Camargue Condensations, 1999
Rhone Valley, France
Full project published in: Disturbing Territories

The Rhone Valley and adjacent river is for me the subject of certain chronic mental wanderings, clinical enough in nature to produce these drawings, models and explanatory text you are now reading. One of them concerns a vacillating object floating in the Gorge du Fier and becomes animated during annual flood conditions one week in September. There are five locations stretched down the Rhône, each of the locations enable the user to read the environment through the architectures which are in accordance to the four elemental forces of Water, Earth, Fire and Wind.

Camargue Condensations deploys a suite of technological devices that respond to the material flows in the Rhone valley, turning these barely-perceptible environmental fluxes into a spectacular ongoing performance. The project reverberates around a series of 'split' sites linked to each other within a complex web of feedback loops and retro sensing devices. It centres on the harnessing of natural phenomena, complex ecological networks within the unique environmental conditions of the Rhone valley in southern France. By making use of modern technologies, including caged light and magnetorheorological compounds, these naturally fluid systems will be amplified and distorted to form self-regulating, interactive configurations, with endless possibilities for adaptation and transformation. As well as collecting and collating ecological information for research uses, this mesh network provides the means for the participant as reader, to be ‘plugged into’ nature. At various critical locations the participant becomes yet another component of the mesh network, influencing the environment and simultaneously being acted on by diverse factors. These architectures are distributed across sensitive geomorphologically and ecologically special locations, such as gorges that flash flood, salt pans or the point of the France's thinnest Earth's crust, all of which are along the Rhone corridor that terminates at the Camargue and is prone to the ravages of the mistral wind. The synthesis between the locations will have an extensive impact on this sensitive landscape beyond their immediate location, disturbing the threshold between the natural and the artificial.
Review by Professor Neil Spiller, University of Greenwich
Turbulence, Skirts and Tusks

This fecund starting point was soon to develop into a full-blown proposition for a series of architectural pieces, each individually tailored for their immediate context yet all spatially embroidered, thus creating a suite of highly sensile, ascalarly nested, neurotic, geographically diverse, delicate networked structures. This extraordinary project entitled “Carmargue Condensations” became one of the iconic works produced by the Bartlett at this time. The Carmargue in Southern France with its horses, the Mistral wind and the Rhone-Soane rivers, the saltpans and the rugged inhabitants is a romantic site to choose. Shaun’s personally set task was to explore this physical geography of romanticism and combine it with the glocal information technology that at the time was beginning to network us together: animal and vegetable and crystal. So the project is like some great prosthesis that allows the users/inhabitants to feel the ecological ripples of their immediate and also remote environs, like wired pond skaters.

The project deals with various phenomenological architectural conditions: mediation of the ground line, for example, is addressed with dune like enclosures. The underworld of prehistoric cave art is penetrated by light cages, which illuminate yet, which also protect the art from the destabilising glare of artificial light. A gaping calanque which can flash flood has two tusk-like small buildings with a light skirt inserted and strung above it. The floodwaters act like enlivening lifeblood to. When soaked it writhes like a fish with its head in a vice. Also a series or artful kites sup at the spiralling vortex of the Mistral. So the local contextural integration of the pieces is established in this elemental way. On top of this local contextuality is the spatial embroidery that flips scales, links this to that and make each small architectural piece a microcosm of the great macrocosmic whole. This of course is what we now experience in our day to day life: the conic sections of vision are no longer conic, we can see far, wide, deep and all engrossingly. The whole of the work is again networked into what one might call a master complex. Where both machinic and natural ecologies can be recorded, gleaned and seen in relation to human use patterns and surprises.

1- Gorge du Fier, Annecy
2- Cruas
3- Chauvet Caves
4- Les Baux de Provence
5- Camargue