For the National Museum of Qatar, in dialogue with Jean Nouvel’s architecture, Jean-Michel Othoniel created a monumental installation of 114 fountain sculptures. ALFA covers the entire surface of the gigantic lagoon that measures 8800m2, and is by far the biggest of all the monumental projects Othoniel has ever created, five times larger than his artwork permanently installed at Versailles in 2015.
The lagoon is located between the National Museum of Qatar and the Persian Gulf, at the entrance of the city of Doha. This unique situation gives amazing visibility to this public artwork from the Corniche, the museum and the sea.
The 114 sculptures arise like majestic black reeds along the 900-meter-long shores of the lagoon designed by Jean Nouvel. Walking around the lagoon, the viewer will discover, from various angles, silhouettes reflected on the water that evoke the beauty of Arabic calligraphy. At moments the sculptures are also transformed into fountains, launching arabesques of water toward the sky, hugging the curves of the museum’s architecture echoing the shape of desert roses.
In designing this project, Jean-Michel Othoniel discovered the richness of the art of writing in Arabic culture, and reinterpreted abstractly certain letters in the Arabic alphabet. He acquired great freedom in his ink drawings with the complicity of a professional calligrapher. While Othoniel was creating nine groups of letters, he was helped to avoid forming actual words in order for the work to remain abstract, letters themselves being one of culture’s very foundations. During his conversations, Jean-Michel Othoniel also learned that the traditional calligraphy tool is made from a simple, carved reed.
Jean-Michel Othoniel created this installation in situ in keeping with the scale of the architecture and the landscape, in order to accentuate the importance of wild reeds, fragile elements of nature, as essential tools for cultural transmission.
“Man is only a reed, the weakest in nature; but he is a thinking reed.” (PASCAL, Blaise. Pensées, fragment 347.)