In 2014, artist Olafur Eliasson exhibited Riverbed at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Riverbed is a rocky landscape placed inside the museum. This work has nature and culture folding around one another to an extent that illustrates that everything is culture. The work challenges the participators both physically and mentally, as it facilitates intimate contact with the sounds of the water running through the riverbed, the smell of the wet rocks and the gleam of light reflected on the wet rocks, and challenges your bodily balance as you walk up the hill or try to balance on the slippery or rolling rocks—all of it becomes significant.
In an interview, Eliasson mentions how the landscape appears dead, except for the little stream of water that passes through it. The movement of the water makes the work dynamic. The movement brings life. Yet the water doesn’t come or leave; it just moves and thereby touches the participants. It comes from nowhere, going anywhere. The work is a meditative contemplation addressing time as movement and as duration, not linear sequences that can be split up. It doesn’t lead to a result; it can’t be passed toward something better; on the contrary, time passes. As an internal process, “The walking time is unfolded,” says the artist.
Riverbed takes place in-between the coming and going. How aware are you of what is happening right here and now? What comes into being? What passes? How do you relate to what is happening? Is your perception already affected by strong beliefs or ideas? Can you only relate in a certain way because of past memories, external pressure or fantasies? Can you meet the world unarmed?
These questions circle around establishing a belief in this world, where our belief is connected with the actual moment, not a projection. The work Riverbed may help us from solely thinking about art as an object of our thinking to having a territory, that is, it makes us think.
A river, like a piece of art, has a past form, a present form and, perhaps, a form to come. It depends on our involvement. This involvement is ethical, I propose.
For example, Gilles Deleuze’s ethic is one of the events; not the present understood as an object, but the present living moment stretched in-between, “What is going to happen? What has just happened … never something which is happening.”
What is happening, therefore, is always a mixture of no longer and not yet. This is why Deleuze says that philosophy is mixture of crime and science fiction, dealing with what has just happened as well actualizing.
Art can teach us a lot about ethical involvement.