"Dynamic1". Bernard Perroud
 
 

Bernard Perroud   Sculptor


 

Reflections on Art in Nature

 

Text on contemporary art in a natural environment

for 'Nouvel Objet' VI.

 
 
 
 

Written by Bernard Perroud
Bernard Perroud. Photo by Jim Kouzes
Portrait of me, Bernard Perroud. Photo by Jim Kouzes.

 
Nepal.
    In 1970 I hiked from Katmandu to Namche Bazar (a village close to Mt. Everest). It was one of the most beautiful journeys I have ever made! The trail went through diverse landscapes: deep, green, dark gorges; mountain slopes covered with blooming rhododendron trees in many rich hues. It crossed little villages, rice paddies, high passes with rarefied air and majestic views. Once in a while I found a place glowing with unusual harmony. It could be a sculptural tree growing from beneath a worn-out rock. I would stop, filled with aesthetic pleasure, with a sense of blessing to be alive and to be able to absorb directly this crystallization of natural beauty. Then, to my surprise, at the foot of the tree, I would see some offerings: flowers, sticks remaining from burned incense, a small heap or a trace of ochre pigment. They gave witness that other travelers had also been sensitive to this composition, enjoyed it and left personal signs of their gratitude.
    This experience stays very alive in my memory. It has colored my life ever since. Constantly living in an urban environment (as so many of us do!) do we loose the sensibility that allows us to acknowledge such places in their fullness? ...Maybe!

Montagagne, France.
    In 1991 I was invited to participate in the Artac '91 "Rencontre Internationale d'Artistes". It was to take place in Montagagne (Ariege, France). Montagagne is a small, old village, perched on top of a steep mountain in the Pyrennees. Stone houses, one to two stories high, often with a stable on the ground floor, a church. It looks like a lot of remote southern French villages.  This village had just a few inhabitants. The last World War had decimated its male population. After the war, most women moved to town, looking for a way to make a living. Two elderly widowed ladies were the only remaining original inhabitants. In the eighties some people moved in, among whom were a teacher and his family and a family of urban refugees who survived making goat cheese and honey. Lots of houses were in ruins. One of the main ideas behind this artistic event was to draw the attention of the public to this village and possibly give some of them an incentive to buy one of the houses or ruins. To help keep it alive.
    15 sculptors, performance artists and musicians from different countries were selected. We were to make ephemeral sculptures or installations with low ecological impact that would slowly wither away. In April some of us met in Montagagne to organize it. The women of the village offered to cook the midday lunches, where all of the artists and organizers and villagers would meet each of the 10 days preceding the opening to the public. The villagers were willing to help in any possible way, this event was going to bring life to their sleepy community! We took long walks in and around this traditional French village. On the look-out for the right location for our interventions. There were a variety of places, plenty to suit any kind of need and personal taste: the narrow streets, a public wash basin, ruins, forests, creeks, big and small meadows, trails crisscrossing the communal land.
    At a 10 to15-minute walk from the village, I found my spot. On an wide open space, a high, rolling meadow, two low rocky cliffs meet at an angle of about 83°. Their angle opens to the East on a flat, seemingly natural terrace. Sitting there I could look far away over the mountains, towards the rising sun. On this spot, I deeply felt that I could commune again, unencumbered, with the elements. Before getting to Montagagne I had an idea for a sculpture, playing with full/empty, simple geometrical volumes. 


 
Montagagne. The site as I found it. The site as I found it. Artac '91, Montagagne. 
Photo by Bernard Perroud

 
    Before getting to Montagagne I had an idea for a sculpture, playing with full/empty, simple geometrical volumes. But once there it just didn't make any sense any more! In this context, it just didn't feel appropriate to work with such abstract intellectual notions. At the beginning of August we all got together in Montagagne. We were to spend 13 days together. It was an extremely enriching period for many of us. Each morning we came back to our chosen spots and worked until noon. For lunch we met under a big blue tent, erected on the communal field.The meals were high-spirited, full of jokes, laughter and warm comradeship. They were a good occasion to get to know each other, to exchange ideas, discuss our projects. I had never  Sketch for "83 pour piger L'Aurore". Sketch for "83° pour pièger l'Aurore". 
Artac '91, Montagagne.
before had the occasion to get to know that many artists at once, in such a close circle. During these breaks we also had a chance to get closer to the villagers; they told stories about the village and helped us a lot to feel welcome. with lodging, tools, advice, etc... The two ladies  (they had a funny nickname:"les Rococognes") were all smiles, telling everyone how happy they were to see their village brimming again with life. "It's a little like before the war!" they would say.
    I scrubbed my cliffs, cleared them from vegetation and painted them with whitewash tinted with "bleu d'Espagne". (This bluing pigment was traditionally used in the region to give a blue tint to the whitewashed houses. It was also used in the laundry to "brighten up" the whites). I chose whitewash because it is non-permanent. With the rains it would slowly wash away. While working, I noticed that the terrace was an almost perfect circle. Was it naturally so? Or had the spot already been used in the past? I proceeded then to perfect that circle. As I worked, I was flowing, not against, but with the forces of nature. It helped me to locate myself again in this world, to connect me with the universal cycle of generation, death, regeneration. When I finished the piece I felt a deep sense of accomplishment. 
The teacher who had moved to the village, Antoine, happened to be also a radiesthesist. While we were working he went from artist to artist with his pendulum. He was amazed to find that almost everyone had intuitively chosen spots with strong magnetic fields. He said that where I was making my piece, shepherds used to come to rest and be refreshed. He wrote about it: "... You worked the earth reshaping the landscape as if it where the belly of a woman, you brushed the newly exposed granite and adorned it with diamonds as a man would his mistress; and at your chosen spot, on this polished triangle, shining with your sweat you placed the promise of your strength, the symbol of man, eternal, swirling..."
    I chose the title for my piece: "83° pour pièger l'Aurore" ("83° to trap the Dawn"), but the Rococognes lovingly baptized it "The Blue Mountain".
"83 pour piger l'Aurore". Artac '91, Montagagne, France.  Photo by Dominique Viet
"83° pour pièger l'Aurore". Artac '91, Montagagne, France.
Photo by Dominique Viet

 
"83 pour piger l'Aurore". Artac '91, Montagagne, France. Photo by Dominique Viet.
"83° pour pièger l'Aurore". Artac '91, Montagagne, France. Photo by Dominique Viet.

 
When the time came for the public opening, all the artists' interventions were ready. The ladies of the village gave me some flowers from their gardens for my piece. I laid them where the two cliffs meet. The flowers that the "Rococognes" gave me. Artac '91, Montagagne.                                                                        Photo by Bernard Perroud

The flowers that the "Rococognes" gave me. Artac '91, Montagagne.
Photo by Bernard Perroud.
During the days open to the public some 3000 visitors strolled through the village and fields, led by performance artists (Hannah Wölfel and Hans Werner Kruse from Germany). They were naked and had painted their bodies with my blue-tinted whitewash. When they got to "83° to trap the Dawn" they blended in with the rocks, pulling tears out of my eyes.  There were happenings everywhere, concerts, dances, food. With extensive media coverage, it was a full success. Best of all, quite a few visitors decided to buy a house in Montagagne! The village could start to live again!

 
Performance of Hannah Wlfel and Hans Werner Kruse from Germany. Artac '91, Montagagne.                                                    Photo by Dominique Viet. Performance of Hannah Wlfel and Hans Werner Kruse from Germany. Artac '91, Montagagne.                                                    Photo by Dominique Viet.
Performance of Hannah Wölfel and Hans Werner Kruse from Germany. Artac '91, Montagagne. 
Photos by Dominique Viet.

 
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Artist's statement
Art in Nature Event 2001 The Arts Center at Kingdom Falls, OAH
Escondido Phoenix 1999 Malibu Sculpture Event
Reflections on Art in Nature - published in Nouvel Objet - page 2
FundsXpress Sculpture - Corporate Client
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This page last updated on May 15, 2002.
 © 2002 Laura Burns