British-Nigerian musician Tony Njoku tells Best Fit how a love of the artist Olafur Eliasson helps him understand the importance of space
I’m a big fan of Olafur Eliasson and his works. I love the simplicity and beauty of a lot of them, I love how engaging, accessible and tangible, they are, and I appreciate the significant questions he raises; be it societal, political or philosophical.
I want to openly philosophise about what space means for me as an artist and how the recurring themes of space and time in Olafur's works have inspired me.
In regards to these themes of space and time I think a lot of Olafur’s works are trying to highlight our awareness of ourselves within a space. That perhaps space does not only gives us a faint sense of being (i.e. that we are aware of our existence in a space) but also with the introduction of time and ‘causality’ our being in a space becomes consequential, i.e. our existence and actions affect the nature of the space around us. Take his well known artwork Your Rainbow Panorama for example – a circular coloured glass walkway situated on top of ARoS museum in Aarhus Denmark.
In it, the surrounding colour you experience changes as you walk through the circle (hence the title). What’s significant about this piece is the fact that Olafur puts the audience in control. It is up to us the viewer to unlock the entirety of the piece, i.e. our decisions in this space carry consequence. This is even emphasised within the pieces title where he uses the word ‘Your’, we the audience are supposed to claim ownership of the space. There’s a sense of empowerment here, which I feel stems from that Duchampian idea of a work of art not being complete until the viewer is engaging with it. And to move on from that, I feel that Olafur’s work suggest that as well as the audience having an effect on the artwork/space, perhaps the artwork/space can also influence the audience and how we progress in time and with each other.
In an interview (that I can’t find anymore) Olafur talks about his use of shadows in some works, and how seeing our shadow indeed makes us aware of our existence. However as well as this he states that the shadow could make us think “Oh I wouldn’t have expected my arms shadow to look like that. That’s pretty interesting. So I move my other arm to see what happens and suddenly there’s a kind of reversal of perspective. Suddenly the shadow creates the body.”
As a performing musician I crack my brain about this shit all the time. As I often look into a crowd at a show an think how could I make this less about watching me and about empowering everyone here, how can we all feel involved and responsible for the outcome of this show. Something I call the ‘Relative Space Experience’.
In another interview (that I also can’t find, but I promise they’re real) Olafur said something along the lines of this “from successfully promoting a relative idea of space, you can claim a different idea of collectivity or social interests.”
For me this means that from the notion of the viewer and the space/artwork influencing and creating each other, within a space our individual understanding of reality and experience become subjectively objective (hear me out!!!!!).
What I mean by subjectively objective is that within a collective space we understand that each individual in that space will have a different experience of the space/artwork and that all experiences are true and valid for those individuals. Hence when we collectively interact with a space/work of art and collectively share an experience, our sense of collectivity does not become uniform but rather autonomous as we begin to realise that our actions and subjectivity affect the general consensus of the experience.
Therefore reality becomes about giving and receiving rather than either or. Reality becomes democratic, more socially equal. And all of this begins from the artwork/space introducing an intrinsic understanding of us the viewer being present and responsible for the outcome of the experience.
So for me as a performer I ask myself how can I persuade my audience into feeling a sense of responsibility and purpose during a gig? How can I generate an experience that goes beyond the usual two dimensional consumption of art and becomes more engaging and possibly life changing?
Because if we all as individuals began to feel more involved and responsible for the outcomes of our collective experience, I truly believe that we as a responsible collective can reach utopia.