Standing amid a desert in Qatar is a series of magnificent mirrors breaking the monotony of the long-forgotten barren land behind which lies a rich history of trade and culture. Olafur Eliasson, an Icelandic-Danish artist known for one of the most beautiful series of sculptures and installations, took the responsibility of retracing our steps back into this coastal town called Al Zubarah. In the late 18th century, Al Zubarah served as a pearling and trading center bustling with people building their lives and relishing their riches in this desert town. Today, the town is claimed as a UNESCO world heritage site with whatever little remains and ruins the place has to offer because of the historical importance it holds despite a climatic downfall.

“Shadows Travelling on the Sea of the Day” Olafur Eliasson’s Site-Specific Installation, opens in Doha, Qatar - Sheet1
The Pearl Emporium of Al Zubarah_©

Since Olafur finds it endearing to work with elemental materials like water, light, and air temperature, he decided to give people a new way of perceiving a small part of Al Zubarah. He designed a conceptual installation of the way the place responds to us and how we respond to it. This instills a realization within us that the land is a reflection of how we treat it and the climatic consequences of doing so. The installation is called “Shadows traveling on the sea of the day”, where the sea refers to the numerous reflections created in each of the mirrored undersides. It consists of twenty colossal mirrored shelters, some of which are supported by three single rings and two double rings located in such a way that they resemble a five-fold symmetrical pattern called the pentagram linked to the patterns of the Islamic culture. In this context, the pentagram may symbolize the five elements known as water, metal, earth, wood, and fire since the artist focused a lot on the elements of nature in most of his designs. 

“Shadows Travelling on the Sea of the Day” Olafur Eliasson’s Site-Specific Installation, opens in Doha, Qatar - Sheet2
Ruins at the site of Al Zubarah_©

The aim was to evoke a divine connection between nature and people by stimulating our perception through mirrors. Olafur Eliasson wanted to create an intermingling series of reflections where we would be looking up into the mirrored undersides only to realize that we are indeed looking down at the earth and ourselves. This in turn heightens the awareness of our presence in the cultural landscape and draws us into a realm of contemplation. As stated by Eliasson “ It is a celebration of everything being 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 the shimmering heat.” 

“Shadows Travelling on the Sea of the Day” Olafur Eliasson’s Site-Specific Installation, opens in Doha, Qatar - Sheet2
Shadows traveling on the sea of the day_©

Olafur also tells us how this installation helps us ‘resync with nature’ by switching our first-person perspective to a third-person perspective, thereby creating a sense of attachment to the space. One maneuvres the landscape through the massive circular rings that look like portals leading us into a different dimension. The scale of the installation renders us into tiny flecks of living entities that walk the earth. It is best to visit the site-specific installation during the most beautiful times of the day- the sunrise and sunset hours.

“Shadows Travelling on the Sea of the Day” Olafur Eliasson’s Site-Specific Installation, opens in Doha, Qatar - Sheet
Mirrored-undersides and steel rings_©

Eliasson used materials that corresponded with the illusion of the elements of nature like glass mirrors and fiberglass for the mirrored shades, and steel for the circular rings supporting the shades. The ‘Shadows traveling on the sea of the day’ was installed among one of the 100 installations to be showcased across Qatar during the FIFA World Cup 2022. Olafur Eliasson has hoped to touch many hearts and spread awareness about the climate crisis through this exhibition. As one drives by the village of Ain Mohammed and past Fort Zabarah, the installation comes into view, set against a rugged desert landscape in the emptiness of the site where the sky and the sands of time meet.

A contemplative landscape_©

Olafur Eliasson has received numerous awards including the Wolf Prize in Arts, the Crystal Award, and the Breakthrough Prize Trophy only to prove his excellence in the field of contemporary and sculptural art. Olafur’s sculptural installations speak volumes through the stories he weaves together into his art. Each of his exhibitions teleports us into a different atmosphere which never fails to evoke a deeper connection with the message he tries to communicate to us. Some of his other works include ‘The Weather Project’, ‘Sun Window’, ‘The Seeing City’, ‘Big Bang Fountain’, and numerous works installed in different parts of the world. Some of his projects are context-driven to create an interactive element on-site for the people to be able to relate to the project and understand the message behind it. The Shadows traveling on the sea of the day is one such example of how the installation intertwines the endless horizon with a series of contemplative figures embarking a ray of hope upon the beautiful landscape.  



Adiya is an architecture student pursuing her studies in BMS College of Architecture, Bangalore. She believes that architecture can not only be expressed through form but through words too which help evoke certain emotions in the readers. Her passion for art and writing is what peaks her interest in the field of architectural journalism.