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‘Flying Fountains’ – Project for a city square, Pan les Ouates (CH), 1997
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Brief: Creation of an art piece of art for a square in a new development, including water as one of its components.
Site: A marshland until the beginning of 20tth century, the field, in the early years of aviation, was chosen as the setting of Geneva’s first aerodrome. In the thirties, the construction of a new airport in a different location, allowed the expanding city to absorb the place. This piece of land is now surrounded by new buildings. Only its name, ‘Place des Aviateurs’ commemorates its initial function.
Approach: It is not an innocent act, today, to summon up water as a component of the urban landscape. In past times, a river, a spring, a well, a fountain was essential, not only to provide this vital element: water, but also, playing an important social role, to offer a primary meeting point. Water, now, is freely running from our taps, showers, toilet flushes…, stripped of its original function, the fountain, today, is condemned to feed our nostalgic memories or, at best, to become a merely decorative object. Supposed to be silent (not to disturb people around), cosmetic (in this case, ironically, to conceal an underground car park), water is, because recycled, even not drinkable…
The Piece: Like the early airplanes flying over the field, a flight of six fountains invade the town square. One of them has already landed; the others follow, approaching at different altitudes. They symbolically bring water to the present community, inviting its members to pay attention to this essential element and to be conscious of the potential fight human beings are about to face to get access to clean water.
The fountains adopt the form of traditional village fountains: a stone basin and a column for the waterspout. Whilst the metal structures and the columns are treated in a decidedly contemporary way, the basins come from the past. Made in the 19th century, some maybe earlier, they have already been used in numerous unknown places. If, full of history, the fountains speak about a time that is already alien to us, they also invite us to consider the future; all the pasts to come for which we all are responsible.
We wander amongst the flying fountains. It’s as if they are poised, waiting to be noticed, to be given enough attention to make them want to stay. Without our interest, involvement, consciousness about the vital element they symbolically provide, the square could be no more than a brief resting place. Then, as in a fairy tale, we could wake one morning to find them going away, like a flight of migrating birds, having taken the dream with them…