London If the stereotype that Britons are obsessed with the weather can be taken as fact, Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson has given them plenty to talk about with a new work at the Tate Modern gallery.
A giant orb of light resembling the sun hangs at one end of a large open hall, which is empty but for a fine mist permeating the air, like fog creeping in from the Thames River outside.
Eliasson said he chose to create "The Weather Project" because it is a topic of constant discussion and most people have very different opinions about it.
Visitors who enter the gallery pause momentarily when confronted by what appears to be a foggy London day in late autumn or winter -- inside.
"I had my dark glasses on and thought I was confused, but when I switched them over, the mist was still there and we were drawn over to this part of the gallery," said Charlene Haar, 62, a visitor from Washington D.C., as she gazed up at the giant sun. "I think it's wonderful that he thinks that the British are consumed by the idea and it does affect their social life."
Eliasson, the Danish-raised son of Icelandic parents, said he thought the preoccupation with the weather extends further, to Northern Europe as a whole.
"There is a history of being dependent on good weather to feed and care for families. Fishermen, farmers -- it's all weather driven somehow," he said.
Eliasson, 39, has long been obsessed with the weather himself, using the basic elements of water, light, temperature and pressure throughout his career. At the Marc Foxx gallery in Los Angeles, he cut a hole in the roof, allowing sunlight to stream into the space. In the Kunsthaus Bregenz gallery in Austria, he created a sequence of spaces filled with natural materials including water, fog, earth, wood, fungus and duckweed.
"The weather has a couple of qualities I like," Eliasson said. "One is that it somehow defines a sense of community. ... It also gives us a very clear or distinct sense of time because we don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. We are never going to have that same cloud again."
Eliasson's work is the fourth in a series of large-scale commissions for the gigantic Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern. Unilever has donated $2 million over five years, allowing the gallery to commission a new work for the hall each year until 2004.
Past installations included an Anish Kapoor sculpture of a giant horn that, at twice the length of a Boeing 747, was one of the world's largest sculptures.
But Eliasson said he did not feel compelled to fill the space in the hall, and was content instead to allow visitors to experience the emptiness.
The sun is actually half a circle -- the top half is created by mirrors that also extend along the ceiling of the gallery, reflecting the space below.
"With a glance overhead it allows the visitors to see themselves and the immense space reflected around them overhead," said curator Susan May.
"In this sense, the installation draws attention to the fundamental act of perceiving the world around, of being caught in a moment which the artist has often described as 'seeing yourself sensing."'
The sun is lighted from behind by mono-frequency lamps that emit light at such a narrow frequency that colors other than yellow and black are invisible, transforming the scene in the gallery into a vast two-toned landscape.
Eliasson said he deliberately left the "tricks" of the image open to the view of visitors. They can wander behind the sun to see the globes burning and venture up to the gallery's fifth floor to view the mirror's construction.
The artist also took a hands-on approach in the marketing of his work, resulting in simple statements about the weather, such as "73 percent of London cab drivers discuss the weather with their passengers," being placed in magazines, taxis or the Internet.
"The Weather Project" will be on view at the Tate, free of charge, until March 21, 2004. This is the show's only stop.