Thomas Tronel-Gauthier, nature at work


"With the North Sea as final wasteland-wave
And waves of dunes to stop the waves

And vague waves of rocks that the tides reach past
And with hearts at low tide forever cast…"

Jacques Brel


Like a seaman in heavy boots going about his work, dressed in jeans and a turtleneck sweater, large spade in hand, he draws a large, almost perfect circle with his left foot on a sandy beach of the Baie de Somme. On the horizon, a finely-honed blade splits the space in two. Though cloudy, the sky affords some glimpses of blue here and there; the sea, having receded, has given way to a tidal flat, the foreshore. Its characteristic ripple marks act as a visual reminder still fresh with the slow movement of the waves. Thomas Tronel-Gauthier is at work. Fascinated by morphogenesis, he is a regular visitor to this shore, where he takes casts of the undulating forms that arise from the flow and ebb of the tidal movements.
At the end of what is a very delicate operation that involves respecting a number of technical and material procedures, he aims to capture, in situ, in counter-relief form the patterns produced by the flow of water. He combines the physical commitment of the body with a series of specific movements that acknowledge the artist's osmotic relationship with nature. While his approach may be rooted in a direct relationship with reality, the aim is not to render any particular vision of it but rather to derive from it potential forms that are not clearly apparent and which he seeks to reveal with the aid of specific processes. 

Thomas Tronel-Gauthier's art is requisitioned by time. He endeavours to convey in material substance something of the vitality that permeates the surface of the world and things. To grasp it briefly in order to elevate it into a metaphorical figure of the essential energy that governs them. The notion of geology, or even fossilisation, is at play in the artist's meticulous efforts to carry out an array of experiments combining the natural and the artificial, the real and the dream-like, matter and imagination and which are the product of a highly-strung sensuality.
This manner of intervening in the landscape, of extracting fragments from it so as to redistribute them in the form of an autonomous and distinctive artistic production, reflects a similar aesthetic approach to that of the movements of land art and Arte Povera. Yet its own particular hallmark lies in Thomas Tronel-Gauthier's intention to involve us in a palpable experience of the world in a relationship whose scale embraces both local and global and in the implementation of all kinds of material and operational hybridisations in order to achieve it. In his work, the artist likes to use the most divergent elements, to play with their limitations, to get them to interact with each other, always ready to contain and control any accidents that may arise. Indeed he admits to being more interested in concocting and handling the ingredients than in the actual result itself, with the vagaries of  the work resting on his shoulders. It is a fundamental question of dialogue and exchange and of a fair balance between what may and may not be controlled, so that the work ultimately achieves its full potential.

From the North Sea – the region of his childhood – to the Atlantic coast, the journey is simply a matter of relocation. Thomas Tronel-Gauthier is used to this. An avid history and culture buff, he enjoys being on the road and his work draws on the various situations he encounters. In his pursuit of unusual – or for that matter unqualifiable – situations, he is both keen to experiment with the way his work interacts with the context in which he is invited to present it and to explore any new avenues that this may offer. With the two-fold discovery of the Abbaye Saint-Jean d'Orbestier and the patio of the Musée de l'Abbaye Sainte-Croix, the artist decided to work with both venues in mind. Here, close to the ocean, in a centuries-old building whose architecture evokes a place of retreat and silence, far removed from the turpitude of the outside world, he presents a set of works that invoke the memory of land and sea. There, in the heart of the city, beneath the vast transparent vault of the ancient cloister whose wide-open skyward gaze beckons the eye to follow suit, he devises a new form by creating a kind of circular patrol of absorptive mirrors upturned to face the glare of the sunlight.

Rockslides, rockfalls, imprints. All of the pieces brought together at Saint-Jean-d'Orbestier are a reflection of the notion of natural events in a time-related context that is highlighted by the multiplication of their constituent elements. Several moulds, like counter-relief skins, are used to give them a variety of forms, thereby enshrining them – both physically and virtually – within a dynamic continuum that unfolds to infinity and whose origin can be traced back to some indefinable time frame. In the centre of the nave, cloned from one and the same rock, the slide of volcanic scree, which the artist has arranged lengthwise on a slightly sloping incline, obliges the viewer to embark upon an almost mystical journey through the experience of time. The amorphous appearance of their lithic cores, colour-impregnated according to a procedure of gradual intensity not unlike a Renaissance chiaroscuro, makes them look like lapidary objects from the very depths of the earth. Entitled Le Commencement (The Beginning, 2015–19), this installation – an augmented version of a previous model – 'addresses both the question of origins through the notion of multiplicity and terrestrial volcanic activity and that of our relationship to nature at its most primitive and elemental in this disconcerting attempt to supplant it through cloning', in the artist's own words. A metaphor of the birth of a form, it examines the notion of duplication – ever the same but never identical.
This is also true of the casts that Thomas Tronel-Gauthier has placed in the chancel, at the far end of the abbey, and which appear as mysterious fossil plaques, in their dark, unrefined aspect. These imprints in counter-relief of the sea's movements reflect his curious interest in the memory-related phenomena that govern the world and acknowledge its constant metamorphosis. His approach, somewhere between replication and reconstruction, is marked by an underlying stance based on the notion of objective observation of reality in keeping with the practice of recording. Like a scientist working with sound who endeavours to capture all ambient sonorities, even the most muffled, Tronel-Gauthier strives to comprehend the imperceptible movements of nature, especially those governed by the great cosmic play of the planets. In other words, what is contained within these plaques that resemble both monumental flints from another age and large cuneiform tablets whose surfaces are inscribed with the script of time.
Designed as a cascade whose waters can flow within the abbey itself without anyone being aware of their source, La Chute (The Fall) extends from the transept crossing down to the dirt floor of the nave. Crafted from a series of silicone moulds in various shades of colour-impregnated turquoise, using several sand imprints from the tidal flat, it works as a reminder of the sea not far away. 'Colour,' says Thomas Tronel-Gauthier, 'is of particular interest to me when it is linked to material in order to produce meaning'. As such, the translucent luminous character of La Chute finds its artistic legitimacy in the actual purpose of the suggested object and is instrumental in emphasizing both the dynamics of the cascading water and the sound characteristic of the idea of a waterfall. In complete contrast to the other pieces in terms of form, colour and material, there is a sense of iteration and a clear tonal quality at work here, animating – in the primary sense of the word – the space, namely giving it the appearance of life.

On the wall of his studio, just above his computer, Thomas Tronel-Gauthier has hung various working documents, including two photographs and a plan of the vacant area of the patio, two reproductions of Tarot cards showing 'The World' and a photocopy of the oval diagram of the vesica piscis. This geometric figure, whose name means 'fish bladder' in Latin, is formed by the intersection of two circles of the same diameter in such a way that the centre of each circle lies on the circumference of the other. All of these images emphasize the almond-shaped structure of the transparent roof of the cloister that the artist is referring to. If the mandorla shape of the mirror used as model corresponds to that of the vesica piscis, the circular patrol that he made from some thirty casts of the mirror, in the middle of the patio, creates a perfect circle. Each mirror is tilted slightly and fixed onto a base that seems to keep it suspended above the ground; the mirrors' inner faces are impregnated with varying degrees of yellow pigment and their backs fully covered with black paint.
Entitled In the Yellow Haze of the Sun, this installation once again pertains to the artist's interest in all things related to the cosmos, the astral mechanism and, by extension, the universal. Its distinguishing feature is its dimension – at least poetic if not fictitious – in that it conjures up the image of a solar eclipse. Because of its closed circular form, the viewer is only able to approach it from the outside and can only ever see half of the back and front of the whole piece. By walking around it – which is what one is meant to do – the viewer discovers the dynamics specific to this celestial phenomenon and, as he moves around finds himself in a position to recreate it himself, as the black backs of the mirrors mask the inner luminous surfaces, one by one in succession. In this way, Thomas Tronel-Gauthier sets the viewer at the heart of an interpersonal aesthetic experiment, at the level of the universe, in a spatial and temporal relationship that is decidedly unique.

Philippe Piguet


« Avec la mer du Nord pour dernier terrain vague
Et des vagues de dunes pour arrêter les vagues
Et de vagues rochers que les marées dépassent
Et qui ont à jamais le cœur à marée basse… »