Frac Grand Large is presenting Nicolas Floc’h’s first exhibition devoted to his project The Colour of Water, of which it acquired the work Productive Landscapes: The colour of water, columns of water in 2021, Baie de Somme – English Channel, -1 to – 30 metres.
This photographer of undersea landscapes sets out to “make the invisible visible” – capturing the colour of the water in the Baie de Somme, in the sea and along rivers – and thus help to study threatened ecosystems. “The immersive, seemingly abstract pictorial aspect of the marine environment makes it a complex space for exploring colour, light and the living organisms it comprises.”
Photographer, sculptor, researcher, teacher, diver: Nicolas Floc’h is interested in the workings of our productive economy and the resultant social and environmental change. In an art practice driven by scientific research and collaborative projects, he tests the canonical forms of the monochrome and the ready-made via observation of our representational blind spots.
For him the underwater environment is a special field of exploration, creation and mediation, revealing the impact of global warming and human activity on ecosystems. The artist first became interested in artificial architectural modules that make it possible to restore degraded biotopes or optimise fisheries without overexploiting them. Between 2010 and 2015, he demonstrated the concretising of the seabed in a photographic process that renewed the landscape genre, and exhibited scaled-down sculptures of these habitats, like “reverse ruins” propitious to colonization by fauna and flora.
In 2016 in Wimereux, on France’s north coast, Floc’h met Hubert Loisel of the University of the Opal Coast Shoreline (ULCO) and Fabrice Lizon of the Laboratory of Oceanology and Earth Sciences (LOG); encounters that led him to develop a new line of research into the colour of water, in collaboration with the Artconnexion art centre in Lille. Floc’h had already produced an underwater photographic “monochrome” in 2004, but since 2016 he has been criss-crossing the seas to photographically collect colours, and has been in dialogue with the scientific teams. The outcome has been a precise protocol that allows him to take the water equivalent of core samples on land.
In 2021, with the scientific teams from Wimereux, he mapped the sea between the Bay of the Somme and the North Sea. The artist dived to take photos at different depths while Fabrice Lizon measured the spectrum of light in the water column and Hubert Loisel analysed the satellite readings. The level of turbidity, determined by optically significant elements, modifies the arrival of light and influences the colours of the water column. For the artist, “Turbidity would be to the underwater landscape what the horizon is to the terrestrial landscape: its vanishing point on the way to monochrome.”
Nicolas Floc’h understands the water mass as a pictorial, sensitive and immersive space, but also as a fabulous ecological regulator, full of phytoplankton that contributes to the exchange of gases between air and sea. “Science allows us to refine this understanding of colour, which is not only pictorial, formal or plastic. It is a visually abstract but fundamentally concrete image, a synthesis and, in a way, an illustration of major issues of our society and the history of living systems.”
Presented in a grid, the sixty photographic surveys of the northern coastline in a grid, change from brown to green, adopting amber, orange, khaki, absinthe or emerald hues along the way: astonishing variations which owe much to the currents of the estuary, when the fresh water of the river turns brackish. Here we are at a far remove from the gradations of Mediterranean blues explored in another series online. The everyday conception of the colours of water is thus enriched by the different monochromes from the seas, rivers and oceans of the world, and their interaction in the exhibition. A surprising and variegated visual universe, whose nuances the artist is striving to capture: warm colours linked to sediments, dissolved organic and inorganic matter, residues and tints ranging from blue to green determined by the density of phytoplankton.
Phytoplankton are all single-celled organisms – photosynthetic bacteria and microalgae – present in surface waters. Their sedimentation over millions of years has contributed to the formation of both oil and limestone, including the famous Hainaut bluestone. Using 3D modelling techniques, Nicolas Floc’h has had enlargements of diatoms made out of this bluestone, allowing us to appreciate the variety of their shapes. The exhibition at the Frac Grand Large thus brings together, for the first time, different aspects of an ongoing research project that links the land and the sea, the better to translate the invisible forces flowing through us.
The exhibition The Colour of Water is produced in association with artconnexion in Lille, which has been working with Nicolas Floc’h and the scientists of Wimereux since 2014, and with the backing of the Daniel and Nina Carasso Foundation, the Florent Maubert Gallery (Paris), the Urban Community of Dunkirk/Grand Littoral, the Artois-Picardy Water Agency, the Dunkirk Water Committee as part of the 2021-2022 “Water” season, and the Halle aux sucres Lieu vivant pour la Ville Durable. This exhibition is part of Utopia, the 6th thematic edition of the Lille3000 cultural festival, and of the project The Sea around Us, together with an exhibition at the Espace Le Carré, the Lille municipal contemporary art centre (12 May to 17 July 2022) and at artconnexion (Lille, 3 May to 17 July 2022).
On 6 May 2022, the Frac Grand Large will host the colloquium The Colour of Water, co-organised with Artconnexion in partnership with the Centre for Contemporary Art Studies (CEAC) at the University of Lille. Bringing together researchers from the University of the Opal Coast Shoreline (ULCO), Fabrice Lizon of the Laboratory of Oceanology and Earth Sciences (LOG), curators and art critics, the colloquium will shed new light on Nicolas Floc’h’s body of work and explore colour from an artistic and scientific point of view, and the underlying issues of water as an ecological regulator.
Nicolas Floc’h was born in 1970 in Rennes. He lives in Paris and teaches at the EESAB European Art School’s Rennes site.
His installations, photographs, films, sculptures and performances raise the issue of an era of transition in which flux, disappearance and regeneration play an essential role. Long-term projects fuelled by experiments, scientific research and personal encounters generate works that are at once open-ended and firmly anchored in reality, but in which evolutionary processes take pride of place. In 2022, Nicolas Floc’h will be resident at the Villa Albertine in the United States, where he will complete his project The Colour of Water.
Nicolas Floc’h’s works have been part of the Frac Grand Large – Hauts-de-France collection since 2002 and have been regularly exhibited in France and abroad, notably at the SMAK, Ghent; Centre Pompidou, Paris; MAC/VAL, Vitry-sur-Seine; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; Fondation Carmignac, Porquerolles; MAMM, Moscow; Setouchi Triennial, Japan; Kyocera Museum, Kyoto, Japan; MALI, Lima, Peru; Matucana 100, Santiago, Chile.
 All the quotations come from Nicolas Floc’h.
 This work was shown at the Frac Grand Large exhibition UN AUTRE MONDE///DANS NOTRE MONDE (Another World///In Our World), curated by Jean-François Sanz, 9 September 2020 – 14 mars 2021.
02.04.2022 — 04.09.2022