Friday, June 8, 2012

Cherchez L'Éléphant

In the morning we had breakfast for the third and last time at the nice place two blocks away from our hotel. The waitress recognized us and knew what we wanted for our petit dejeuner.

Then we emptied all of the stuff out of Clio that had accumulated in her in five weeks of daily use. When we were quite sure nothing was left behind (pro tip: check under the seats with a flashlight) we drove her to the EuropeCar office, only a few blocks away, and turned her in. Oddly, they didn't want to charge our credit card now. After finding we didn't have a fax number, they said they would send the bill in email. Strange, but if they can wait for their €1100, that's OK with us.

Then we got an all-day bus pass at a tram stop and set off down the length of the Île de Nantes on the trail of some more Estuary Art and the famous Machines de L'Île.

The Île de Nantes (eel duh nont) is an island in the Loire river about 3 kilometers long and 1 wide. Once the industrial armpit of the city with docks, factories and a large shipbuilding operation, it is now being converted into housing and recreation space.

Two huge cranes are relics of industrial times. Both have been declared historic monuments and left as giant abstract sculptures.

The Big Grey Crane at the west end of the Île.

Its load now is a kayak acting as a kind of weathervane sculpture.

The Big Yellow Crane can be seen from miles away as you approach Nantes.

The Westernmost art object on the Île (next to the Big Gray Crane) is "The Rings" (Les Annulaires) by Daniel Bouran and Patrick Bouchaine. It consists of eighteen metal rings, 3 or more meters in diameter, in a line along the waterfront. At night each is lit by neon embedded in the rim – all different colors. We're sorry we never had a chance to see them lit up. But you know, it isn't dark until after 10pm around here.

Rings looking east. Just looking through one ring makes things look different, like a frame.

Rings looking west. At this end you can almost get in line with them.

We had now reached the huge warehouse occupied by the art cooperative called Machines de l'Île.

Their metier is making big, organic-looking, moving animals, the best-known of which is L'Éléphant.

News photo of L'Éléphant walking around Île de Nantes in 2009.

Taking a ride on L'Éléphant was one of the first things Marian put in her plan, months ago, and finally here we were.

Elephantine disappointment!

All we could do was look at L'Éléphant atanding outside the Machines de l'Île workshop.

Overview of (nonfunctional) elephant.

Side view of (nonfunctional) elephant.

Un Bricoleur works on L'Éléphant.

Turns out that Machines de L'Île isn't only about L'Éléphant. They are completing a new project, the Marine World Carousel. It will have creatures to ride on three levels, all somewhat eerie moving sea beasts.

Carousel is to open July 15th this year.

Here is one of the smaller animals that will be placed within the Carousel.

Click through to see how you sit high up on the fish's back.

The Carrousel du Mond Marin is going to be spectacular but it is dwarfed by the planned project, the Heron Tree. So far the Heron Tree exists as concept art and partial prototypes only. If it is completed, it will be worth making a trip to France just to see it. Forget the Eiffel tower. Here is an early conceptual model of the Heron Tree.

It would be huge, 37 meters high (say, 10 stories?), with many of the branches walkable, and a giant heron flying above, carrying people in baskets. Here is a later design model.

Click through to get some idea of the details of this.

Some pieces exist. Here is the Heron that will fly above.

There's an operator seat and two passenger baskets.

Heron's wing articulation.

Heron's head. These people do nice work.

Look back at the detailed design model above. Notice the inchworm?

Prototype rideable inchworm.

The idea is the rider hauls on a lever to make it "inch" along the tree.

Like most tropical trees this one would have ants crawling up the trunk.

David didn't think the leg action was at all realistic.

The Heron Tree itself currently exists as a single prototype branch that you can climb.

Look again at the model and try to imagine the whole tree with 39 of these limbs.

The branch is lined with vegetation in containers, which they admit to having had some problems keeping alive.

It feels quite safe but gives a sense of being suspended in air.


Prototype branch with Big Yellow Crane and Carousel beyond.

By now it was 2pm and with some difficulty we found some kind of lunch, then went on to look for more Estuary art, although the Machines de L'Île is a hard act to follow.

Rolf Julius, "Air" wraps a building in perforated strips, plays quiet plinking noises for you if you stand under the eaves.

Van Lieshout, "The Absence," outside the School of Architecture, is a sculpture, a bar and perhaps a commentary on modern architecture.

Fabrice Hyber's "L'Île Flottant" is new for this season of Estuary art. It's a group of small boats growing trees, moored in a canal.


Across from L'Île Flottant, someone has created a series of figures using plastic packing tape built up on old iron bollards.



We took the tram downtown for tea at La Cigale (we'll let its own website show you how cool it is). But while waiting for the return tram we noticed something going on in a skinny alley between two buildings.

We presume this is art-related?

If not, somebody's got a big mess to clean up.

And that, as they say, is a wrap. Gotta go pack.

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