to comprehend is the space in which the environment has inhabited. Although we register this environment as contrived The walls are bare, there is no life and thus, there is no expected way to act with or within the constructs of the environment/space. Our mind finds it difficult to cross the wires you could say, it finds it hard to comprehend a new manufactured landscape quarantined within the confinements of a singular room it makes us feel weird and insecure, the low tight archways only contribute to this feeling creating a uneasy atmosphere. Although confusing to approach I purpose the art works purpose is not to make you feel uneasy but as a space it invites you as a viewer to project your own narrative to the landscape and sense of self and space to the environment drawing on your own experiences, imagination and constructs, forming your own sensory experiences, mythological readings and fundamentally contributing and taking what you want from the installation. What becomes interesting with regards to elisasson’s room is when the participator becomes the artist within the art work, the art work then transcends our reality into its own world; a world within a world you could purpose, the narrative is then redirecting from viewer and art work to the new art works relationship with the original installation. Children were innately seen manufacturing rock towers by the stream crafting their own personal engagement with the space in which they have began to dissect, the new artworks then begin to form their own narrative in response to their environments crafting their own causal relationships. Those of us who have been down to a river have more than likely seen these rock towers or seen them being composed so you could therefore purpose the manufacturing of rock towers as a coping mechanism to denote some sense of contrived material memory or understanding to this artificial landscape, it could also simply be children having fun, engaging in a sensuous exploration of a new found environment.

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