by Dilpreet BhullarFeb 19, 2023
The plant cactus is synonymous with arid lands, its appearance with thorns and spikes is relatable to an experience that is nothing short of pain and sharpness. This makes it difficult to envision it as a potential material for a sprawling art installation. On the flip side, finding a cactus amidst a desert descents a sense of reassurance that nature incessantly thrives in the harshest conditions. To see spikes as a layer of protection reinforces its adaptive qualities to conserve water. Undeniably, it is the functional attribute that renders the cactus resilient and attentive to its surroundings. The French architect-turned-artist, Cyril Lancelin, has turned to the constructive aspect of the plant that is otherwise shunned away to the corner.
Lancelin’s large scale on-site installations are often built on the repetition of an element. He uses a lot of primitive geometric shapes, but also some more figurative elements like flamingos or watermelons. In an interview with STIR, Lancelin, the founder of the creative studio called town.and.concrete, talks about his interest to use cactus as a starting point to create a series of installations. “I wanted to work on the theme of nature and the artificial landscape. Cacti are one of the best-reproduced plants, it fascinates me, we do not know if they are true or sometimes false. This ties in with a major theme of my work on the real or the unreal. Some of my images are real installations that I have built, others are 3D images that maybe one day will become real. In the case of these cactus works, they are for the moment images, but I am working on the prototype, one of the sculptures will be exhibited soon in China. I found it relevant to add complexity to this research, using an artificial element representing a real element,” he says.
If one follows the creative practice of the artist, it is not difficult to gauge the patterns of symmetry in his installations. The assembly of the installations conjures the “world of multiplied and shared data”. To achieve a collective order of things, the act to maintain balance is a must. The harmony between disarrayed elements of nature necessitates the essential play of adaptation. In a similar vein, the cactus as a metaphor of survival in dire circumstances also hints at the flaws of stagnation. Once familiar with these salient features of the cactus, it allows a change of perspective towards its physical appearance. Visually representing these thoughts is the installation, Inverted Cactus.
Lancelin elaborates on the work Inverted Cactus, which is based on an inverted pyramid, “It is not visible, but the cacti are clinging to it. The pyramid ends close to the ground but leaves enough room for an individual to stand just below, so as to be immersive at one point. I wanted to go beyond just the tension of a hanging inverted pyramid. The cacti put upside down reinforces this tension on the balance of the work. It gives a scale as well, but also adds the dramatic side with the fear of the cactus. The cactus is also a fascinating plant. I did another work on the theme of the cactus, Cactus Sphere, which is a cactus made up of spheres in two versions. One is physical and real, and the other one was an augmented reality filter developed for Algo:ritmi festival in Torino.”
Immersive experience around the works by the visual artist Lancelin is crucial to fully understand it. This series is no different. The public can just go under "inverted cactus" or enter the two other works: Pyramid Cactus and House Cactus. For the artist, the audience is not an outsider to the work, it is a key part of the work. Lancelin adds, “In the images that I have published of the works, the characters are essential. In the installation that will be installed, the photographs that will be taken will certainly feature the public. I like this dialogue between the immersive work and the public. I work out this confrontation between the human scale and the artificial landscape created by the artworks.”
For the artist, “On the prototypes, everyone carefully touches the artwork to see if the cacti are real or not. I imagine that people who see the photos will ask themselves the same questions.” Besides the physical reality of the installations work, the artist is cognizant of the fact that the world of tomorrow will be much more virtual. Taking into account that the big data, filters, augmented reality have already invaded our daily life, Lancelin rightly states, “We are in a transition to a world more divided between the real and the unreal. I bring together the register of natural and artificial.”