Anais, Tondeur, Lost in Fathoms, water, bottles

Imagination as muse

Anaïs, Tondeur, Fathoms, GV, climate
Anaïs Tondeur, Depth Sounders, 2014, mixed rayogram techniques, C-Print, 24 x 11 cm, Image Courtesy of GV Art

This is not a review of Lost in Fathoms, Anaïs Tondeur’s current solo show at London’s GV Art Gallery, through 29 November. Several excellent reviews of this riveting installation have already been published elsewhere by Johanna Kieniewicz, Ruth GardeTom Jeffreys and Margaret Harris.

I must live vicariously through their words, for I was not one of the lucky ones to see this show in person. I will use my imagination – as Anaïs would surely appreciate – to visualize walking slowly through the multiple layers of her installation, lost in thought, seduced by the compelling narrative and search for meaning of the mysterious disappearance of the volcanic island of Nuuk. Somewhere in the North Atlantic. Sometime in 2012.

The Anthropocene, which is the inspiration behind Anaïs’s brilliant masterpiece, forces me to re-examine my initial impulse to hop on a plane in order to see this fascinating show. So instead of crossing the big pond, I spent a delightful bilingual hour Skyping with Anaïs in her Paris studio. As a photographer originally trained in the biological sciences, I wanted to understand the source of Anaïs’ fluency across multiple scientific disciplines: she regularly collaborates with geologists, geophysicists, oceanographers, hydro-physicists, even historians and philosophers.

Like shifting tectonic plates, Anaïs’ destiny was shaped by the fusion of art and science. The daughter of an artist and a geophysicist, she initially gravitated toward the sciences, but later decided to “move through the arts.” Her creativity seems to “come naturally from these two worlds. I think I’ve made the right choice, where I’m still really interested by questions and issues tackled by science, but I engage with them through an artistic approach.”

Another profound influence on Anaïs’ spirit of enquiry was the Rudolf Steiner (Waldorf) system in which she was schooled in France. Fostering both creative and analytical modes of understanding, the Waldorf school “opened up the world to me in a very creative way.” Imagination became her muse.

“This was such a beautiful gift, to start my life by,” she explained. “All children are naturally creative, but once structure is imposed onto them, their creativity fades away. Not in the Waldorf system: creativity is emphasized. It’s about giving tools to the child to help him find his way, at his own pace, where he wants to go, who he is. To help him blossom.”

It is clear that Anaïs continues to grow and blossom. Her work is simultaneously strong and delicate, mysterious and thought-provoking. Through her ongoing international collaborations with a wide range of scientists, she straddles the two worlds seamlessly, and in the process has created a new art form: one that organically weaves together science, art and fiction in order to open up new ways of understanding, new possibilities for solving a variety of social and environmental problems – health, education, food, energy – including climate change.

Approaches like hers will become increasingly relevant in the Anthropocene: we urgently need new tools to improve our understanding of the Anthropocene and ways to solve climate change. Using art, fiction and storytelling may be one way to do this, as it allows audiences to take some distance from the real world, from our usual patterns of engaging with the world, so that we can reflect back on reality from a new perspective.

“For me, it is quite important to work with fiction,” explained Anaïs. “This fiction gives some space and some freedom to open new potentialities.” According to Tom Jeffreys, fiction is often critical to our ability to access or create truth, and indeed may be actually a fundamental component of it.

Which brings us back to the profound influence that the Waldorf school has had on Anaïs’ unique artistic contribution in this age of rapid climate change:  through art and fiction, Anaïs creates a new space in which her scientific collaborators can question their own methodology, their own research, their own conclusions, imagine new possibilities.

Ruth Garde says it better than I: Science is not about getting answers; it’s about finding questions.

According to Anaïs: “It is so crucial to the future of the planet that all layers of the society (my emphasis) need to be engaged, need to reflect together on what do we want to do.”

At the end of our conversation, when asked what gives her hope, Anaïs hesitated before responding:

“Thinking so much about the Anthropocene, maybe I don’t have much hope… But I am inspired by all these movements where people from so many different disciplines meet to discuss and try to imagine together what to do in the future. I think that is the start of a big change, and I hope that we can continue in that direction.  In fact, it’s quite exciting to be living at such a turning point. It’s from here that we have so much to reinvent.”

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