I’ve always enjoyed mentally straightening the crooked pictures in a restaurant or drawing imaginary lines between dots on a page — there’s something soothing about righting the misaligned, imagining order in space beyond our control or among objects out of reach. This illusion of imposed will on external objects comes into play often at Olafur Eliasson’s exhibition, Take Your Time (showing simultaneously at MoMA and P.S.1), a titular imperative that instructs the viewer to stay a little longer with the work, probably to make sure it isn’t mistaken as a collection of expensive party lights and other favors.
Certainly, some of the pieces walk that line: a strobe light at MoMA reflects drops of water falling into a basin in a thin horizontal line and never quite escapes the look of a club decoration, and at least two overly familiar enclosed glassed spaces, in which space appears infinite in any direction, recall Lucas Samara’s 1966 work, Mirrored Room, without adding anything significant to the original piece. More successful are the works that speak to our natural desire to see forms line up nicely, or the palpable anticipation a person feels watching color and shape shift and transform a room: a fan suspended by a rope from MoMA’s ceiling propels itself by the rotation of its own blades, creating a sense of uneasy trepidation as it circles people’s heads; a lit scrim-like material (in both locations) keeps the viewer waiting for gradual changes in light that radically alter our perception of space. We engage in these works not only because they transform the way we see a room but because our bodies are physically implicated in a work that often demands little interaction.
As such, our investment in a slowly turning suspended mirror at MoMA, which casts a shadow or reflects light on the walls depending on its place in the rotation, is almost inevitable. The steady movement of the darkened areas on the wall seems to spread across rapidly when transitioning from a sliver of its cast depth to its wall-sized width, an illusion fed by our anticipation of the brief instant at which the wall and the shadow will align. Nothing we do influences this motion; our sole job as viewers is to bear witness to these moments of alignment and change.