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Culmination of a large scale project by light artist Yann Kersalé on view in Paris
Verticale allongée © Espace Fondation EDF © photos - Laurent Lecat.

PARIS.- Yann Kersalé is an artist who uses light as others use clay or paint. For thirty years, he has been experimenting with new light forms and has created his own “light material”, allowing for a new reading of architecture and urban and natural landscapes. For Yann Kersalé, night is a “black material/substance” that enables him to uncover a powerful palette of whites and greys, forms, hollows and bumps, shadow and light.

The EDF Foundation has taken a particular interest in the work of Yann Kersalé and has supported him for the past seventeen years. The Foundation devoted a first exhibition to the artist in the Foundation Cultural Centre in 1994. The Foundation also supported him for projects such as the Cahors Spring Festival in 1996, the “illumination” of the Saint‐Denis Basilica in 1999, as well as the garden of the Quai Branly Museum in 2005.

The exhibition opened by the EDF Foundation Cultural Centre on view through 4 March 2012 is the culmination of a large scale project carried out in seven different venues in Brittany in the summer of 2011: le Chaos du Diable (The Devil’s Chaos) in Huelgoat, the rows of megaliths in Carnac, the telecommunications radar at Pleumeur‐Bodou, Océanopolis Aquarium in Brest, the Sillon noir in Pleubian, the Île Vierge lighthouse in Plouguerneau and La Courrouze urban regeneration zone in Rennes.

The artist has known these places all his life. He invests them with a particular resonance or meaning and views them as places with stories to tell. Born in Brittany, he visits them as a child and once he graduates from the Quimper School of Fine Arts, he begins to imagine them transformed by his own handiwork.

Yann Kersalé allows his initial project to mature and grow over time. After finding his own means of expression in the 1970s, he decides to use light as a way of making these special places speak. “Light can speak, narrate, evoke, it has a role to play in transmitting internal energy”. In other words, Kersalé wants to give a voice to the natural monuments and architectural constructions that come across his path.

Building on his first “light expeditions”; from the radio telescope in Puerto Rico to the Pointe de la Torche peninsula and from Cape Canaveral to Maupiti on the Tahitian coast, Kersalé has conceived a seven stage project.

For Yann Kersalé, to travel seven degrees more in a westerly direction means traveling towards his native Brittany in order to chase after the blue light characteristic of dusk in summertime. “My canvas has always been the moment of transition from twilight to dawn”. This is surely a memory of his time as a docker with nights spent in Douarnenez when the artist would observe the sunrise on the easterly facing port. Why seven degrees? According to Kersalé, the Celts believed a week consisted of eight nights, instead of seven. Therefore, seven “light expeditions” correspond to seven nights.

The eight night falls in the EDF Foundation Cultural Centre space; it is an artificial night.

For Kersalé, the seven expeditions are a phase of research and experimentation in which the artist tries to capture light as a “material” or “matter”. The last stage of this universal project is housed in the EDF Foundation Cultural Centre. For the duration of the exhibition, the space is plunged into obscurity and the presence of “black boxes” of varying sizes allows the public to endeavour upon a sensory journey. Through the use of light projections, each of these black boxes visually reinterprets the seven installations created by the artist in Brittany.

“Film” matter or “light matter” is the material of this exhibition. Projected on different surfaces, also created by Yann Kersalé, this matter becomes the only source of light within these closed spaces and acts as a guide for the public.

Here, the recordings are carefully installed in order to reflect the atmosphere of the sites in Brittany. The images fill the spaces purposefully defined by the artist; the ceiling, walls or white spheres. The result is a new installation, a mise en abyme as the artist himself likes to call them.

The background music to the exhibition was created by the artist in collaboration with Sophie Durand and Stéphane Brunclair. It adds to the general atmosphere of the exhibition with its black picture rails and the brightness of the seven mise en abymes. Consisting of murmurs and sounds recorded at the Breton sites, this soundtrack is the result of an editing and assembling process, the aim of which is not necessarily to be in sync with the rhythm of the images. The soundtrack accompanies the visitor on his/her journey through the space, enabling him/her to be completely immersed in the ambiances created by Yann Kersalé.

From the mezzanine level to the basement, the different exhibition spaces are organized around the three themes that have constantly recurred in the artist’s work for the past thirty years: water, nature and city life.

As a sculptor of light, Kersalé opens up the field of his work to varying frames. He has experimented with nature (the Pointe de la Torche peninsula in Brittany was the subject of a light piece in 1987); water has also been a determining factor for the artist (cf. La Vague – A Tribute to Gustave Courbet, Le Havre, 2010). The artist has also experimented with a remodeled nature, as was the case with his project at the gardens of Gallimard Publishers in Paris. Here, Kersalé created a geo‐poetic sequence called Le sept des sorcières (The Seven of Witches), 2008.

Kersalé often looks to different architectural forms; buildings designed by architects (the Paris Philharmonic or Quai Branly Museum designed by Jean Nouvel), industrial warehouses (Complex 34, Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S.A, 1987), as well as active scientific sites (the radio telescope in Puerto Rico or the Odeillo solar oven in the Pyrénées).

Yann Kersalé’s predilection for the themes of WATER, NATURE and CITY LIFE is evident in this exhibition Sept fois plus à l’ouest in that it guides the sequence of the visit.

Even if the artist wants to give complete freedom to the visitor, the sense of the visit follows an underlying theme inspired by the Celtic expression Penn‐ar‐Bed which is used to describe the Finistère region. Between the IV and the VII centuries, following the breakdown of the Roman Empire and the Anglo‐Saxon invasions, the Celts sought refuge in Brittany. For them, this new home signified a new beginning and for this reason they christened it Penn‐ar‐Bed, meaning the beginning of the world. In his expeditions in Brittany, Yann Kersalé enjoys imitating the Celts and refuses to see Brittany as the end of the world, as the French name Finistère signifies. With his installations initially conceived under water (Les prairies de la mer/ The Prairies of the Sea) and at the Île Vierge Lighthouse (l’Appel du large/ The Call of the Wild) the artist stops at the Sillon noir, the last frontier separating the land from the sea. It is here that the artist turns towards the land. From the Phares de la forêt installation in Houelgoat to the megaliths in Carnac, the artist moves slowly but surely in an easterly direction. After La Lune télévisuelle (The TV Moon) at Pleumeur‐Bodou, he turns his attention to a so‐called town symbolized by three dilapidated houses at La Courrouze, close to Rennes.

This order of appearance is reproduced at the EDF Foundation Cultural Centre. The water theme can be found on the mezzanine level, nature and the land at ground level and those installations concerned with city life are to be found in the basement.

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