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“The Word ‘Creative’ Actually Means Something.”

The artist behind "New York City Waterfalls" and "The weather project" takes us inside his Berlin studio to discuss how he turns art into action.

When I enter Olafur Eliasson’s studio, I feel like I’m entering a batcave of creativity—a repurposed brewery in the heart of Berlin, it defies its austere brick exterior. In every corner of the Danish-Icelandic artist’s four-floor compound, architects huddle around blueprints, craftsmen tinker with color prisms, technicians challenge light and sound, and a suite of mirrored orbs awaits its public debut. This immersive studio environment calls to mind the full sensory experience felt in Eliasson’s large-scale works, such as “New York City Waterfalls” and “The weather project.” On the top floor is the classroom of Eliasson’s temporary university, Institut für Raumexperimente, which is scheduled to end its five-year run this spring. It offers the only stillness among this buzzing laboratory of 70 plus employees, conducive to growing more quiet ventures such as Little Sun, a solar-powered LED lamp and social business, which has already sold 126,402 lights with a goal of reaching 1.6 billion people without electricity, globally. After my all-access pass through this creative command center, I spoke with Eliasson about this new era of art-making, where collaboration is key to developing projects that enrich our public spaces, bend our notion of space and time, and beg for us to engage.

When work goes out into the public, does it take on different meanings than expected?

I don’t have a solidified idea or dogma under which a work of art is manifesting itself. To create a work of art is like having a great dialogue with somebody. And once the piece of artwork is integrated into a public space, it has to facilitate the same quality of dialogue. And the dialogue might drift in certain directions.

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Breathe In. Breathe Out.

China's most important green activist, Ma Jun, just wants some transparency.

In winter, the Beijing haze is often so thick that cars will turn on their head lights to navigate at midday. Meanwhile, the sidewalks exhibit a post-apocalyptic vision: bundled Beijingers, heads down as they walk or cycle through the streets, their faces covered by surgical masks. Those who can afford better protection choose respirators that don’t look much different from what World War I troops used to ward off mustard gas. The precautions are understandable: One recent study estimated that air pollution was responsible for 1.2 million premature Chinese deaths in 2010.

Ma Jun, China’s most important and influential environmental activist of the past three decades, thinks it doesn’t have to be this way. “The conclusion I’ve come to is that the problem isn’t technology,” he says, “but lack of motivation.”

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