« There’s something nebulous and beautiful about plankton »

© C. et N. Sardet/Tara Expéditions

Tara Expéditions and Eau de Paris will inaugurate an exhibition this saturday, “The secret world of plankton”, in partnership with the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs (ENSAD). The exhibition will be open from June 5 to September 5, at the Pavillon de l’Eau in Paris.

Twenty works created by the Arts Deco students, inspired by the Tara Oceans expedition, will be presented, just as the first scientific results of the expedition appeared last week in Science magazine.
For one of these students, Louise Vendel, whose works are on display in the exhibition, discovering plankton and its importance in the environment has “raised her awareness”.

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Art work designed by Louise.

How did the meeting between the Tara team and the ENSAD students go?
One of our teachers, M. Rémi Hamoir, had the opportunity to sail aboard Tara as an artist-in-residence and he wanted to share his experience with us. The Tara team immediately took us seriously. They didn’t just regard us as students, which really motivated us. We wanted to live up to the task. During the first week, we discovered a new world – the world of plankton – in the company of scientist Christian Sardet. This exhibition has really offered us the opportunity to go beyond the academic setting, and our collaboration with the Tara team went well. So well that the Tara team is working with ENSAD first-year students this year. They were even fortunate enough to recently sail aboard the schooner in Brittany.

How did you react when you discovered that you would work with species virtually invisible to the naked eye?
To be honest, when we first addressed the plankton theme, it didn’t mean anything to me. Until we met Christian Sardet who is a real enthusiast. Christian shared his research with us, showed us some of the films he made using macro lenses. We plunged into his universe, and discovered that it is fascinating. He brought samples of living plankton, some species big enough to be observed by the naked eye, such as a Sea Butterfly. Magnificent! It looked like a tiny nymph. We were all fascinated. Looking through the microscope helped us make the transition. We got a feeling for the material, for the delicacy of these organisms. There’s something nebulous and beautiful about plankton.

What was your approach to this work? How did you proceed in treating the subject?
I continued doing research, getting information. I looked for the most original planktonic shapes, the most astonishing things. In my work, I’m interested in masks, and I was intrigued that the Tara team would fight for such small creatures. I wanted to take them out of their microscopic shapes and make them more impressive. When we began working on this project, Tara was in the Mediterranean Sea studying plastic pollution and its interaction with plankton. So I tried to combine these two themes by creating masks inspired by planktonic shapes using plastic objects (cups, buttons, etc.). I developed a particular interest in Siphonophores for their colors, and in Ctenophores for their skeletons. But I mixed species in order to create dreamlike shapes, and enlarged the little beasties.

This collaboration between Tara and ENSAD brought together the separate fields of Science and Art.
It’s good to realize how much art and science are connected. Some scientists are like artists: they confront a blank page and initiate a research topic at the risk of going the wrong way. Christian Sardet is a scientist deeply attached to the esthetic aspect of his photos. By playing with the visual and esthetic aspects of plankton, Christian adds value to the subject and makes it more accessible to the public. This adds substance to the art. I was delighted to work on a project that serves an interesting cause. I have enjoyed this adventure! When Tara and agnès b. invite artists-in-residence, they create necessary connections between art and science.
Last year, scientists attended our first opening at the Tara Base in Paris. One of them congratulated me for my work and recognized shapes he studies in his laboratory. I was touched that people can be interested in the same subjects, but from different angles.

Interview by Noëlie Pansiot
Practical informations:
Address: PAVILLON DE L’EAU – EAU DE PARIS
77, avenue de Versailles, 75016 Paris
For more information:  www.eaudeparis.fr
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- Summer exhibitions

- Exhibition with the launching of the Tara Mediterranean Blue Book