When Joseph Campbell, the author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces presented his view on the comparison of Prometheus and Jesus in the often-cited and highly publicized interview with Bill Moyers on Public Television, he could as easily have been talking about science and the visual arts.
To many, science embodies the rational and analytical end of human experience, while art comes from the empathic and expressive. Science can prove truths to us, while art can only make us feel them.
These differences are compounded as science becomes responsible for the official narrative of our lives, through medicine and genetics, while contemporary art retains a mystical 'outsider' status, in its intellectual obscurity. Nevertheless, where science meets art and the two work together, the result can be extraordinarily productive, as horizons are broadened and gaps in our understanding of both are filled.
In the 20th century, science has revolutionized art’s means of production, from the introduction of fast-drying polymer-based acrylic paints in the 1960s to the ubiquity of computer-based image generation today. Science has also offered us a key to some of the traditional mysteries of artistic practice. For example, R.C. Miall and Dr John Tchalenko's 'painter's eye' project attempted to demystify the way in which a painter transfers the image of a model to paper by tracking eye and hand movements to discover the length of an artist’s visual memory: the time during which he or she can maintain the image in the mind as it is transferred to paper or canvas.
Science and art both rely on observation and synthesis: taking what is seen and creating something new from it. Our society could hardly exist without either, but when they come together our culture is enriched, sometimes in unexpected ways.
Approaching the artist Marie Luce Nadal's work is to accept uncertainties, to summon so-called antinomic notions, to get lost in the encounter of territories and finally to realize that there is nothing arbitrary in this entanglement of knowledge.
Her training reveals her interest in the mixing of genres, from her studies in architecture to her training at the Arts Décoratifs de Paris, to her thesis carried out in collaboration with the PMMH Laboratory (Physique et Mécanique des Milieux Hétérogènes) in Paris.
Her work comes naturally from this alliance between science and art, an alliance that has little to do with those maintained by Renaissance artists, namely a common desire to get as close as possible to reality. Marie-Luce Nadal highlights the different forms that artistic and scientific research can take, whether in the systematic experimentation of materials, techniques, the formulation of ideas or the manufacturing process.
However, and above all, it is through the place given to the imagination that she weaves her strongest link between her fields of research. This imagination can sometimes lead to madness when it comes to quantifying, capturing, materializing what escapes us and exceeds us.
Eolorium was developed during a year of immersion in a Laboratory of Physics and Fluid Mechanics where she attended numerous seminars. During the latter, she lets her mind wander to the sound of the words she hears. From this raw, impalpable material, she will make a recording of it in the form of geological strata.
Printed in 3D and enclosed in an aquarium, the graphics have given way to a shaky territory, between sky and earth, between shadow and light. This uncertain territory, protected by glass plates, then becomes a sacred relic whose access is both open to us and refused because of the transparency of the material that forms the rampart. This aquarium motif reappears in her room La fabrique du vaporeux, a kind of Promethean machine capable of creating cloud extracts.
To make this possible, Marie-Luce captures cloud particles and electrical storm residues and reduces them into extracts so that they can be reproduced at will.
La Fabrique du vaporeux, Palais de Tokyo © Marie-Luce Nadal
In these terms, Deus Ex Machina could reflect our relationship to nature. Between spectacular scientific advances, an unprecedented ecological crisis and a neo-colonialism that extends to all natural resources this capture of an eminently natural movement reveals the ambiguous attachment we have with it - either as a parameter of social evolution or as a parody of the divine power.
And it is undoubtedly from this ambivalence that Marie-Luce Nadal's work draws its strength. The capacity to highlight this fundamentally human will to control and subordinate our environment and at the same time this fascination for its resistance and indocility towards us.