‘Our Glacial Perspectives’ by Olafur Eliasson is a solar installation on ice in Italy

Located on Mt. Grawand in South Tyrol, Olafur Eliasson’s latest permanent installation is a steel and glass structure that merges structural architecture, optics and astronomy.

by Anmol Ahuja Published on : Oct 16, 2020

Olafur Eliasson’s latest permanent public work titled Our Glacial Perspectives, located at the Hochjochferner glacier in South Tyrol, Italy, looks as if drawn straight out from the pages of a sci-fi fantasy, taking the imagination even a notch higher in its operation and purpose. Opened recently for public viewing, the experience of this sculpture-like architecture set in ice begins with a 410m long path along the mountain’s glacial ridge leading up to the main display. The path is marked with nine arched gates that are accurately spaced at intervals, marking the duration of the Earth’s ice ages on ground. When viewed along a macro-scale, this essentially lays in perspective and etches in ice a geological timeline of our planet, environment, and the ice surrounding it.

One of nine arched gateways on the path to the main exhibit | Our Glacial Perspectives | Olafur Eliasson | STIRworld
One of nine arched gateways on the path to the main exhibit Image: Courtesy of Studio Olafur Eliasson

Making their way across the path, one comes upon a spherical segment pavilion consisting of multiple steel and glass rings harbouring a circular steel deck that juts out over the edge of Mt. Grawand. Each ring tracks the apparent movement of the sun on any given day, and by standing on this deck, the viewer can use the pavilion as an elaborate astronomical instrument simply by aligning their sight with the rings and the sun. The placement of the rings signifies the division of the year into equal time intervals marked by the three most important days on the solar calendar. Ergo, the top ring, tracks the movement of the sun on the summer solstice, the middle ring tracks the equinox, and the bottom one tracks the sun’s movement on the winter solstice.

The rings in the installation track the movement of the sun across the sky| Our Glacial Perspectives | Olafur Eliasson | STIRworld
The rings in the installation track the movement of the sun across the sky Image: Courtesy of Studio Olafur Eliasson

Upon a more architectural observation inclined toward the climatology of the site, it may not be hard to conclude that Eliasson’s work may in itself be an elaborate extrapolation of the sun path diagram in the three dimensional medium. Anchored in the snow, the globoid not only charts the movement of the sun across the sky, but may also be used to study the formation of shadows and the relative altitude of the sun at different times of the year, with the viewer at its centre. Furthermore, in what can also be looked at as an elaborate sundial arrangement, it is possible for the viewer to ascertain the time of the day by looking at the position of the sun through the rectangular glass panes, since each of the panes cover 15 arc minutes of the sun’s movement across the sky. The glass panes are tinted different shades of blue according to the cyanometer, a shade scale developed in the 19th century for measuring the “blueness” of the sky. What the coloured glass also does is help create a “mini atmosphere”, a tinted microclimate of sorts for the viewing deck by filtering and reflecting light and solar radiation.  

The steel and glass rings create a “mini atmosphere” within by filtering light and radiation | Our Glacial Perspectives | Olafur Eliasson | STIRworld
The steel and glass rings create a “mini atmosphere” within by filtering light and radiation Image: David Orru, Courtesy of Studio Olafur Eliasson

This entire spherical assembly truncated from the top and bottom is mounted with the help of an impressive structural assembly. The half rings that support the glass and steel pavilion on the bottom of the structure indicate the north-south and east-west axes, while the two horizontally aligned parallel steel rings at nearly half mark frame the horizon line. By marking the cardinal directions, the horizon line and the position of the sun in the sky with respect to the coloured rings, the installation “directs the visitor’s attention to a larger planetary perspective on the changes in climate that are directly affecting Hochjochferner”.

The steel base structure marks the cardinal directions and the horizon line | Our Glacial Perspectives | Olafur Eliasson | STIRworld
The steel base structure marks the cardinal directions and the horizon line Image: David Orru, Courtesy of Studio Olafur Eliasson

The public installation has been commissioned by the TalkingWater Foundation, a platform for reflection and exchange on water, and was founded by Ui Phoenix von Kerbl and Horst M. Rechelbacher (1941-2014). The foundation is headquartered in the same place in South Tyrol as the installation, a place that founder Ui Kerbl feels is a place of great strength, being the source of a great number of water bodies and Artesian springs.

Danish Icelandic designer Olafur Eliasson and his work, Our Glacial Perspectives | Our Glacial Perspectives | Olafur Eliasson | STIRworld
Danish Icelandic designer Olafur Eliasson and his work, Our Glacial Perspectives Image: Martin Rattini, Courtesy of Studio Olafur Eliasson

“I am very excited to have had the opportunity to create Our Glacial Perspectives, especially for Mount Grawand and the Hochjochferner glacier,” states Olafur Eliasson on the idea of bringing his work to a site as powerful and important as Hochjochferner glacier. He further stated that the structure “acts as a magnifier for the very particular experience of time and space that this location affords – vast and boundless on the one hand, local and specific on the other. It is an optical device that invites us to engage, from our embodied position, with planetary and glacial perspectives”.

The permanent architectural installation opened to the public on October 9, 2020, and can be accessed at the Hochjochferner glacier, Mt. Grawand, South Tyrol in Italy only via Schnalstal valley cable cars.

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