The secret wheels of Mécaniques Poétiques (Poetic mechanisms)

Les Mécaniques Poétiques, by the EZ3kiel group were finalised at the CEA's Atelier Arts Sciences in Grenoble. A fine example of technology and art work symbiosis.

Presented, amongst others, in December 2010 at the Maison des Métallos as part of the Digitalement Vôtre exhibition curated by MCD, EZ3kiel's Les Mécaniques Poétiques is a series of ten installations, both high-tech and delightfully old-fashioned similar to the designées object series that invites the public to immerse themselves in a cozy atmosphere while engaging in hands-on interactive games.

A bike ride through a very nineteenth century phantom cartography mapped on the screen - a revived virtual trail of the first interactive art experiences by the Australian Jeffrey Shaw (The Legible City) – a birdcage with a luminous and touch sensitive rope as musical as a harp, a Theremin turned into a statue of the virgin, an audiovisual apothecary ballet operated by putting the corks on and taking them off bottles. Even if they fit into the continuity of their visual aesthetics, the different parts of the work seems to escape the usual stage and music oriented concerns of the group from Lyon.

The band's bass player, Yann Nguema, who also holds a M.A. in fine art initiated the project and is in charge of all the artwork in the group. He creates EZ3kiel's visual features, particularly for their touring shows, but he is also well known for his various commissioned works (Turin Olympic Games, French Ski Federation, Rennes Transmusicales' Rencontres-i communication tools).

The project is equally interesting in its design as in its form, since it results from an interesting convergence between artistic and research practices in the CEA's Atelier Arts Sciences in Grenoble.

Combining art and science

In fact, Yann Nguema explains, the first Mécaniques were produced independently. The idea behind the Atelier Arts Sciences was to bring the project to a higher level by working on new pieces, with the help of scientists from CEA and Erasme [Centre multimédia du Rhône].. These have been devised based on the area of expertise of individual researchers, with the paradoxical desire to hide any apparent technique. A particular care has been granted to the aesthetic so as to shift the technology discourse to a more sensitive and poetic concern, whilst toying with anachronisms.

Specifically, this contextual encounter between artists and scientists seemed generally unheard of. We were contacted by the Atelier Arts Sciences who offered us to work with scientists. This was a first for everyone. Initially, we carried out a lot of “discovery” meetings with researchers to come up with the draft for five machines. The teams were then defined and the balancing of technical specifications and technological opportunities refocused the projects. We had to find a common discourse, and a technological meeting point between the highly specialised work of some of the researchers and my self-taught practice. Even though everything did not happen as easily as it was planned on paper, each party fulfilled its role despite the occasional human and cultural divide between us.

In these conditions, the main difficulty was to achieve tangible works that would satisfy all parties involved. This brought about varying results and a problem linked to the maintenance of the different installations. All the installations have been completed, says Yann Nguema. If some are completely successful in terms of collaborative art/science, others have not achieved the expected objective. Half of the ten installations were produced with the assistance of researchers. I do not know how many inside people were working on each project because there was a single intermediary between me and the team, but there was no real joint methodology. Each project was too different for this to be the case. For the cage I took part in the entire development in the Erasme premises with Michel Blanc, whereas the bottles were delivered to me a few days before the opening, with fully equipped and ready to use plate and jars. Even if I understand their basics workings, I was nowhere involved in their manufacture, which became a real problem afterwards for their maintenance and any possible repairs that are beyond the range of my abilities.

From the concert to the exhibition

The idea to gather these installations in an exhibition became obvious. EZ3kiel has always been combining images and sound, but we were looking for a way to bring all of our work together, Yann Nguema sums up. The first phase was to make an album with a DVD-ROM, Naphthaline, with a special effort on the articulation on images, sound and interaction. But in this instance, to defend the project and reach a different audience, we decided to replace the concerts with exhibitions. A new doorway for the public who, in fact, can grasp our work in an original way and outside venues. From there, the public journey of the work could actually begin.

The first exhibition with ten Mécaniques was presented at the CCSTI, in Grenoble. It was produced and organised by the Atelier Arts Sciences in October 2009. We also benefited from the support of DICREAM to produce the machines. The second exhibition was held at the Palais de la Découverte, in Paris with heavy security constraints. We had to work hard on the solidity and stability of the machines unlike for the first exhibition which had favoured aesthetics. They thus found their final configuration which enabled us to exhibit them in numerous different places: the Rhône-Alpes Pavilion of Shanghai World Expo, the house Maison des Métallos, the Palais des Ducs in Dijon, the Scopitone festival in Nantes, the Maison folie de Wazemmes in Lille, etc..

To this day, the resonances of the Mécaniques Poétiques are still valid. The Mécaniques Poétiques have been shown throughout France for the last two years, with a very positive response from the public, Yann Nguema rejoices. Between two shows, we keep them in our production space. Two new Mécaniques have recently been produced by the Champs Libres in Rennes and built by myself. The technological challenge is not a priority there. We are currently working on a formula that could be exported abroad - an additional limiting factor - and considering a permanent exhibition in our own city once they stop touring. '

Laurent Catala


Atelier Arts Sciences