Great Expectations

Friends and accomplices, artist Olafur Eliasson and CEO of Kvadrat, Anders Byriel, share a belief in the transformative power of art and design. When the two recently met in Copenhagen, it didn’t take long to realise that art and industry have more in common than anyone might think – and it’s their ambition to face down the environmental crisis through creativity, that hints at even bigger things to come.

Inside Olafur Eliasson’s airy Copenhagen studio, a patchwork of sketches are pinned to the walls, one of his Compass sculptures hangs from the ceiling, and an inscrutable gathering of stuffed owls contemplate the enormous plate of pastries the hospitable artist has provided for our interview. For more than two decades, Eliasson’s sublime work has harnessed the elements and engaged the senses, bursting out of art institutions into theworld on an often awe-inspiring scale. He has created waterfalls that cascaded into New York’s East River, dyed rivers in three continents a fluorescent (non-toxic) green, and is probably most famous for The weather project – a giant artificial sun made from hundreds of lightbulbs that enveloped the Tate Modern in a spectral glow in 2003, prompting visitors to bring picnics and sun-bathe beneath its misty yellow light.

These days he divides his week between a cavernous workshop in Berlin – where his staff recently threw him a surprise 50th birthday with an ear-splitting Japanese drumming troupe – and this angular, turreted building with coppery-green roof tiles in the quiet back streets of the suburb of Hellerup, buffeted by winds off the sea.

We’re joined today by Eliasson’s friend and accomplice Anders Byriel, the energetic 52-year-old CEO of pioneering textile masters Kvadrat. Since its inception in 1968, the Danish company’s rainbow of beautifully crafted fabric has improved the  world’s most illustrious venues, from the Reichstag’s debating chamber to Bill Clinton’s helicopter fleet and New York’s MoMA, as well as myriad hotels, hospitals and transport systems across the globe. A company as deeply engaged in the emotional pull of their textiles as their function, Kvadrat has a distinguished history of creative collaborations with artists and designers including Sarah Lucas, Raf Simons, Peter Saville and Eliasson himself. In 2012, the artist created the beguiling outdoor installation Your glacial expectations at Kvadrat’s coastal headquarters in Ebeltoft, an area formed 10,000 years ago when the glaciers retreated at the end of the Ice Age. Placing elliptical mirrors into the grassy landscape, he conjured the impression the ice had left behind glinting pools of water reflecting the changing sky and seasons. This year, the pair’s tactile collaborations will continue at the Venice Biennale and beyond, cemented by a shared love of craft, a belief in the transformative power of good design and a passion for translating their environmental concerns into positive action.




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