Let's ask ourselves, by way of introduction, how a visual artist can pay tribute to nature and the cosmos.
The first answer that comes to mind is this one: by representing its splendors. It is not surprising that the fascination of painters, photographers and other video artists for nature and its wonders has produced painted or filmed images that are more attractive than the others, from still life to animal or landscape painting or photography.
Let's ask ourselves now how a visual artist can pay homage to nature and this time, concerning this one, to all that escapes the visible, the palpable and the tangible. How to celebrate the microscopic life? How to give a plastic consistency to the black holes, to the universal gravitation, to the infinite dimension of the space? Otherwise difficult, one will agree. It is there that intervenes Laurent Mulot, artist "geopoetic" promoter of a poetry, stricto sensu, of the Earth and, well beyond this last, of the cosmic universe.
My world is the cosmos and not less
Aganta Kairos is part of the generic project Middle of Nowhere, a federation, of planetary expansion, of "ghost art centers" initiated in Cook, Australia, in 2003, by Laurent Mulot. Of the various creations of this artist from Lyon, born in Le Havre, it is the one that best summarizes his "geopoetic" concern. In short, an art of celebrations out of the ordinary, out of scale and out of the frame.
Let's explain, to begin with, this title, at first enigmatic, "Aganta Kairos" - that of a creation "in progress" undertaken by the artist in 2012 and continued since then. Aganta Kairos? The word Aganta, in Provençal, means "to catch", "to chase", "to seize". "From the old Provençal seynois (la Seyne-sur-Mer), initially a fishing term," says the artist. As for "Kairos", this Greek word refers to the "opportune moment": the pulsating, non-programmable time of the event; this specific temporal fragment where something happens. Laurent Mulot, again: "The Kairos, it is a window which opens in Chronos, a space-time to seize..." Aganta Kairos ? Seize the opportunity.
To catch something, and catch it at the right time, at the right moment. But what is it about "catching", about "hunting"? What is it that we need to "grab" at the right moment? The object of the quest - of the hunt, of the seizure - is here, to say the least, singular, and unknown to most of us: the neutrino. What is the neutrino? This elementary particle, physics tells us, is found in abundance in the universe. It is almost undetectable, at least at low cost. Its characteristics, it is true, are astonishing: ultralight, it moves at the speed of light and has such a low mass that it can cross all the bodies in the world without altering their nature. This incredible and elusive lightning, in the Universe, is found in abundance. Born from solar radiation or nuclear activity, it also emanates from the first moments of creation, those of the original expansion of matter. Absolutely contemporary by its deployment, absolutely ancient by its origin.
Candide, at this stage of the presentation, asks these two questions: 1, how do we catch neutrinos, 2, why do we catch them and what is the interest of this "gathering", as physicists frequently say? The neutrino, more than a million times lighter than electrons, cannot be "caught", at most it can be spotted. Its passage - through us, through the Earth, through the infinite space - is so fast and indiscernible that we will just try to manifest it - by a color effect, for the occasion, a furtive emission of blue. In which way? The means deployed are diverse but complex and constitute as many particle traps. The ANTARES experiment and its successor KM3NeT, are neutrino spheres, looking like disco balls, equipped with electromagnetic sensors, are buried deep under the Mediterranean Sea (the particle must be surrounded by water to be detectable). The goal is described by the specialists as follows:
"...To open a new window on our Universe, but also to contribute to the search for the properties of elusive neutrino particles. With the ARCA telescope, KM3NeT scientists will search for neutrinos from distant astrophysical sources such as supernovae, gamma-ray bursts or colliding stars..."
It is also a possible way to understand the asymmetry between matter and anti-matter in the universe, a research also underway on the Kamiokande experiments in Japan and ICE Cube in Antarctica.
Making the (almost) invisible exist
Laurent Mulot's objective with Aganta Kairos: to give to see what is not seen or almost not, or never easily and at low cost. In other words, to inscribe in a "form" that which escapes the form. To make the portrait of the neutrino, alone or in a group, is obviously not on the agenda. We can certainly draw a "portrait" of the Sun setting on the horizon, of a waterfall splashing down a cliff, or of a comet hurtling through space. To "portrait" an elementary particle, on the other hand, is impossible. The neutrino, by its constitution and its material characteristics, escapes representation, any representation.
Aganta Kairos - let us now look at the work, its physical reality - is in no way a direct evocation, a "portrait" of the neutrino. To celebrate this particle evoking our distant origins and, through it, the extraordinary vitality of the Universe, Laurent Mulot chooses to focus first on places, sites related to the neutrino. These sites, all of them, are known to have been the place of recordings of neutrino passages or, within the framework of scientific experiments, to be capture sites. Located in contact with oceanic areas in the Mediterranean (La Seyne-sur-Mer), in the Indian Ocean (Madagascar), in the Arctic (Greenland), in the Pacific (New Zealand), in Eastern Asia (Lake Baikal, which is an ocean in formation) and up to the heart of the Antarctic Ocean, these different stations - six in all for the moment - without any a priori link, are united for the occasion by the same curiosity that is manifested for the constitution of the Universe, and its most secret and astounding mechanisms of functioning. The work was initiated in 2012 with the first celebration of the passage of the ghost particle in Madagascar, among the Mahafaly, in the village of Effeotsy (the "navel"). "To a neutrino entering Madagascar at the edge of the Indian Ocean," says the artist, "it takes only a fraction of a second to reach the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea or the bottom of Lake Baikal. Aganta Kairos weaves together six points on our Earth.
To define a geography is one thing, to materialize a particular link to the neutrino in each of the places of this geography is another. How does Laurent Mulot proceed? The six terrestrial places of Aganta Kairos in connection with the neutrino are not only simple points on a planisphere. Visited patiently by the artist who takes photographs, multiplies encounters and collects various elements (optical spheres of detection of neutrinos in La Seyne-sur-Mer, for example, that he proposes to the residents of this city to keep at home, by "adopting" them, according to his terms), the chosen sites also become "elected" sites. How is this election instituted? Once on site, the artist chooses a great witness, a personality known to invest locally in the quest for the particle. A physicist, the commander of a research ship, a shaman, a close resident... constitute the battalion of these witnesses. The function of each of these actors could be only transient and fortuitous. However, it acquires an official density with the installation of a plaque (written in the language of the country and in English) mentioning the name of each witness plus a deputy and the reason for his inscription in the order of this Hall of Fame, which is special to say the least: the devotion to a better knowledge of our environment, a strong link to it.
Physics as human
To make of the neutrino, of an elementary particle among the most elementary that the Universe produces, an object of art, a subject of art is not trivial. This is an artistic novelty. What is the interest of this option, of this requisition? Multiple answers can be given: to show us an unseen, to open our imagination, to see developing a very singular project art-science... We will insist however on this point, which also defines the vocation of this work: to push back the very limits of the art.
Rather than kicking aside, rather than "forgetting" reality (the neutrino, even if it escapes the ordinary perception, is an element of reality), Laurent Mulot launches with Aganta Kairos a bet that Marcel Duchamp, the creator of the readymades, defined in his time as pertaining to the "infra-thin". One remembers the Stoppages-étalon that Duchamp realized from 1913. On three occasions, the father of the Rotoreliefs, who was fascinated by the staging of movement (Grand nu descendant l'escalier) and kineticism (his sculpture entitled Rotative), dropped a wire of the same length from a height of one meter before collecting its shape on the ground. The Stoppages-étalon are similar to imprints, these imprints capture both the effects of chance and physical data relating to the laws of gravity. How does a thread fall, can the same thread fall three times in the same way? Plastic staging of a physical process.
Not to "forget" the real, it is still what Aganta Kairos testifies on a mode, this time, social. Laurent Mulot, with this creation, makes more than to develop a physical reality usually badly discernible. He puts in scene, also, actors, a companionship: the art such as he conceives it is quite except a solitary procedure, it is an occasion of meetings, exchanges, reciprocities, interpersonal relaunchings. The artist explains himself thus, in a quotation that we will deliver in extenso, because of the most explicit: "Aganta Kairos is a performance, an art of the poetic meeting, the celebration of the passage of the particle with witnesses of the invisible, accomplices and actors of the work, on these six places, which become de facto producers and guardians of this one, all linked between them in these various points by the celestial and terrestrial passage of this neutrino that the scientists consider as a cosmic messenger. All the photos, sculptures, installations and other videos produced are the traces of this performance and these meetings, of this geopoetic gesture. With the neutrino, there is nothing to see or hear. Yet I gather people around it, in concert with my commemorative plaques." A gathering of individuals sometimes far apart from each other by their own "knowledge" of the world, as far apart as a rationalist researcher and a shaman who believes in spirits can be, two creatures however of humanity, two living beings populating the Universe in equal measure.
To perceive differently and more vividly
To understand Aganta Kairos requires of us, spectators of this astonishing work, a mental gesture not necessarily easy to accomplish: to have to forget the classical artistic methods of representation, to have to leave the framework of conventional art. What is true for what characterizes this creation in itself is also true for the way in which the artist exhibits it and presents it to us. In the register of the exhibition, Aganta Kairos, a participative work, unfolds in ways that can be disconcerting. How does the artist make his creation public? One has there under the eyes, in the space of the art gallery, photographs of places and ceremonies of enthronement, one is also confronted with objects, scientific or not, whose obvie sense is not always immediate: a container, so, evokes the residence of an engineer versed in the shamanism living ten months a year along the lake Baikal and in charge of the scientific experiment Baikal Telescop. Aganta Kairos, still, can be offered to the public under the species of a play whose actors can be scientists and astrophysicists...
Such a creation, in fact, must be perceived as the equivalent of a notebook of exploration of the world whose pages let see a process of discovery, acclimatization and restitution. The artist, in the Universe, walks an unsatisfied identity, eager to give an account of all that makes the exceptional quality of the cosmos, starting with what the Universe does not give us to see and keeps for him, in jealous power. Once the Aganta Kairos project is arranged, once it is embodied, this dissatisfaction will be less great for the artist and for us, spectators, less considerable our ignorance of the physical reality which surrounds us. Here, we have access to the music of the spheres, to the manufacturing secrets of the hidden world of the invisible, and we also share, with the artist, all that "manufacture of the world" which escapes us most of the time and to which our daily life hardly gives us the opportunity to access. Aganta Kairos ? What to make us a little closer to the Great Whole, what to raise us, also, to the measure of the cosmic excess, passengers of the Universe that we are.
Paul Ardenne is a writer and art historian. He is notably the author of the reference work "An ecological art". Plastic creation and anthropocene,
"The Waterfront", 2018, reed. augm. 2019).