Olafur Eliasson
Dark matter collective

Olafur Eliasson, Denmark, born 1967, Dark matter collective, 2018, Berlin, 217 partially silvered glass spheres, paint (black), stainless steel (see Note field), 171.0 x 169.0 x 67.5 cm; James and Diana Ramsay Fund 2019, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, © 2018 Olafur Eliasson, photo: Jens Ziehe.

From a distance, the sculpture Dark matter collective appears as a hovering circular mass of opaque black spheres. Upon closer inspection, and by moving around the sculpture, it reveals itself to be composed of hundreds of transparent glass spheres that mirror and invert the image of the viewer, the room around them and the work of art itself in a constantly changing panoply of reflections.

This dynamic sculpture was created by Olafur Eliasson, a Danish-Icelandic artist who is known for his installations and sculptures that experiment with sense perception and phenomenology – the study of lived experience. His works often use light, lenses, glass, mirror and metal to explore his interests in optics, architecture and the state of the environment.

Eliasson is interested in the experience of the viewer and how they are co-creators of a work of art. He creates works of art that have the capacity to dilate our perceptual consciousness. In other words, they seek to create a moment of insight whereby you can, as he puts it, ‘see yourself sensing’. Artists throughout history have used glass spheres and optical aids such prisms, lenses and mirrors to draw perspectival compositions and reflect on the mechanics of vision. Eliasson’s works frequently reveal the apparatus behind an optical illusion, or show the way a work is made or installed, as a means of encouraging viewers to reflect upon their perception of the physical world.

Dark matter collective consists of 217 solid-glass spheres of various sizes, from those small enough to hold in your hand, to spheres larger than a basketball. These rest on a complex stainless-steel structure that is highly engineered to support the work’s total weight of more than half a tonne. A portion of each sphere has been given a mirror finish through a delicate hand-silvering process and has then been coated in a matte-black paint. A constellation of convex lenses, this ingenious vision machine mimics the processes of the human eye, inverting and reflecting the world in hundreds of glass spheres from one angle, and obscuring it with another.

The fascinating title Dark matter collective refers to the invisible matter that makes up 27% of the universe. Eliasson was struck by recent discoveries in quantum physics that propose that dark matter could constitute a parallel universe that is an exact mirror of our own.