Jean-Yves Piffard makes ephemeral works of art which are formed from and within nature. He offers an insight into his creative process.
December 2007. I am on the Carnac site in Brittany, France. The Atlantic ocean is stirred up, and all around me the sand that lies uncovered by the outgoing tide is wrinkled and spreads out before me like a virgin desert, untouched by human steps. On the shoreline, algae form a red and brown carpet. Their upper layer is dry and covered up in places by sand that has been whipped about by the wind. Under this sandy crust the algae stay humid and sparkly in the winter sun. I plunge my hands in this strange and disturbing mass. The strong iodine smell mixes with the powerful smell of decomposition. The viscous and slimy surface may be off-putting at first touch; but the desire to take up and grasp this organic mass is overwhelming.
Each thing that exists invites creation: an untouched beach looking like Saharan dunes, the ocean which has spent an hour slowly encroaching the shore, the huge algae carpet and a sublime seafront pine forest as the backdrop which completes the picture.
It occurs to me to form an enormous spiral of algae and observe how the ocean will transform it with the flux and reflux of its waves.
In my backpack I always have huge bags at hand, so that I am able to transport what nature offers: snow, wood, stone, sand and this time algae. I begin by identifying the spot where I will lay out the algae. I dance my feet across the sand, tracing an outline to sketch the spiral. Then, bag by bag, I transport and deposit the algae to form a cord 50cm long and 30cm thick. The shoreline is 50m away; the algae are heavy, transporting them is tiring. The spiral gradually takes form while the ocean inexorably pursues its return. I need to hurry if I do not want to get caught up by the tides before I have finished.
At this point the second phase in my creation process begins: taking pictures of the scene. I work with a digital camera which I set up on a tripod. Through the screen I look at the spiral with a different eye; I am looking for angles and optimal light. I enjoy collecting the pictures; it is a gift from the universe that I can share with people. The ocean is here, my feet are getting wet and I am watching how the little waves gently lift up the curves of my algae spiral. The tide has arrived, my spiral has fallen apart and been swallowed up by the sea. The ocean has claimed its rights, it has accomplished its cycle, there is nothing left of my work.
For more than 10 years I have created works of art in nature: they melt away in the sun, they collapse, they blow away with the wind. Out of everything I have done, nothing remains. It is an ephemeral art, an art of the moment. When I create I am mostly by myself. I like being on my own to be in touch with nature. Photography is there to act as a witness to what is no more; it enables me to keep a trace of the creation. By exhibiting my pictures and via my website I maintain a connection to humanity, which I see as the principal meaning to my art: symbolic and emotional communication.
Our materialist and scientific world has completely separated us from nature. We use it as decor for recreation, we shamelessly exploit it for our industrial needs, and we destroy it for alimentary mass-production. Everyone knows this, and it cannot be ignored any longer. Every passing day marks a new ecologic disaster, a new catastrophe and moving closer to a point of no return.
By choosing to create with and within nature only, I wish, in a modest way, to get back in touch with this world, which nourishes me and enchants my soul. The miracle of nature is always there, it is omnipresent. We have been blinded by our consumerist habits and have developed a virtual view of the world. We voyage around the world whilst nailed to our TV or the screens of our phones.
I am aware that my pictures are also virtual by nature. I want them to help us to recover a connection and to return to our primary identity: the sacred dimension when man was connected to nature.
35,000 years ago in the Chauvet cave in Southern France Ardeche, humans proved the existence of this bond with nature by drawing the world's oldest images on the walls with charcoal and clay.
With my practice of land art, I do not wish to follow artistic or fashionable trends. I practice my art with the awareness that everything which surrounds me is sacred and that we too are sacred. Creating within nature means exploring a spiritual dimension that can’t be compared with the religions we know. We form a whole entity, and nature is entirely integrated within us. We eat and digest it, and it passes through our body in order to become immersed in our being, our soul and force of life.
My creative approach within nature makes me think differently about what I eat, drink or breathe and about the people around me. When I dive nude into it, having shaken off all the material gimmicks that clutter up my mind, only then do I take notice of its beauty, the beauty of which I am a part of. We are the reflection of the nature that we have transformed. When the earth, water and air have been polluted and sacrificed in the name of a money-driven world, we ourselves are polluted and ill and we are sacrificing future generations.
The earth is a living piece of art, let's take care of it!
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.