Rebecca Louise Law, floral artist, on Olafur Eliasson ‘s 2003 Weather Project in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall
GB Tell me why you chose this.
RLL When my art changed from painting to working with flowers it was a real shift from something 2D to 3D, so the work I was making became very physical and sensory. This was the first time I’d seen an installation that encapsulated where I wanted my own art to go, creating a sensory, physical experience. I felt like Eliasson got it so right. I still haven’t seen anything that’s captured a feeling of nature in the same way. I wish it was still exhibiting. It’s the only piece I’ve seen in the Turbine Hall that felt complete and right. You walked down the slope and felt as though the sun was rising. Then there was this humming sound and hundreds of people lying there as though they were sunbathing. The piece could speak to anyone, no matter what age or whether they knew about art or not.
GB Were the other people a part of it for you?
RLL Yes, massively. It was that experience of humans stopping to consider nature for a minute, only it wasn’t nature. You felt like you were in a pocket of the sun.
GB Eliasson let you see behind the scenes with this installation. You could see the lights and the screens and become aware of the mechanic behind it. Did that change its impact for you in any way?
RLL No, not at all. It was nice to see how it was done. It felt like there was no trickery involved.
GB Your own art is usually temporary too. Would you choose to make these things permanent if you could?
RLL Well my own work is about pushing the boundaries of the flower and in the last year it has moved on to being semi-permanent through the process of drying. I’ve just created a long-term project for Kings Cross which will be displayed for years. The dry flowers have become my paint.
GB Your work and Eliasson’s involve more of the senses than painting. Is this important to you?
RLL I think fully sensory experiences that are contained and controlled are hard to come by. That is what I’m passionate about in my installations. They’re quite physical. You can touch them and smell them. I want my work to be accessible in more ways than just visually. Eliasson used mist to add a subtle element of touch. Touch is very important to me. I also thought the sound of his artwork was incredible. It was pulsating and to me it sounded like heat.
GB Have you thought of using sound?
RLL I’ve tried before, but I don’t want to use twee birdsong. I like the sound of a breeze but I feel that still might be a bit much.
GB You create work that is unselfconsciously beautiful which not many contemporary artists are doing. Was beauty one of your reasons for creating this work?
RLL The whole way through art school you’re pushed away from beauty. It’s like a dirty word. Now I’ve started to realise that it’s okay. I like people to see beauty in something that might not normally be so, especially the dried, dead flowers I use. We see beauty in fresh, live flowers and my work encourages people re-evaluate this.
GB Why do you think beauty is a dirty word in art school?
RLL I think because of the commercial side of art and design, colleges see beauty as a quick way to attract attention. It’s seen as an easy way out. The whole way through art school, you’re asked to challenge everything and beauty seemed like it had been overdone. I was drawn to flowers by the colours. I was obsessed with colour and oil painting and the effect that colour had on people. I transferred to the use of flowers because I couldn’t find another sculptural material that had such an array of colours. I immediately struggled with the idea of using flowers and its taken a while to admit that their beauty is really powerful and can be used in contemporary art. I went for a meeting in New York recently and brought up the idea of death being associated with flowers and nearly lost the whole pitch. Death would have gained you points at the art school I attended. It made me question how honest I was being about describing my art because I strive for my viewers to see life in something that may otherwise be seen as worthless and dead.
GB You’ve seen a lot of people reacting to this beauty now. Is there anything in particular you’ve noticed?
RLL The biggest response from seeing my work in 2D such as pictures in the press is mainly from women, but on the physical side of experiencing the installations , I’d say the biggest response is from men.
GB What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?
RLL I’d say it’s being able to capture nature, even the smallest essence of it. Turner got it right, didn’t he?