The curious desert

The National Museum of Qatar presents a dual-site exhibition by Icelandic–Danish artist Olafur Eliasson.

Design Indaba alum Olafur Eliasson’s latest exhibition, The Curious Desert, was conceived for two specific locations: in the National Museum of Qatar in Doha, and at a desert site about 64 kilometres northeast of the capital city of the peninsular Middle Eastern country.

The dual exhibition explores the Icelandic-Danish artist’s experimentation with light and colour, geometric studies, ecological awareness and more-than-human relationships. ‘The Curious Desert asks how we use vision and movement to make sense of our worlds; to make invisible phenomena visible and palpable; and to collect knowledge, engage in critical reflection, and construct worlds based on the stories that we live each day,' says Eliasson.

The exterior section of the exhibition features 12 temporary pavilions in a sabkha habitat (low-lying salty ground) close to the Al Thakhira Mangrove Reserve. Each of the pavilions houses a variety of new, experimental artworks that interact with fleeting natural elements like sunlight, wind and water. The first three pavilions examine optical phenomena using rainbows, shadows and mirrors, while others feature drawing machines that employ the elements to create artwork, and a collection of materials from other environments to create a connection between the desert space and areas such as Iceland. (Eliasson and Qatar Museums worked with an ecologist to conduct an extensive survey of the site near Al Thakhira to ensure the protection of its native flora and fauna, such as the Arabian red fox.)

Inside the National Museum of Qatar, meanwhile, a series of meditative light installations, geometric models, photographs, watercolours and a research map from various stages in the artist’s career are on show.

Eliasson, the founder of Studio Olafur Eliasson as well as Studio Other Spaces, is internationally regarded for his large-scale installations and projects that employ and examine the elements. He is also the mind behind Little Sun, a company that provides solar-powered LED lamps to disadvantaged communities.

The Curious Desert, which is on view until 15 August 2023, is part of Qatar Creates, a year-round national cultural initiative that curates, promotes and celebrates the diverse range of cultural activities in Qatar.


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Photographs: Olafur Eliasson, Anders Sune Berg.