Olafur Eliasson’s Massive Qatar Installation Invites People to Ponder Their Place in Nature

Shadows travelling on the sea of the day by Olafur Eliasson

Qatar continues to transform its spaces into a public museum with a massive new installation by artist Olafur Eliasson. Situated in the desert outside of Al Zubarah and Ain Mohammed heritage sites in Doha, Shadows travelling on the sea of the day was commissioned 10 years ago and took four years to produce. It features 20 mirrored circle shelters that both provide respite from the Sun and also ask visitors to ponder their place in nature.

Shadows travelling on the sea of the day, 2022, is an invitation to resync with the planet,” shares the artist. “It is a celebration of everything being in and moving through the desert site north of Doha at the time of your visit—animals, plants, and human beings; stories, traditions, and cultural artifacts; wind, sunlight, air, and shimmering heat.”

Visitors are invited to move below the shelters and find that, when they look up, they not only see their own reflection but also the sand. In this way, the Earth is enveloping and all-encompassing—something that humans cannot escape. And this reflection asks people to question their own place on Earth—as they view their feet planted firmly on the ground.

“The mirrors connect and perfect what is physically distinct and partial, linking the actual surroundings with the reflected space and creating a sea of interconnections,” Eliasson continues. “The oscillation of your gaze, together with the movement of your body, may amplify your sense of presence, while the curving structures seem to dematerialize, becoming natural cultural landscape.”

Shadows travelling on the sea of the day by Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's installation is one of several that Qatar Museums has recently unveiled as part of its push to transform Qatar's public space in anticipation of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar, taking place November 20–December 18, 2022. Over 1.5 million visitors are expected to flood Doha for the event and Qatar is preparing by making a big statement about its role in the contemporary art world.

Though Eliasson admits that his installation has no artistic connection to the event, he was driven to participate by his belief that Qatar is a country open to speaking about sustainability. This principle is close to the Icelandic-Dutch artist's heart. In fact, in 2019 he was appointed as Goodwill Ambassador by the United Nations Development Programme to advocate for action on climate change and sustainable development goals.

For Shadows travelling on the sea of the day, Eliasson is working with an external company to verify its carbon footprint. His studio has also allocated funds from the budget to support local environmental groups that actively preserve Qatar's landscape.

“I hope that the creative collaborations that I am currently nurturing on-site in Qatar will provide means for people to meet each other across communities and cultures,” he shares. “The climate crisis requires collective action and an unprecedented level of international cooperation. It is my modest belief that art can help cultivate the necessary transcultural understanding to tackle this enormous task.”

Olafur Eliasson unveiled a massive installation in the desert north of Doha.

Olafur Eliasson Installation in Qatar

Olafur Eliasson Installation in Qatar

The 20 mirrored circle shelters invite visitors to “resync with the planet.”

Olafur Eliasson Installation in Qatar

Olafur Eliasson: Website | Instagram | Twitter

All images via Iwan Baan. Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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