Alan N. Shapiro, Visiting Professor in Transdisciplinary Design, Folkwang University of the Arts, Essen, Germany

Blog and project archive about transdisciplinary design, media theory and creative coding

Etienne de France, “Tales of a Sea Cow” — Exhibition at Parco Arte Vivente, Torino, Italy

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Etienne de France
Tales of a Sea Cow
Curated by Annick Burreaud
Opening: March 29 at 6.30 pm

March 30th – June 24th 2012

Parco Arte Vivente
Via Giordano Bruno, 31
10134 Torino
T/F +39 011 3182235

March 30th – June 24th 2012

Copyright © 2012, Etienne De France

In a finis terrae like scenery – rarefied, cold and blurring – it takes place the story of a scientific team engaged in a field research across the seas of Island and Greenland, in order to prove (at least in the form of sound recordings) the survival of some specimens of the long-lost Steller’s Rhytine.  Science or science fiction?

Chronicle of an adventure as well as a methodological exercise, the multimedia project by Etienne De France (Paris, 1984, he  lives in Paris and Reykjavik) blurs reality and fiction, retracing and reshaping the traces of a world both virtual and potential, a plausible Elsewhere which is both mirror and metaphor of the Real.

Inner focus: March 28th, 5 pm, Accademia Albertina delle Belle Arti, via Accademia Albertina 6,


The lecture by Etienne De France, curated by Claudio Cravero, is a special date within the course by Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea e Accademia Albertina. Hosting professors and speakers: Massimo Melotti (Ethics of communication) and Maria Teresa Roberto (Phenomenology of contemporary arts).

Press conference: March 29th, 11 am, PAV – Parco Arte Vivente, Torino

Opening: March 29th, 6.30 pm, PAV – Parco Arte Vivente, Torino

Copyright © 2012, Etienne De France -- the interactive installation Stellar, for the visual decoding of underwater sounds and animal’s songs.

The multimedia project by Etienne De France (Paris, 1984, he lives in Paris and Reykjavik) is the result of intense work on biodiversity using as tools his imagination: a voyage towards a geographical and mental finis terrae.

Tales of a Sea Cow revolves around Steller’s rhytine, a marine mammal first seen in 1741 in the waters of the Bering Sea between Siberia and Alaska, and declared extinct within a few decades. The exhibition offers a bitter metaphor for the speed and voracity with which man tends to appropriate the environment.

© Copyright 2012, Etienne de France -- shooting during the video footage of Tales of a Sea Cow

Collaborating with paleo-zoologists and biologists, the artist retraces every tiny detail concerning the existence of Steller’s rhytine and reconstructs its world – its habitat, the routes it used to follow, its behavioural patterns – trying to fill the void created by the animal’s extinction. Exploiting the latest scientific methods and techniques, De France imagines and follows a team of experts engaged in checking reports of some unexpected sightings, looking for confirmation, at least in the form of sound recordings, to prove the survival of some specimens of the long-lost Sirenian.

The result is a blend of science and fiction, a return to the atmosphere beloved of Jules Verne, in which elements of the real are interwoven with the dimension of the possible, perhaps with that of dreams. Thus Tales of a Sea Cow, as the fact that the title is in the plural shows, is a series of many images, a story that is open to many interpretations, that has been constructed by combining many different sources and materials.

The exhibition at PAV weaves its way through the many stories of the sea cow, like so many chapters in a novel: first introducing a character and his or her world, then telling of their ups and downs, encounters and destiny. Thus, by taking an approach typical of a museum of natural history, we discover hydrophones, plastic models, plaster casts of fossils, maps, articles and drawings that illustrate and comment on the search for the rhytine, until we reach the heart of the exhibition, in the project room. Here, the feature film Tales of a Sea Cow accompanies the visitor on the track of the long-lost animal, finally decoding its song through the interactive device Stellar, made available for public use in the PAV greenhouse. The sound archive of the vocal production of the marine mammal, recorded by biologists Thorarinn Mar Baldursson and Jena Torgessik in the waters of Greenland, rings out in the PAV courtyard as a moving chorus of echoes.

© Copyright 2012, Etienne de France -- one of the scientific researcher showing a Sea Cow Vibrissa

In this context, the real and the imaginary, true and false, become categories that are superfluous to understand the tension running through the complex relationship between man and the environment, a relation that is physical but also mental, in which the act of destruction and its denial coexist.

This magic box, this kaleidoscope of one story within the next, holds one final surprise: a parallel story. This is an inclusive narrative thread that comprises, on one hand, a sound guide interpreted by the voice of actress Gisella Bein, and on the other hand, for the blind and partially-sighted public, tactile maps and concrete objects to touch and experiment with, designed by Stefano Lattanzio, as part of the Turin Polytechnic Industrial and Architectural Design Course.

Within the framework of PAV Educational and Teaching Activities, curated by Orietta Brombin, Tales of a Sea Cow becomes the starting point for the workshop Gulliver’s Travel, dedicated to exploring in depth the theme of otherness through the curious eyes of the traveller of the eighteenth-century literary genre.

In the area of education for young artists and adults in general, on Saturday June 2nd the theme will be taken up again by Piero Gilardi in a public workshop entitled Noi come animali (Us as animals).

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