Watch Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Riverbed’ come to life


The small stream that weaves through a landscape of water-rounded stones in Olafur Eliasson’s commanding and interactive Riverbed 2014 offers audiences a chance to explore, play, and ponder its existence. This interior-environment is out of place, without vegetation, birds or other markers of time and place, is it the very first landscape on Earth, an environment yet to spring into life, or is this the last precious water source in a barren, post-apocalyptic future?

Behind the vision of the renowned Danish/Icelandic artist and architect’s work was a huge team at QAGOMA all equipped with unique skill sets to transform an empty gallery in to an awe-inspiring rocky landscape.

Watch | Installation time-lapse

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Like many of Olafur Eliasson’s artworks, Riverbed is inspired by the rugged beauty of Iceland. While the artist was born in Denmark, his parents are both originally from Iceland and he visited his father there regularly throughout his childhood. The landscape within Riverbed is particular to Eliasson but also feels universal — a source landscape for us all.

In Iceland, as once-majestic glaciers melt they leave behind a bed of tumbled rock very like this. Immediately outside the gallery the Brisbane River flows, rising and falling with the tides. It is hard to imagine this wide river reduced to a fragile stream, but we need not travel far to observe the crippling effects of drought.

In Riverbed, everything we experience is carefully planned. Under the cool grey light, Eliasson seeks to take us into a deeper reality, amplifying our interaction with the world — our awareness of nature, the flow of time, and the choices we make.

We are all welcome to find our own way through Riverbed: we might follow the suggestion of a path, or find a quiet place to sit, touch the stones or feel the water pass through our fingers.

The water used in Riverbed is recycled via reservoir tanks installed behind the scenes.

Featured image: Olafur Eliasson, Denmark/Iceland b.1967 / Riverbed 2014 installed at the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane 2019 / Water, rock (volcanic stones [blue basalt, basalt, lava], other stones, gravel, sand), wood, steel, plastic sheeting, hose, pumps / Courtesy: The artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York/Los Angeles