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Your Rainbow Panorama
Your Rainbow Panorama, Photo by Thilo Frank / Studio Olafur Eliasson, ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Denmark © 2006 Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson on Cooking, Collaboration & Unspoken Spaces

The creative polymath takes time out of his whirlwind schedule to discuss connectivity, gastronomic unions and his two new books

Interdisciplinary Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson might be best known for filling the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall with sunshine for The Weather Project (2003), but the full scope of his work is truly staggering. A polymath whose first language is art, he utilises photography, painting, film, building and installation to mesmerise audiences in top tier institutions. His latest show is soon to open at Paris’ Palace of Versailles. Yet Eliasson is also responsible for myriad artistic interventions in public spaces. A generous collaborator with an affinity for architecture, these works encompass the façade of Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall, borne of a close partnership with late architect, Einar Thorsteinn; Fog doughnut, 2004, located in an olive grove in Sardinia, with the intention of unsettling central perspective, and Copenhagen’s Cirkelbroen, a bridge designed to engender bodily thought. And it is precisely these works that are consolidated for the very first time in Unspoken Spaces, an exquisite monograph produced by Studio Olafur Eliasson.

Indeed, Eliasson's Berlin-based studio has grown rapidly since 2009, now housing approximately 90 collaborators of varying specialties including designers, artists, craftsmen, technicians and cooks who provide a daily communal repast for staff and visitors alike. As this is Eliasson’s kitchen, its team and the space itself are integral to their environment, and just how intimately they are intertwined is now revealed in an illuminating new cookbook, Studio Olafur Eliasson: The Kitchen. This stunning volume, with a preface by Alice Waters, shares 100 vegetarian recipes, each crafted to feed 60 or six, as well as showcasing culinary experiments, philosophies for eating, growing and purchasing ingredients and a plethora of other intriguing ideas – food for thought in the truest sense.

Eliasson sat down with AnOther to share further details of these two volumes.

On the evolution of the studio's kitchen…
"Gradually, food has created a space within the studio. At lunchtime we step into the kitchen, which is also a creative space where hierarchies are levelled out, so the quality of the discussion changes and it's an opportunity for people who work in different departments to meet. In this way, the kitchen developed into having its own life within the studio."

On the relationships nurtured by eating…
"I call the kitchen our caregivers and the staff, caretakers. It’s a lovely exchange, but it's also an exchange with the people who deliver our produce, Apfeltraum, an organic, collective-driven farm outside of Berlin which co-organises demonstrations against mass industrial farming. So when buying food from these small places, one also indirectly supports the idea of demonstrating. It’s about making the consequences of eating tangible. We’re not the most sophisticated activists, but we are slowly, like many people, coming to appreciate the fact that eating is, in fact, more than just food."

On museums and kitchens…
"There is an ethical engine in culture which is beneficial for society. In art, there is a strong tradition of focusing on decentralised systems and freedoms of thought, expression and so on. To take an example, the extension to the Tate is opening soon and I think the future success of these giant places lies in providing a space for small ideas to grow – a forum, or meeting place, in which we can renegotiate reality. In that way, a museum can become like a kitchen laboratory where we reconsider: how we eat, what is food, what are its consequences and so on. And this is where you can't separate the questions that have to be asked in a kitchen from what goes on in a museum. To a great extent it is all connected."

On the power of culture to connect people within society… 
"Sometimes we feel interconnected, that what we say is heard, and sometimes disconnected, that what we do doesn't matter so we're not going to bother voting as we feel marginalised. Essentially, I'm curious about the muscles society has to encourage interconnection. I think the cultural sector, no matter what it does, cookbooks or bridges, is the place where the ‘we’ is both nurtured and investigated. That's why I mentioned the Tate Modern as a forum, as there are almost no places left in which the ‘we's’ are nurtured, especially in the cities where the private sector has been given liberal conditions to occupy every inch, so that even in a vibrant place people can feel alone. And when people feel isolated, they also start to support exclusion and you have populism, nationalism and all kind of phobias. So in that spirit, the cookbook and the bridge are also connected. 

Of course, it's not suddenly all changed by cooking a meal but if you dive into the cookbook you also see food experiments, it’s about understanding. The bridge and these other spaces, they also have the ability to allow us to reconsider well, what does public really mean? And is it in fact public, or do we just call it public? Yet it's so wholly over-governed by outside interests that it is, to a great extent, already privatised. To be interconnected requires action and we must also encourage people to be active themselves, as they underestimate that they have power; people have power, they just don't use it."

Studio Olafur Eliasson The Kitchen, published by Phaidon, is out now. 

Studio Olafur Eliasson Unspoken Spaces, published by Thames & Hudson, is out now.