In The Studio: Olafur Eliasson, sculptor

'I use my obsession with weather in everything that I do'

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

As I sit at a long bench in Olafur Eliasson's beautiful studio in Berlin, a group of men enter, all wide smiles and height. Eliasson jumps up to greet them, telling me: "They have come for the Berlin Marathon tomorrow. One was my breakdance partner in the 1980s." I express surprise. "I honestly think that breakdancing made me obsessive."

Olafur Eliasson is most famous in England for The Weather Project, the 2005 Tate Modern Turbine Hall installation that transformed the space into a quasi-dedicated place to interact with art. Eliasson says his concerns have not really changed through the years. "I use my obsession with weather in everything that I do."

Born in Copenhagen, where he and his family still live, he chose to locate his studio in Berlin. "It was the most affordable option and back then it was really not the comfort zone it is now." Eliasson's studio practice is well chronicled. There are now about 60 people working in the studio, a former brewery with 25 students upstairs in the school Eliasson runs with Berlin's Universität der Künste.

"The kitchen, where the studio and students eat each day, is run by two chefs both of whom are food activists. They occasionally throw the tomatoes that we do not eat at politicians. So nothing is wasted. We have 90 per cent vegetarian food, as it is the cheapest option, and 10 per cent sheep [from the organic grey sheep flock Eliasson is breeding in Iceland]. The grey sheep is the hesitant sheep who could not decide whether to be black or white," he says poetically.

Recently, with his launch of the Little Sun project at Tate Modern, Eliasson has used his position as an artist to move into uncharted waters of social responsibility. He has gone on the record to say that he invested a sizeable amount of his own money into the project, to bring solar-powered lamps to people who live off the grid.

Eliasson says he appreciates that the project "is from within the art world and reaches outside the art world – once it is in the hands of the people who need light, the need is functional not spiritual".

Before I go, he takes me into a room where recent work is displayed. "That one is for my wife," he says, gesturing at a particularly beautiful work in clean greens, tagged with a blue Post-it note reading "Olafur". They remind me of Turner watercolours. "You could not have said anything nicer," he says.

Olafur Eliasson's 'Little Sun' is available at Tate for £16.50