Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project and the Birth of the Political

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Eli Park Sorensen
Marvin Lee

Abstract

This article looks at one of the most popular recent installation works, Eliasson’s The Weather
Project, which still is probably the Danish-Icelandic artist’s most famous work. To explain both the
iconicity within Eliasson’s oeuvre and the enormous popularity of the work, we argue that it
essentially addresses an aesthetic conflict between a critical and a populist potential; or, more
specifically—reformulates this conflict. For what seems to be clear is that although the critical
dimension is explicitly present in the work, it is largely insignificant in terms of the overall aesthetic
experience. What we find, then, is a work whose aesthetics in many ways attempts to distance itself
from late 20th century predecessors by blatantly surrendering to a seductive spectacle that suspends
the critical. In doing so, The Weather Project points towards a new political paradigm emerging
around the beginning of the 21st century, which in more recent years seems to have found a
temporary culmination through events such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as the US
president. The post-9/11 political paradigm moved away from an idea prevalent during the late 20th
century, embodied in Fukuyama’s thesis of the end of history and the concomitant idea of the
absolutely secure world (and, by implication, the erasure of the outside/inside distinction). After an
ill-defined war on terror that undoubtedly has made the world less secure, financial crises that have
made the gap between rich and poor wider, the rise of populism amidst even the most solid and
oldest democratic institutions, and more generally a widening gap between ‘the people’ and ‘the
elite’—it is as if we have returned to political antagonisms that many thought were no longer
relevant. We argue that it is within this context that one may appreciate The Weather Project’s
intervention as an art work recreating an atmosphere, a mood, that reminds us of a collective body
the binding of which is essentially a pre-political moment—a moment at which we may, yet again,
ask the forgotten question: why we need the political at all.

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How to Cite
Sorensen, E. P., & Lee, M. (2021). Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project and the Birth of the Political. Humanities Bulletin, 4(1), 117–132. Retrieved from http://www.journals.lapub.co.uk/index.php/HB/article/view/1982
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