“I had just witnessed a new cosmogony. My companions had become stars. I dreamed of doing the same. My body wanted to become sidereal.” Auctus Animalis, the story of the discovery of a hybrid world, tells us the epic of Captain Levant who went to meet fantastic creatures living on a mysterious island in the middle of the Pacific. A black-hole cat, a time-charmer snake, a ghostly whale, a celestial deer, a starry panther… Here is a curious cosmic Noah’s ark imagined by the photographer Vincent Fournier and animated by the composer Sébastien Gaxie.
The two artists won the Swisslife 4 Hands Award, which, since 2014, has recognized projects that bring together two forms of artistic expression that are too rarely seen in tandem, such as photography and music. In addition, the text of a Jules Vernesque narrative, written by Sébastien Gaxie and illustrated by graphic designer Elie Colistro, breathes a soul into these hybrid animals.
Between photography and 3D modeling
There is no doubt the creatures, born in the imagination of Vincent Fournier and conjured up through photography and 3D modeling, are marvelous and fascinating. “This work prolongs my series Post Natural History, a cabinet of curiosity which we took much further for the Swisslife Award,” says the photographer who had invented an encyclopedia of future species.
The future and science fiction have been a part of Vincent Fournier’s work since the beginning, whether with his project on space stations or the cosmic architecture of the former USSR. “My inspiration comes a lot from childhood: I draw on the nostalgia for 1980s’ futures, like the series Cosmos 1989, the first Blade Runner, works by comic book authors such as Enki Bilal or Moebius or writers like Ariel Kyrou and Alain Damasio,” said the photographer. He went on to quote a passage from the 1947 story “The Immortal” by the Argentinian Jorge Luis Borges who has a special place in his source library: “We accept reality so readily—perhaps because we sense that nothing is real.”
But what is the recipe for the creation of these Auctus Animalis? “I photograph existing species and then look for transformations,” Fournier explains. This ranges from slight modification to full 3D modeling. “However, with these tools, you also have to set yourself some boundaries.” The digital transformations are subtle enough that these animals seem almost real to us.
To obtain this animal cosmogony, Vincent Fournier scoured the Natural History Museum in Paris photographing various species. The scenography of the exhibition pays homage to the museum, by using the typical frames and gold labels identifying each animal.
When music brings photography to life
Photography captures a moment, freezes it. But in here, the animals seem to step out of the frame. Thanks to the music, they come to life. The composer Sébastien Gaxie has created a score for each animal, including the roar of the panther, the elephant’s trumpeting, or the pulsed call of the whale (thanks to the Museum’s sound library).
In the exhibition, presented at the Clémentine de la Féronnière Gallery in Paris, a loudspeaker is placed above each photograph, the sound travels, and the game begins of trying to find the species that corresponds to the music. “When you are in front of the animal, it is incarnated through music. It’s as if it came to life in a fantastic way. With the sound, you have the impression that it is alive, the image is no longer fixed, another entity takes shape,” says Vincent Fournier.
These animals, animated by violins or the piano, bring to mind Sergei Prokoviev’s Peter and the Wolf. Some will find here a touch of The Little Prince, others a dash of Lewis Carroll. The brave Captain Levant—embodied by the voice of the actor Denis Lavant—and the constellation of creatures plunge young and mature audiences into a wonderfully imagined visual and sound universe.
Eschewing moralization, by means image and sound Auctus Animalis sends a message of the preservation of biodiversity through wonder and emotion. Nature is majestic like the celestial deer with crystal antlers, imposing like the ghost whale with its particles of cosmic energy, and musical like the tempestuous bird with its notes of celestial power… It is fabulous, fragile, and vital.
Auctus Animalis: Récit de la découverte d’un monde hybride, Editions Filigranes, CD + 36 photographs and illustrations in color and black and white, 64 pages, 35£. Exhibition until September 24, the Clémentine de la Féronnière Gallery, Paris. November 10 to 13, 2022 at the salon approche, Paris. Then in Nantes, Metz, Arles, Marseille in 2023.