“If the doors of perception were cleansed,” William Blake once wrote, “everything would appear to man as it is, infinite” — infinitely personal, Mr. Eliasson might add, and infinitely interconnected. His business, above all, is the cleansing of the doors of perception. Visitors to his current show “Take Your Time” (continuing at the Museum of Modern Art and P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center through June 30) are discovering immersive environments and sensory-deprivation devices of unfathomable beauty: a rotunda flooded in constantly shifting colors, a gigantic tilted mirror slowly rotating overhead, a cubic meter traced by lamplight in vapor in a darkened gallery. What sense can be made of these Zen mysteries? What do they mean?

In his clinical, uncluttered designs, Mr. Eliasson walks the walk of an experimental physicist; in the thorny Teutonic abstractions he often uses to explain his thinking, he talks the talk of a student of phenomenology. Is he either? “Occasionally one, occasionally the other,” Mr. Eliasson replies. “Relevance arises through context. Sometimes you are looking at pure forms, sometimes at an argument…”

He is exquisitely attuned to nuances of sound and light, which he also recalls with Proustian accuracy. Strolling down by the waterfront, he finds beauty in a mound of road salt deposited under the Manhattan Bridge like sooty slush out of season. Pointing to the sky, he conjures up the trajectory of the sun and gathering darkness in terms that merge drama and epic.

Political theory, ecology and ethics likewise enter the picture. “People like to think that public space is neutral and open to all. Actually, it is subject to commercial interests, to the intentions of power elites. Public space is what’s left when everything else has been privatized. We need to create it, we need to nurture it. I didn’t dump down the waterfalls from the moon. I tried to integrate them with the city in a productive way.”

Matthew Gurewitsch
Wall Street Journal

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