Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson

Northwest Passage, 2018

Stainless, steel, LED lights, diffusers


Commissioned with MIT Percent-for-Art Funds

Northwest Passage, a site-specific installation by Olafur Eliasson, is situated on the ceiling of the breezeway of Building 12, MIT.nano. Eliasson’s installation, spanning 90 feet and comprised of 7 LED rings hanging from and reflected in 30 polished stainless-steel panels, welcomes visitors to the building and engages the pedestrian path on the north side of the complex devoted to the production and research of nanoscience and nanotechnology. The panels, each of varied size and abstract form, are based on the silhouette and configuration of the pattern of free-floating ice found in the Parry Channel of the Northwest Passage between North America and the Arctic Circle. This project draws inspiration from the dramatic thinning of the ice coverage–a historically impassable frozen route through the Arctic Ocean linking the Pacific to the Atlantic. As of the summer of 2007, the effects of climate change have allowed vessels to sail the passage without requiring an icebreaker, an event that scientists predict will become more and more common with the continued effects of global warming. This development is both a byproduct of global industry and at the same time encourages the growth of trans-global freight shipping which will only further impact the climate.  

Reflected in the mirrored surfaces of the stainless-steel panels are 7 semi-circular rings, each lined with a mono-frequency LED light and diffuser. The glowing semi-circles are attached at various points on various panels of the installation and depending on the viewer’s perspective, the mirrored surfaces complete the geometry of the circle of light. Eliasson creates an optical illusion that entices further inspection from the viewer, pulling visitors underneath the breezeway and into the hub of research and activity that is MIT.nano. 

Olafur Eliasson (b. 1967, Copenhagen, Denmark) lives and works in Copenhagen and Berlin. Eliasson’s work in sculpture, painting, photography, film, and installation have been exhibited widely throughout the world. In addition to creating works for museum and gallery settings, his practice engages the broader public sphere through architectural projects and interventions in civic space. In 1995 Eliasson founded Studio Olafur Eliasson, a Berlin-based think tank, to expand and leverage multi-disciplinary conceptualization and planning for future projects. Members in the studio include craftsmen, specialized technicians, architects, archivists, administrators, programmers, art historians, and cooks. In 2014 Eliasson was awarded MIT’s Eugene McDermott Award for the Arts, in recognition of his influential artistic practice.

Building Number: 12

Accession Number: PFA.2018.002