olafur eliasson’s installation in qatar creates illusion of perfect circles through mirrors

olafur eliasson’s installation in qatar creates illusion of perfect circles through mirrors

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Shadows travelling on the sea of the day by olafur eliasson


Olafur Eliasson wants viewers to realize that when they look up, they look down – at the Earth, at themselves. When he hangs circular mirrors above half-circles for his recent public art in Doha, Qatar, the reflection creates a perfect circle, the completion of an interrupted cycle. It is only one of the many contexts that define his exhibition ‘Shadows travelling on the sea of the day’, which opened to the public on October 24th, 2022.


Somehow, the viewers come in contact with themselves as their surroundings heighten their senses. They live in the present, they soak in the moment, they are invited – encouraged even – to drown out the noise and be in nature. Above and below them, the sand envelops them to let them know they are far from manmade lands, whisked into a natural space.

olafur eliasson’s installation in qatar
images courtesy of Olafur Eliasson, neugerriemschneider in Berlin, & Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York / Los Angeles | image © Iwan Baan



Through the mirrors, the reflection of other viewers becomes projected: they watch each other explore the space, they witness others gaze at one another – a smile here and there – and they wave their arms, perhaps testing if they are who they are looking at.


Eliasson writes in the artist’s statement that accompanies the exhibition: ‘It is a kind of reality check of your connectedness to the ground. You are at once standing firmly on the sand and hanging, head down, from a ground that is far above you.’


He looks into the swing between perspectives too. ‘You will probably switch back and forth between a first-person perspective and a destabilizing, third-person point of view of yourself. This oscillation of the gaze, together with the movement of your body, amplifies your sense of presence, while the curving structures seem to vanish into the surroundings, dematerializing and becoming landscape,’ Eliasson continues in his writing.

olafur eliasson’s installation in qatar
Olafur Eliasson, Shadows travelling on the sea of the day (2022) | image © Iwan Baan



Driving to the desert landscape of northern heritage sites


‘Shadows travelling on the sea of the day’ by Olafur Eliasson sprawls across the rugged desert landscape in the north of Doha, past Fort Zubarah and the village of Ain Mohammed. The artist describes the journey as already affording a glimpse of the sculptures from afar as they position in the eyesight of the viewers driving in their vehicles.


The circular rings made of steel and fiberglass dot the horizon, so foreign from the expanse of the sand within the location. Eliasson hopes that once the viewers step outside their vehicles and into the land, they pad through the sand and approach the artworks with a sense of uncertainty. As the sculptural rings loom over them, their sensation transforms into a strong desire to linger for a long time. 

olafur eliasson’s installation in qatar
the public art in qatar can already be seen from afar | image © Iwan Baan



The vast and sandy landscape is accompanied by desert plants, traces of animals, and rock formations. The realm encircles the viewers for many kilometers in all directions. As Eliasson thinks, the shimmering line of the horizon is the artwork’s outer limit.


‘Yet it is not only you who have journeyed to meet up with the artwork. Its cool, hospitable shadows travel slowly across the sandy ground during the day and more rapidly at dusk and dawn. Above you, in the ceilings fitted with large mirrors, you may also – with the right amount of patience – detect these cyclical journeys,’ he continues in his artist’s statement.

olafur eliasson’s installation in qatar
the reflection coming from the round mirrors creates a perfect circle for the semicircular rings | image © Iwan Baan



Olafur Eliasson celebrates everything that is here


Olafur Eliasson invites his viewers to slowly look at the unveiling of his sculptural elements. When they take their time, they may notice the effects that the artist tries to invoke, that the mirrors connect and perfect what is partial. As they roam around the sandy landscape, Eliasson hopes the viewers gradually feel and relate with the prowess of nature through his sculptures.


‘The neighboring mirrors reflect the steel structures as well, creating a sea of interconnections. Reflection becomes virtual composition, changing as you move. What you perceive – an entanglement of landscape, sprawling sculptural elements, and visitors – seems hyperreal while still completely grounded,’ he writes in his artist’s statement.


Olafur Eliasson, Shadows travelling on the sea of the day (2022) in Doha, Qatar | image © Iwan Baan


By walking slowly, the viewers abandon any fast-paced movement: time, cars, technology, and a sense of hurriedness. They reframe their mindset on what a desert looks like. It is now alive with ‘desert animals, plants, and human beings; stories, traditions, and cultural artifacts; wind, glaring sunlight, thick air, and shimmering heat; semicircles and rings; traces and tracks; and curiosity, fatigue, and wonder,’ Eliasson describes.


In his way, ‘Shadows travelling on the sea of the day’ celebrates everything that is here. The movement of the living being in space. The flow of time at the time of one’s visit. The presence of natural landscape within a cultural sphere. The artistic invitation to reconnect with Earth. The reinstatement of Olafur Eliasson’s reverence for nature.

olafur eliasson’s installation in qatar
close-up view of the semicircular rings | image © Iwan Baan

olafur eliasson’s installation in qatar
reflection of the mirrors completes the circle | image © Iwan Baan



project info:


name: Shadows travelling on the sea of the day

artist: Olafur Eliasson

exhibition location: Northern Heritage sites, Doha, Qatar

inauguration date: October 24th, 2022

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