The Fountain


with Emilia Kabakov

YEAR: 2000



Collection of the artist


Middelburg, The Netherlands 
Permanent installation in the City of Middelburg since 2000


  1. The fountain is arranged in the center of the square and parallel to the city hall building. It’s dimensions correspond to the conditions agreed upon: 40 x 300 cm.

  2. A metal ‘frame/barrier’ is erected on the ground (it is presumed that the square is covered with stones, if not, then the ‘floor’ of the fountain must be stone).

  3. Two medieval ‘chairs’ with a pedestal between them stand in a row inside the ‘frame.’ All three objects are made of bronze.

  4. A small board is erected on the square pedestal containing a model of the center of the city: the city hall, the surrounding buildings, the square with the ‘fountain in the middle.’ All of this is also made of bronze.

  5. Inscriptions in baroque frames are arranged on both sides of the pedestal. The following is written in Dutch in relief letters: ‘Look inside and you will see the sewer mechanism used in the city in the 18th Century.’

  6. Directly above these inscriptions, on both sides of the pedestal where the chairs are, there are two apertures that you can look into.

  7. In order to look into the opening, you have to sit down in the chair, and of course, no viewer is opposed to sitting for a while in medieval furniture to view the model in a leisurely fashion.

  8. As soon as the viewer sits down on the chair, the ‘fountain’ begins to work. The weight of the viewer’s body opens a water tap beneath the chair, and water begins to flow. The water looks like that which flows from a watering can when you water flowers – it is a fine trickle that widens as it descends.

  9. The water flowing from the two ‘fountains’ (or only from one, if there is only one viewer) is caught in three ‘frames’ (see No 2), and then flows into two holes in the ground.

  10. The tap shuts off and the water stops flowing as soon as the viewer stands up. The ‘fountain’ only works when someone is sitting in the chair. It’s obvious what effect arises here.

Technical Description

  1. The water flows through pipes running underground, and flows up into the seats of both chairs via one of the ‘back’ legs.

  2. The mechanism for turning on the water is a release lever that is located in the seats of the chairs.

  3. There are two holes in the ground on both sides of the pedestal for releasing the water.

  4. The water accumulates inside the frame, but does not spill over the barrier, as required by the conditions set forth for the project. The size of the pipes must be calculated to ensure this.

  5. The water in the ‘fountain’ works in a closed system with the aid of a pump in a self-contained reservoir. It could also work, however, using water from the central water system of the city.

  6. It is desirable to have the fountain illuminated at night.


The following were taken into consideration when the idea of the fountain was elaborated:

  1. The fountain is located in the center of a medieval square, and consequently, it should itself have a ‘medieval’ appearance – that’s why the chairs, pedestal, and material for the whole project is bronze.

  2. The tradition of this place is that it is a place of fairs, farces, medieval celebrations with their gaiety, jokes, pranks, and clowning. These traditions literally demand that what is placed in the square, in its center, also contain a large dose of joking and laughter. It must not be forgotten that in such a public place where there is always a multitude of people, no one will ever be alone, and cannot sit on the chair here by himself, but rather this will always happen in the presence of others. These ‘others,’ already knowing about the secret of the fountain, will bring friends who don’t know this ‘secret’ here on purpose and seat them on the chair. After all, the entire comedy of the fountain rests precisely in the fact that by following the instructions (see No 5), the unsuspecting newcomer will look into the hole expecting to see the sewage system of the 18th century, while at the same time water that he cannot see will be trickling from underneath him. But it is those children and adults standing around the fountain who will see this situation of gaiety and laughter. For children, of course, this fountain will become their favorite place for playing games and pranks.

  3. This farce and prank also rests in the extreme, it seems, serious ‘cognitive’ nature of the metal sculpture on the table. Not only can one view a scale model of the city, which is very interesting for tourists, but it is no less interesting to look into the mechanism of the old, underground sewer system today in our civilized 20th Century. And it is precisely at this very moment of ‘studying’ that the one studying performs the ‘act’ that is characteristic of more ancient times. It seems to us that this connection, this ambiguity, is entirely ‘in the spirit‘ and atmosphere that exists and lives in this ancient and eternally alive place.

  4. At the same time, this fountain will be a monument to the city but in miniature. The bronze model can show the center of the city the way it was much earlier; that is, it can recreate its old, historical appearance.



2000Megan BartonComment