A Plant’s View: Documenting Presence in Olafur Eliasson’s “Your uncertain archive”

Olivia Eriksson (Stockholm)




Installation art has often been conceived of in terms of an embodied space, a three-dimensional environment that envelops the viewer. As with performance and live art, presence is thus one of its most prominent features. But what becomes of this emphasis when the need for online documentation and participation is accentuated? In a more critical scenario, what happens when presence is no longer an option? The pandemic laid bare a need for a reorganisation of the meaning of site and participation in place-based art practices. In an era where “remote presence” has become standard procedure and digital art is rapidly gaining ground, art institutions have been forced to explore alternative programming and to find innovative solutions to make up for the missing viewer. Meanwhile, artists are seeking new ways of expanding the gallery experience, challenging a more conventional understanding of presence as tied to a shared time and space through various documentation strategies.

This article examines how presence and participation in contemporary installation art are re-configured in online documentation. Considering documentation as an essential component of the art experience, its ramifications are discussed from an artistic as well as an institutional perspective. Using internationally renowned installation artist Olafur Eliasson as a case study, the focus here is on the documentation of his works in the ongoing art project Your uncertain archive (https://olafureliasson.net/uncertain, 2010-2014). This online archive gathers Eliasson’s artistic output in one (virtual) place and attempts to capture and expand on the original on-site art experience by making new connections across time and space. Special attention is devoted to the video documentation of the recent exhibition Life (Fondation Beyeler, 2021), which uses subjective shots, masking, and optical filters to make the exhibition more accessible to online audiences.


The installation as a mediated event

The role of the museum visitor is of central concern to Eliasson, who has focused several of his works around the exploration of human perception using light experiments, geometrical reflective forms, and organic material that speak to the visitor’s sense-making apparatus. As such his installation art can be understood as a continuation of phenomenologically oriented art practices that were fully realised with minimalist sculpture in the 1960s and focused on the embodied experience in the here and now of the exhibition site. This is particularly visible in Eliasson’s large-scale installation works, which depend heavily on visitors’ participation and often aspire to create moments of “co-existence” among them, to use one of Eliasson’s favourite terms. Inviting them to take centre stage and engage with the environments that he creates, Eliasson’s installation art also regularly explores the limits of the institutional space of the museum, pushing the boundaries of what an exhibition space can be.[1]

The ephemerality of installation art and its insistence on the first-hand experience is countered by its persistence as a mediated event. Yet, when it comes to documentation, the standard installation shot in the form of a still image remains one of the most frequently used means to market the exhibition to a wider audience. Installations thrive on such visible proof of their existence, which make their often temporary existence more enduring in the volatile memory of the contemporary art scene. In terms of capturing the aesthetic experience of the work, however, such photographs leave much to the imagination. For a long time, omitting viewers from the photographic documentation of installation art – what art critic and artist Brian O’Doherty once referred to as “one of the icons of our visual culture: the installation shot sans figures” [O’Doherty 1999: 15] – was the prevailing format. In pursuit of the all-encompassing image that could be a surrogate for the work, the ambivalent viewing positions that installation art often encourages and builds upon were regularly sacrificed.[2] In art historian Anne Ring Petersen’s words, “photographic documentation constructs the installation as ‘visual’ or ‘ocular-centric’ art, although installations generally seek to work against ocular-centric modes of perception and reception” [Ring Petersen 2015: 119]. O’Doherty interpreted the installation shot as a metaphor for the pristineness of the modernist white cube, but it is his observation about its functional task that resonates more clearly with our current predicament: “Here at last the spectator, oneself, is eliminated. You are there without being there – one of the major services provided for art by its old antagonist, photography” [O’Doherty 1999: 15]. Today, the idea of being present from afar may not seem quite as radical, but the elimination of the viewer does call for further attention when it comes to an artform that is predicated on the idea of visitors completing the work from inside the installation.

The issue of presence versus photographic representation harks back to the cardinal debate about the aura of the artwork on the one hand and the possibilities offered by technological reproduction on the other, which I will not reiterate here.[3] Rather, I would like to focus on how innovative documentation practices function in present conditions where the authority of the viewer’s first-hand experience has been challenged by online presentation. The immediacy of our digital existence has arguably affected our conception of both presence and liveness. With live feeds and instant uploading, the once sought after “here and now” of the exhibition space is perhaps no longer the most desirable (or even viable) option. If the notion of site can become attainable from a distance, then the artwork can be said to exist in two parallel dimensions – its identity being informed by its original on-site appearance as well as its expanded iteration online. This suggests a more nuanced understanding of what exactly constitutes the work. It also implies that the delineation between artwork and documentation loses some of its significance.

For art critic and media theorist Boris Groys, the distinction between artwork and documentation is grounded in a more traditional idea of preserved authenticity:

One can subject art documentation to all such operations that are forbidden in the case of an artwork because such operations would change the form of the artwork itself. The form of the artwork is still institutionally backed because only the form guarantees the reproducibility and identity of any specific artwork. On the contrary, documentation can be changed at will, because its identity and reproducibility is guaranteed by its “real,” external referent and not by its form. [Groys 2022: 64]

However, in practice, the institutional backing is not always as straightforward as Groys’ remark would imply. As cultural heritage and art scholar Vivian van Saaze among others has shown, even when forming part of a museum’s permanent collection, a work’s physical manifestation can change – significantly or ever so slightly – over time.[4] Still, Groys’ reasoning is indicative of the malleability of documentation. Compared to the more finite original artwork, documentation allows for modification. In some cases, the merits of such possibilities afford documentation a more independent existence, outside of the sanctioned order of its indexical bond. Curator and researcher Annet Dekker and performance and new media scholar Gabriella Giannachi, who have written extensively on this issue, argue for such an expanded understanding of documentation. By allowing documentation to cast aside its shadow existence as mere reproduction, it can take on new significance as an artform in its own right. Underlining the performative quality of documentation and contextual properties as essential for understanding its function, Dekker and Giannachi also point to the temporal shifts involved in “doing documentation” – from preserving a past state to securing the future re-activation of a work. Discussing museums’ shifting attitude toward documentation, caused in part by the ubiquity of digital collections in various forms (whether they be official, or audience-generated on commercial platforms) and the consequently diminished authority of the museum, Dekker and Giannachi underline the increasingly “porous” relationship between art and documentation. In light of this development, they also raise the issue of technology as a determining force, reflecting on how the instruments of documentation shape the process and outcome of documentation practices [Dekker and Giannachi 2023: 3-9]. This indicates that there is room for expanding on how film and photography are used for a particular purpose, one that correlates or communicates with the purpose of the original artwork. Therefore, in what follows, I will take a closer look at how the material that makes up Eliasson’s Your uncertain archive and the documentation of the Life exhibition endorse such a position, paying specific attention to how the camera, by appropriating a more-than-human perspective, opens up a new dimension of documentation.


Your uncertain archive

Your uncertain archive is an archive in motion. As such it rejects the idea of the static archival record and encourages its circulation in new contexts.[5] Open to continuous change, it shifts from one encounter to the next. In line with the title of several of Eliasson’s other artworks, the possessive pronoun “your” underlines the idiosyncratic experience. When entering the archive, the user can choose from different navigational strategies. There is a drift mode, which allows for a seamless, floating experience. This enables the user to pan their way through the archive until they have decided which icon or thumbnail to click, for example an artwork, a sketch, or an artist talk. Alternatively, the user can browse the archive through tags or find a particular item by using the search function. When clicking on a tag, a sphere-shaped formation appears on the screen containing all the items that connect to that particular keyword. Another click, and the formation gradually unfolds into a series of entries. Once an item has been selected from this list it opens up to reveal both text and image. This arrangement enhances the virtual experience of the archive, which resists a more conventional chronological or alphabetical ordering. The description of the archive makes this characteristic all the more explicit:

Not merely a container for facts and dates, Your uncertain archive is organised around associations and experiences. It is a reality-producing machine, built to generate new content through proximity and contact. It is a living archive that expands continuously. [https://olafureliasson.net/artwork/your-uncertain-archive-2010-2014/, 11.12.2023]

Because the archive classifies itself as an artwork in its own right, akin to Eliasson’s other artistic output, I want to say something more about the aesthetic experience that it evokes. Movement is a key factor, as the diverse material of the archive (artworks in the form of icons, book covers, drawings, keywords, etc.) is in constant motion, moving towards the user in a slow but steady pace. This allows for a considerable sense of depth, where the limits of the archive are indiscernible. It stretches out into what appears to be an infinite collection of the Eliasson studio’s artistic activities. Occasionally you may come across a black hole which will sweep you into another room where you are presented with an artwork in a sealed-off environment, until you are suddenly swirled back into the previous mode of interaction again. The spherical shape is a recurring one, underlining the circulation of material that the archive sets in motion. Documentation as it is carried out here, then, is not simply a matter of preservation but a means to find new points of contact with previous artistic efforts.

Fig. 1: Screenshot of Olafur Eliasson, Your uncertain archive, 2010 – 2014.
Website. © 2010 – 2014 Olafur Eliasson


By privileging the interconnectedness of the different items that it holds, the archive allows for an exchange between artworks that would be unattainable in any real-life retrospective. As such, it functions as much as a historical record as an instigator of new junctures. In this sense it is exemplary of Suzanne Briet’s contention that documentation can result in “genuine creation” and that “the content of documentation is […] inter-documentary” [Briet 2006]. The relational quality is at the forefront, which aligns it with art theorist Hal Foster’s outlining of an archival impulse in contemporary art in the beginning of the 2000s. Even though Foster was careful to exclude “database art” from his reasoning, stressing the material qualities of the archival practices that he identified, Eliasson’s archive responds to Foster’s idea of an artistic exploration of the archival object as “found yet constructed, factual yet fictive, public yet private” [Foster 2004: 5]. Eliasson’s archive is, however, not concerned with “unfulfilled beginnings” or interested in “entropic collapses” [Foster 2004: 5, 17]. If anything, it seems to strive for completeness (in the sense of full coverage) rather than fragmentation. Rather, what is at stake here is the bridging of the gap between the live art event and the “liveness” of its documentation. The archive enables a give and take motion that allows for communication between the on-site and the online experience. Describing the archive in terms of “a reality-producing machine” also points to how the archive is implicated in dictating the “real” and reveals what an important tool it is for the collaborative creative efforts of the Olafur Eliasson studio.[6]

Self-documentation as a form of artistic expression is not a new phenomenon. From Marcel Duchamp’s archival boxes from the 1930s consisting of miniatures and reproductions of his previous works to Christian Boltanski’s works that involve listing, this kind of logging or self-inventory has taken different forms throughout art history.[7] But the digital era has opened up a new type of non-finite practice, where the act of collecting as lists, series, boxes, etc., is no longer tied to or restricted by a material container. Eliasson’s archive allows for continuous updating and cross-referencing. What holds the archive together are the connections that bind the various items to each other, and therefore the tags that form the basis of these connections perform an important task. Discussing Boltanski’s listing activities, literary scholar Ernst van Alphen makes such a point when noting that: “What is made present by means of listing is not simply the referential world of objects implied in the list, but the conceptual categories used by the archivist and imposed on the referential world” [Van Alphen 2014: 111]. These conceptual categories are therefore crucial for the structure of the archive, but also for how the user makes sense of the content. This aspect is also accentuated in the description of Your uncertain archive, which reads: “To make a system of organisation and classification is to reconsider the logic that shapes what we encounter, to put forward a new world. One such world is Your uncertain archive” [https://olafureliasson.net/uncertain/]. However, the shaping of “a new world” also comes with certain responsibilities and the archive as a producer of knowledge wields a particular kind of power in this regard.

While the archive could be interpreted as a grand manifestation of Eliasson’s star status on the contemporary art scene, the Eliasson universe as presented there emphasises the collective output of his studio. One could assume, therefore, that the archive is collaboratively curated. Any exhibition depends on framing devices (most often curator’s texts) that serve to contextualise and make the exhibition narrative more legible to museum visitors. In this case, however, the lack of an institutional framework foregrounds the artistic vision and ensures that visitors approach the artworks as intended by the artist. The database structure also downplays narrative and encourages a spatial rather than a temporal encounter.[8] Furthermore, there are no co-players present. The contents of the archive are revealed to the user as a consequence of their personal interests as they perform their own inventory of Eliasson’s career. If this is a new world, it is a fairly lonely one. The social space of the gallery or museum that much of Eliasson’s work depends on is defiantly absent.[9] A shared time and space, those essential elements in installation art as an artform, lose their significance when flipping through Eliasson’s artistic output spanning more than three decades.

There are however other qualities that merit further attention. Accounting for newly established working methods in the preservation of performance art, Giannachi explains how ”the documentation of these works is still very much a documentation of what happens to a work inside the museum and so, to some extent, it is a reflection of the museum’s apparatus for conservation” [Giannachi, forthcoming]. With this in mind, Eliasson’s archive represents a space outside of the institutional order that enables, perhaps, a more playful attitude to documentation. The archive exhibits a pronounced ambition to go beyond the more prevalent static accounts of installation art. The inclusion of auxiliary documents enables the user to look at an artwork in its various guises and at different moments in time. In some cases, it is possible to trace an artworks’ different stages, from a two-dimensional artist’s sketch to behind-the-scenes testing, up until its most recent installation, as well as its current state as part of a digital collection.[10] Of particular interest is the occasional inclusion of video footage, oftentimes involving innovative camera work. These short film clips tend to convey a bodily investment in the artworks and a rarely seen fidelity to the first-hand experience. Instead of capturing the totality of the installation, this type of footage attempts to capture a subjective encounter and to simulate presence.[11] For example, in a short clip documenting the installation Riverbed at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (2014), in which the whole south wing of the museum had been turned into a riverbed landscape, cameras had been mounted on the photographer’s feet, resulting in a shaky and fragmented split screen view of the installation. The scraping sound emanating from the photographer walking on the gravelly ground and the inclusion of fellow gallery visitors moving through the landscape allows the viewer to approach the installation from an unconventional viewpoint and to sense the on-site atmosphere in an embodied and indexically anchored kind of way.

The sheer quantity of visual material that constitutes the archive also points to a certain generosity on behalf of the artist. This could be grounded in a conviction that documentation belongs to an aesthetic realm of its own, that it cannot (or should not) be compared to the on-site experience but rather serves other purposes. Eliasson has voiced his share of institutional critique over the years and regularly comes back to the function and purpose of the museum as a public space. In the archive, however, the institutional critique can be left aside. This is not to suggest that the archive is exempt from power structures. On the contrary, it is a way of taking control. In a time where audiences regularly contribute with their own documentation material via social media and through various screening platforms online, Your uncertain archive becomes an authoritative site where the identity of the work can be protected. If we subscribe to Van Saaze’s notion of authenticity as being “done” or acted out rather than as being preserved (as in frozen in time), Eliasson’s archive could be seen as an active form of “doing authenticity” [Van Saaze 2013: 105]. This focus on the present tense also testifies to how Eliasson and his studio are re-imagining and actively setting up a stage for audience participation where physical presence is not a prerequisite and where the issue of a shared time and space can be overcome via simulation.


Documenting Life

Eliasson’s artistic practice reveals a longstanding interest in bringing nature and naturally occurring phenomena into the museum. Examples include Moss Wall (1993), Lava Floor (2002) and the aforementioned Riverbed. The last two significantly altered the museum interior, transforming the familiar white cube into a landscape composed of lava stones and, in the case of Riverbed, rocks and gravel with a stream of water trickling down through the exhibition hall. His works that involve ice have engaged in a more clearly articulated eco-critique. Ice Watch (2014), for example, consisted of twelve large chunks of ice that were hauled in from Greenland and placed in a clock formation in the middle of the City Hall Square in Copenhagen, in order to call attention to global warming and melting glaciers.[12] In Green River (2000) the non-toxic dye uranine was used to turn the water surrounding the Swedish parliament an ominous green, drawing attention to pollution.[13]

Given this pronounced attention to environmental issues and the current state of our planet, it is perhaps not that surprising that Eliasson would take an interest in the limits of the human condition in the age of the Anthropocene. A posthumanist perspective may seem antithetical to the participant-centred tradition of installation art, but in Eliasson’s case the insights of ecocritical perspectives are used as a springboard to develop a framework of care that goes beyond the human perspective. In a bold attempt to efface the borders that separate inside from outside, art from documentation, and human participation from that of other life forms, Life, exhibited at the Fondation Beyeler (Riehen/Basel, Switzerland) in 2021, emphasised a more-than-human perspective and invited animals, trees, and plants to become part of and join in the art experience. By removing parts of the façade and opening up the museum building to the surrounding landscape, the borders that normally separate the interior of the museum from the surrounding park were made less absolute. In addition, the exhibition was open day and night, further challenging the rigidity of a more conventional museum praxis.

Fig. 2: Olafur Eliasson:
Life, 2021.
Water, Uranine, UV lights, wood, plastic sheet, cameras, kaleidoscopes, common duckweed (Lemnar minor), dwarf waterlilies (Nymphaea tetragona, Nymphaea “Pygmaea Rubra”, Nymphaea “Ellisiana”), European frog bit (Hydrocharis morsus-rana), European water clover (Marsilea quadrifolia), floating fern (Salvinia natans), red root floater (Phyllanthus fluitans), shellflower (Pistia stratiodes), South-American frog bit (Limnobium laevigatum), and water caltrop (Trapa natans).
Installation view: Fondation Beyeler.
 Photo: Pati Grabowicz. Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles © 2021 Olafur Eliasson


To match this unorthodox treatment of the exhibition site, the documentation of the exhibition was carried out on several, interrelated levels and involved innovative methods. Most prominent was the multi-channel live streaming throughout the exhibition period. This was not only a practical solution for those who could not visit the installation due to restrictions caused by the COVID pandemic, but also allowed for an outside perspective where viewers could get a glimpse of how animals interacted with the installation when humans were absent from the site. A cognitive scientist was also brought in to conduct micro-phenomenological interviews with a selected group of visitors. Their experiences were then made available in sound and in text via a dedicated website [http://www.experiencing-life.net/]. What I would like to focus on here, however, is how the theme of the exhibition was communicated and made more accessible to online audiences through films that attempt to approximate a more-than-human perspective.

Technology allows us to see in a different way, to approximate the more-than-human ways of life that form part of our existence. For example, environmental philosopher David Wood discussing “a phenomenologically inspired attention to plants,” underlines how film may “reveal in astonishing detail the secret lives of plants.” Discarding the apprehension that film and photography are “mere […] representations”, Wood emphasises their capacity for “teach[ing] us to see, notice, attend, and ask more questions” [Wood 2020: 28-30]. This is in line with film theorist André Bazin’s view of cinema as capable of capturing another dimension, unknown to the human eye. Film historian Angela Dalle Vacche describes Bazin’s take on cinema as “anti-anthropocentric” [Dalle Vacche 2012: 15] because he advocated film’s capacity for engendering a mechanical rendering of reality, an automatic reproduction “without the creative intervention of man,” as he famously put it when writing in the late 1950s [Bazin 2005: 13]. In Dalle Vacche’s view, the prospect of “see|ing] according to human perception, but in a nonhuman way through the fresh eye of the camera” is not only what sets film apart from other artforms in Bazin’s reasoning but is also what makes it open to the other, the new and the different [Dalle Vacche 2012: 15]. In the documentation of Life, drone images were used to give a birds eye or insect’s view of the installation. A camera was mounted on the back of a dog as it ran around on the wooden paths that covered the water-filled exhibition space. In order to achieve a plant’s view, the camera plunged underwater and bobbed around at surface level. In all of these instances, the instability of the camera gives the impression of an actual participant, as opposed to a static observer. At times there is a clear forward motion, the drone images especially are determined by incessant movement and speed. Abstract images of green, blue, and yellow intermingle with more straightforward images of the installation as the camera moves through daylight and darkness. An oval masking restricts the field of vision, making it impossible to achieve an overview. The plant’s view in particular generates odd angles, the underwater camera tilted up toward the surface. In the artist’s introduction to the exhibition, optical filters which serve to “mimic the perceptual apparatuses of other species” result in colourful and kaleidoscopic renderings of the exhibition space [https://www.soe.tv/related/more-than-human-views-of-life-at-fondation-beyeler#olafur-eliasson-on-life-2021-at-the-fondation-beyeler/, 11.12.2023].

Fig. 3: Screen still of More-than-human views of Olafur Eliasson’s “Life”, 2021 at Fondation Beyeler. Films by Aviatics GmbH. Music by Patricia Bondesson Kavanaugh © 2021 Olafur Eliasson


Taken together, these qualities seem closer to experimental film practices than nature documentaries, which speaks to the films’ status as aesthetic objects. Although they surely document the installation, they are more concerned with imagining the world around us (and the world without us) than capturing the installation from an ideal vantage point. The “dogumentary” – as the artist appropriately refers to it in an artist’s talk available at the Fondation Beyeler website – is perhaps the most accomplished attempt at capturing another species’ experience of the work. The inclusion of sound (rather than external music as in the other examples) adds significantly to the viewing experience, granting it a particular true-to-life quality. The dog’s heavy breathing and the distinctive sound of its rapidly clicking paws on a wooden surface constitute an important counterpart to the images and create a sound bridge to the actual site. Without doubt, this is a clear example of the notion of presence re-conceived, especially when considering that none of these perspectives were accessible to someone visiting the actual installation. In this sense these films are a testament to Dekker’s claim that “documents (such as texts, videos, still images, instructions, etc.) can sometimes communicate more about a work and how it is experienced than its physical manifestation can” [Dekker 2018: 34].

Fig. 4: Screen still of More-than-human views of Olafur Eliasson’s “Life”, 2021 at Fondation Beyeler. Films by Aviatics GmbH. Music by Patricia Bondesson Kavanaugh © 2021 Olafur Eliasson


At the same time, even though these are recorded occurrences they do represent a highly constructed experience, imposing a strictly human idea of how a dog, for example, would experience the exhibition. This is also noticeable in the artist’s imagining of a tree “treeing its way through the exhibition” – in short, the impossibility of expressing (or fully comprehending), whether in language or in image, something that lies beyond the human horizon. Anthropologist Anna L. Tsing, whom Eliasson cites in the material surrounding the exhibition, however, rejects such a position by pointing to “the transformative power of training, intimacy, experience, or prosthetics.” While we cannot step outside of ourselves as human beings, we can engage in “practices of interspecies attunements” to become something “more than a static species enclosure” [Tsing 2020: 19]. Film and photography constitute one such prosthetic device that allows for another worldview to come within reach. Put to work in the service of documentation, they can also contribute to the “putting forward of a new world” and an updated sense of presence in a digital format, to come back to the project description of Your uncertain archive. If it is true, as Philip Auslander suggests in his oft-cited article on the documentation of performance art, that it ”participates in the fine art tradition of the reproduction of works rather than the ethnographic tradition of capturing events” [Auslander 2006: 84], the documentation of Life takes issue with this premise. There is an ethical dimension at work here that is expressed via the tending to and caring for a shared and interspecies-dependent existence. When considered in these terms, this collection of short films could be perceived to be instruments that help to achieve such a goal.



Eliasson’s Your uncertain archive is uncertain for several reasons. It is open to change, constantly expanding in an ever-ongoing endeavour to fulfil its purpose to remain uncomfortably in-between art and documentation. Rather than competing with the on-site realisation of an artwork, Your uncertain archive is about carving out a space where there is room for an expanded gallery experience, one that reaches beyond time and space. This also entails a re-evaluation of the status of the documented art event – from a static record or mere substitute to a more self-contained and malleable aesthetic category. The audiovisual material that makes up the documentation of Life points to another type of uncertainty. The potential adoption of a plant’s view, the envisioning of a tree “treeing” or the making of a “dogumentary” ensures that “presence” remains a contested term. In an era where remote participation is no longer considered to be something out of the ordinary, there is an increased need for such innovative and inclusive documentation practices, especially when it comes to artforms that rely on visitor participation for their completion. With Life Eliasson successfully combined a more traditional approach to installation art where the importance of on-site participation cannot be denied with inventive documentation techniques, and allowed for these separate but parallel art experiences to be acted out side by side. At a time when humans were greatly challenged in their everyday lives and faced isolation, the installation became an interspecies contact zone where everyone could join (or tree) in.

[1] The Weather Project, exhibited at Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2003, is probably Eliasson’s most famous installation work to date. Consisting of mirrors, lights and artificial mist, it turned the exhibition space into a veritable gathering place, as people assembled to enjoy the fake sun that incessantly wavered over the grand hall. Its central place in the history of installation art is undeniable, as indicated by numerous mentions in literature on the topic; see, for example, Bishop 2005; Ring Petersen 2015.

[2] See, for example, Claire Bishop’s discussion of the installation art viewer as simultaneously being activated and de-centered [Bishop 2005: 128-133].

[3] Hal Foster discusses the disparate views behind Walter Benjamin’s concept of aura on the one hand and André Malraux’s notion of the musée imaginaire (museum without walls) on the other [Foster 2002: 91-93]. See also Andrew 2012: 115-140.

[4] Van Saaze’s survey clearly demonstrates how an installation work is prone to change due to maintenance procedures such as the exchanging of worn-out technological equipment or by re-locating the work to a different exhibition room, or simply because of staff rotation [Van Saaze 2013].

[5] Eivind Røssaak describes the very idea of an archive in motion as a paradox, claiming that “the desire to halt is the primordial archival desire.” Yet, he contends that it is this very opposition, initiated by advents in technology only to be fully developed in the digital age, that has turned the concept of the archive into one of the dominating discourses of our time – “constant transfer and updating functions as well as ‘live’ communication and interaction redefine the temporality of the archival document itself” [Røssaak 2010: 12, 16]. No longer neatly tucked away and gathering dust in an archive cabinet, the archival document has been set in motion.

[6] Archival artists have taken issue with this political dimension of the archive using strategies such as reenactment to shed light on the archive as an instrument of power. One of the more pronounced examples in this regard is the fictional archive produced by Lebanese artist Walid Raad. See, for example, Baldacci, Nicastro and Sforzini 2022.

[7] For more on the history of and contemporary interest in archival art practices, see, for example, Giannachi 2016; Jones 2016; Spieker 2008.

[8] Van Alphen discusses the relationship between narrative and database with reference to Lev Manovich’s opposition of the two in his discussion of new media [Van Alphen 2014: 9].

[9] For a more detailed discussion of the gallery as a social space in relation to Eliasson’s installation art, see Eriksson 2021.

[10] Another example can be found on the Olafur Eliasson Studio website where a rather inconspicuous film clip as far as production is concerned, goes a long way in terms of how it manages to document both the life span of an individual artwork and the progression of Eliasson’s artistic career. Documenting different versions of Eliasson’s installation work Beauty (1993) as exhibited in different cities over a period of 23 years, it starts off with a low-fi on-the-go documentation of the work as realised in Cologne in 1993 that includes just a single participant (possibly the artist himself) and ends with a professionally shot film clip from the Leeum (Seoul) in 2016 showing a pair of young children cheerfully interacting with the work.

[11] This attempt at capturing the “live” experience could be compared to how certain photographers have approached the documentation of performance works as if being part of the audience. Peter Moore’s and Babette Mangolte’s photographic work represents such positions; see, for example, Giannachi 2017: 182-197. Also worth considering in this instance is how performance artists such as Chris Burden have used photography as a means of self-documentation [Kaye 2012: 235-256].

[12] Ice Watch has since been installed in Paris (2015) and in London (2018-2019).

[13] Green River has also been installed at several other locations.


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