A driftwood compass made by Olafur Eliasson's studio in Iceland, 2018. Image courtesy of Eliasson's studio's Instagram

Heading for the beach? Try this Olafur Eliasson experiment!

The artist is creating compass mobiles in Reykjavik, using objects drawn from Iceland's tide line

Back in 2008 the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson collected around fifty tree trunks from the beaches of Iceland. "The wood is not native to the country – where less than one per cent of the land is covered with forest," explains our forthcoming book, Olafur Eliasson Experience, "but rather washes ashore from locations as far away as Siberia and South America, carried by global currents and bleached by the sun and saltwater on its way."

Intrigued by this woody flotsam, Eliassson and his studio installed the logs around Berlin the following year, leaving them in squares, streets and roundabouts "as if they had simply drifted into the city and become entangled in its mesh."

He has continued to toy with driftwood and other items washed up on the world's beaches ever since, incorporating many pieces into another series of works that resemble mobiles but are, in fact, compasses.

They are fitted with polarized bars of metal, so that they point north, but, the writer and MoMA curator Michelle Kuo explains in our new book, "the compasses can be made with wood, or a rotting lemon, or beautiful brass."



Over the years, Eliasson has explored countless variations on the compass. Many incorporate whatever might be lying around the studio – almost anything can become a compass. Attaching magnets to driftwood, volcanic rocks, steel rings, hand-blown glass, or brass needles transforms them into compasses that align themselves along the north–south axis.

Olafur is back in Iceland at the moment, helping run his pop-up restaurant, and has set up a driftwood workshop in the same building, creating more compass mobiles from the items he finds on the beaches, to decorate the restaurant.

This enormously successful artist sells his work through the gallery system, but he's also a keen teacher (he contributed to our book Akademie X); he's running children's workshops at the Reykjavik restaurant, and probably wouldn't mind any keen fans having a go at making their own driftwood works. Afterall, in repurposing old bottles and fishing floats such as those seen in this video, you're helping the environment – just one of many causes close to Olafur's heart.


Olafur Eliasson Experience
Olafur Eliasson Experience

For more on this extraordinary contemporary artist order a copy of Olafur Eliasson Experience here.