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A Fungus Returns to the Fondation d’entreprise Martell

Adrien M & Claire B fuse fungus and technology to create their immersive installation, L’ombre de la Vapeur, at the Fondation d’entreprise Martell, Cognac

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Text by Lara Chapman

It all started with fungus. A creeping fungus that blackened the walls, rendering them into a night sky. Grown from a diet of ethanol fumes and heat, the velvet darkness consumed every surface. This fungus named baudoinia compniacensis, or to the locals of Cognac, The Torula once thrived within the rooms of the former cognac distillery of the House of Martell, which has been revamped into the cultural center for the Fondation d’entreprise Martell. This year, The fungus has returned for an immersive digital installation that explores the history of the site.

The main building of the Fondation d’entreprise Martell occupies the historic building Gâtebourse. This modernist structure was built in 1929. Between 1929 and 2005 it was the bottling facilities of a cognac distillery. However, in 2005 the distillery moved off-site and announced its intentions to convert the building into a “cultural, cross-disciplinary corporate foundation dedicated to the contemporary creation and know-how”. The building was revamped by architects Brochet/Lajus/Pueyo to suit its new role and undo the decay of its previous industrial life. The ambitious project was first opened to the public in 2016  but is still in development with expansions and other buildings being refurbished. The final site, which will be over 5000 square meters, is set to be completed by 2021. In the meantime, a gallery and event space has opened to the public in the Gâtebourse.

The main installation for 2018 is a testament to the multidisciplinarity that the foundation seeks to facilitate. The foundation commissioned the studio Adrien M & Claire B, founded in 2011 by Claire Bardainne and Adrien Mondot to create an installation to occupy the expansive 900-meter square ground floor.

The studio itself is an embodiment of cross-disciplinary practice.  Mondot is a multidisciplinary artist, computer scientist and juggler with a strong interest in performativity while Bardainne is a visual artist, graphic designer, and scenographer. Their practice blurs the boundaries between technology, science, art, and design, pairing these fields with a focus on the human body to create living digital art.

Their piece, produced for the foundation, L’ombre de la Vapeur (The Shadow of Vapor) was inspired by the fungus that once coated the building. The installation is a series of seemingly floating clouds made from a thin metallic film and around 30 video projectors that cast small moving particles onto these clouds, the floor and other surfaces. The result is a quasi-star like world where the particles shift positions depending on the movement and pauses of the visitors, a dance and an interaction. The work uses sophisticated infrared cameras and a software that the company created called eMotion. This technology allows real-time interaction between the work and the visitors, allowing the piece to autonomously respond and “perform”. The projected particles are graphic interpretations of the fungus as it appears when placed under a microscope.

Despite the complex technical elements of the piece, it remains poetic. It is an ode to minute structures, indecipherable or peripheral. It also memorializes to things that have been removed and forgotten, celebrating the unpolished and raw.

Another layer of the installation is Hymn for the Mushroom, a piece of music composed specifically for the work. It was composed by Olivier Mellano who aimed to encapsulates the melodies of the DNA of living things.

Other work on display includes Shine a Light by Nathalie Talec. Her monumental chandelier is inspired by antique vases and the mythical characters they depict. Located in the entrance of the building, it is the first completed piece in the program of furniture commissions lined-up for the foundation.

There are also works by a series of artists and performers including glassblowers Laetitia Andrighetto and Jean-Charles Miot, ceramist Manon Clouzeau, wicker workers Karen Gossart and Corentin Laval, actor Sébastien Laurier, poet and improviser Fantazio, choreographer Catherine Contour, sound engineer Jean-Michel Couturier and songstress Pomme.

‘L’ombre de la Vapeur’ will be on display until April 2019

Fondation d'entreprise Martell
The Fondation d'entreprise Martell. Photography by Marc Domage
Fondation d’entreprise Martell
L'Ombre de la Vapeur Fondation d'entreprise Martell ©AdrienM&ClaireB
Fondation d’entreprise Martell
L'Ombre de la Vapeur Fondation d'entreprise Martell ©AdrienM&ClaireB
Detail of Shine a Light by Nathalie Talec © C.K. Mariot for la Fondation Martell
Shine a Light by Nathalie Talec © C.K. Mariot for la Fondation Martell
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