Artlabo Retreat 2023

ArtLabo Retreats are part of the Feral Labs Network and co-funded by the European Union – Feral Labs (2019-2021) & Rewilding Cultures (2022-2026)

Artlabo Retreat: a week of creating in and with nature

by Elsa Ferreira

(First published on Makery on July 5, 2023)

In early June, Ultra and Makery co-hosted Artlabo Retreat, an art retreat on the island of Batz in Britanny, France. One week of creating together, with the island and its resources at the heart of the activities. Site-specific projects ranged from plates made from wild flowers to a pirate radio kite.

From June 5-11 on the island of Batz, near Roscoff on the west coast of France, Makery’s Roscosmoe platform and the Ultra association hosted some 30 people, including designers, artists and art students, who were invited to learn, exchange and discover around the idea of “archipelago thinking”.

“How do we work together, live together, create a commons? How can each one of us get on a boat to reach out to others?” pondered Claire Laporte, artistic director of Ultra, in our previous article on the association. In reality, she now reflects, there was no need to reintroduce this idea as a manifesto. It came about naturally, much like the rest of communal living, organized and self-managed by the participants.

“Circular systems, biosourcing… Working with local and sustainable materials is a natural process for Ultra,” she continues. Makery shares this passion: making tools out of available resources, circular food chains… and we’ve been reporting on these ideas for almost a decade now.

For one week, Artlabo Retreat participants dropped anchor on Batz Island, thanks especially to Edouard Bal (Cueilleur d’Estran), an ethnobotanist who led a walk to discover the local flora – beginning with algae, followed by the wild plants growing on the coast. Along the way, the island’s residents noticed and appreciated his attention to the environment.

“The islanders were really curious,” remarks Carine Le Malet, project head and coordinator for Makery. “Young and not-so-young people took an interest in what we were doing, and we were very well received.”

So, what was made during this weeklong island retreat?

Pastoral pause. © Ewen Chardronnet

Floral inks and sensitive map

Who: Camille Bernicot, graphic designer in charge of Ultra’s communication and mediation; Ninon, master student in fine arts in Brest; Mathieu, 2nd-year student in arts and digital design; Clara, master in sound design in Talm-Le Mans; Solen, doing graphic design as civil service for Ultra and master student in design and social science in Rennes.

What: A sensitive map with floral inks made from flowers found on the island.

How: First, they had to find the flowers. Accompanied by Edouard Bal, Camille Bernicot and her team set off to encounter the island flora. “We took plants that were abundant for minimal impact,” Camille reports. “Valerian and brambles are invasive: bird’s-foot trefoil is one of the first plants that we noticed growing everywhere on the rocks.” The picked flowers were placed in hot water and left to infuse overnight. There are several possible ways to extract the colors: “Either we thicken the color with corn starch, or we create an effervescence to extract the pigment from the juice by adding alum salt and Blanc de Meudon.”

Once the process is complete, the colors appear in the form of powders that can be preserved for a long time. All that’s left is to select the desired pigments: “The colors need to be abundant enough to be reproduced in large quantities, and they need to go well together when superposed.” Poppy, bird’s-foot trefoil and brambles were selected.

Why: The sensitive map doesn’t aim to be geographically accurate, but rather to represent personal feelings about the island. So the team asked the other participants to share with them their memories and anecdotes of Batz. All came away with their personalized map, silk-screened in floral ink.

Floral ink tests. © Elsa Ferreira

Work table for the sensitive map group. © Elsa Ferreira

First layer for silk-screening the map. © Elsa Ferreira

Edible dishware for a local banquet

Who: Design Social Club, social and utopist designer; Charlie, designer and assistant for Ultra; Marion, design student in Rennes interning at Ultra; Blandine, graphic design student; Théo, in charge of documentation for Ultra as civil service.

What: Plant thermocompression to make biodegradable tableware.

How: Following a residency project started at Ultra one year ago, Design Social Club is continuing to explore the process of shaping plants by pressure and heat without adding binders. This group faced the challenge of finding raw materials on site. They collected algae that was abundant and in some cases already dry (the thermocompressor can’t press wet things), waste from the other workshops (especially the sensitive map, but also the post-production waste from other actors on the island). For example, the local brewery gave them a large quantity of dregs left over from the grains after brewing the beer.

The team also made a dryer using reclaimed materials found at the island garbage dump. The process will be shared in open source on Flat Shape, Ultra’s design-sharing platform.

Why: As a social and ecological reinterpretation of paper plates, bio-ceramics have been used to serve food prepared by the kitchen workshop during public presentations. Eventually, and with supplementary research, these biomaterials could have other uses, such as making signs for eco-construction.

Plant thermocompression by Design Social Club. © Elsa Ferreira

Edible plates. © Elsa Ferreira

Low-tech solar dryer. © Elsa Ferreira

Radiophonic installations and electromagnetic sculptures

Who: P-node, a collective formed a decade ago, including streaming artists, technicians, musicians, hackers and “a whole list of people who are interested in questioning the radio medium”. P-node is also an associative radio channel. Introducing themselves as a group, individual members prefer to remain anonymous.

What: Radio art. “Usually, electromagnetic waves are used to transmit information between two distant points – it’s what we call telecommunication,” says P-node. With this kind of project, we’re interested in the physicality of the wave, and how to work on its poetic essence instead of using it just to transmit information.”

How: The collective makes what it calls “electromagnetic sculptures”, artworks that integrate visual and sound as well as electromagnetic aspects. In one of these installations, the members channel three phenomena present on the island: wind, water and sea radios. They begin by attaching an antenna to a very stable kite. “We create a point of infrastructure in the air that allows us to lift elements at more than 50 meters above ground. So we are at the highest point on the island,” they explain. The antenna captures the marine communications of boats passing through Ouessant, a hundred kilometers away. They attach a microphone to the rope, which captures the vibrations of the wind. They place hydrophones in the water as the tide rises. Using a small emitter attached to the kite, they retransmit all these elements live to portable radios all around the beach.

The result is a meditative soundtrack of the wind and the sea, mixed with human voices controlling boats and reading maritime weather forecasts. “We catch things in the air that are part of our environment,” they explain. “We have the tool to capture all this information that is constantly passing above our heads.” In addition to this poetic sculpture, P-node installs radio platforms hosting an “orchestra of speakers”. In this way, “the soundscape becomes a space for life, exchange, listening or napping.”

Why: These artworks are ephemeral and essentially linked to the landscape in which they come to life. They also like “the lightness and delicateness of catching things sparingly”. But there is some talk about preserving the sound piece captured by the kite. To be continued.

In the hands of P-node, the kite becomes a base to emit and receive. © Elsa Ferreira

A radio platform and its listeners. © Elsa Ferreira

Cooking as a political metaphor

Who: Joanna Wong, visual artist and cofounder of the Enoki collective who uses cooking as a medium to talk about migration; Lola, master student in Brest; Arbol, a Columbian student of fine arts in Caen; Camille, 2nd-year student at HEAR arts school in Strasbourg.

What: A cooking experiment to valorize the ingredients of the island while reflecting each person’s culinary heritage and roots.

How: As an artist who is particularly adept at culinary installations, Joanna Wong explores the political implications of cooking. According to this Hong Kong citizen based in Paris: “Our umami, our taste palate, our culinary heritage depends on where and how we grew up, on our education, our personal background and with whom we have cooked. Give an egg and a mushroom to ten different people, you will get ten different recipes. Each time we cook, we express our background.”

As a migrant, Joanna wonders how we can recreate our culinary heritage. On the island of Batz, she puts this thought into action. By picking up food items on site, she notices similarities between the local cuisine on this island in Britanny and the cuisine of her native Hong Kong island. Algae reminds her of snack nori, very popular in Hong Kong, and buckwheat recalls soba noodles. The experiment is practical, as the workshop participants prepared meals for everyone at Artlabo Retreat.

For the general public, the team gave a workshop on cooking ravioli using local ingredients: potatos and radishes grown on the island and pink onions from Roscoff. The food item is quick to question the root and the cultural heritage of food itself, posits Joanna: “If you find all the ingredients in Italy, is it still a Chinese ravioli? What if the person cooking is Italian? What if it’s an Italian ravioli cooked by a Chinese person?”

Why: For Joanna, every gesture in cooking is a gesture of adaptation. It’s also a way for people to gather around a table to talk about sometimes complicated issues: “When I organize cooking installations, I don’t say ‘Come see an art performance’, I say “Come eat’.” A mouth-watering proposition indeed.

Ravioli cooking session. © Elsa Ferreira

Kefir, popcorn and edible plates for open house days. © Elsa Ferreira

Homo Photosyntheticus, fieldwork

Who: Ewen Chardronnet, artist and editor-in-chief of Makery; Julie Verin, artist and designer; Arthur Barbe, multimedia artist; Léonore Bonaccini and Xavier Fourt of the duo Bureau d’études.

What: Research on algae in all its potential in light of the transition to sustainable energy and food sources – edible algae, algae pollution, medicinal uses, space research, biofuels, CO2 capture, biomaterials…

How: In this long-term project initiated in 2021, the collective of artists is building a knowledge base for documentation, especially video documentation. They are interviewing experts in what will become an interactive matrix, where the viewer can select the desired theme of exploration. On the island, the team took their video cameras back into the field along walks with the ethnobotanist Edouard Bal. Julie Verin explored methods of algae conservation, filming her experiments with a microscope camera. The collective also sets aside times for discussing various forms for the publications and reconstitutions.

The Algae of Batz Island, by Edouard Bal. Realized and edited by Quentin Aurat:

Why: Homo Photosyntheticus has already presented some of these works, including a dinner-installation around algae by Maya Minder. The collective is building partnerships and presenting its protean creations within art structures such as Antre-Peaux, project partner, or Jeu de Paume. In the long-term, a documentary film is also in production. “We’re trying to present stuff regularly in order to animate and enrich the project,” says Ewen Chardronnet.

Walking among the algae. © Carine Le Malet

Reading table. © Elsa Ferreira

The event

The ArtLabo Retreat is a bi-annual week-long international gathering. It takes place at the Island of Batz, off the Roscoff coast (Bretagne, FR). Its focus is on sharing research-creation practices in the field of marine biology, biomaterials, sustainable food, upcycling & circular economy, open source technology, video & sound arts and media publication.

In 2023, The ArtLabo Retreat is organised by ART2M/Makery in partnership with Association Ultra (Le Relecq-Kerhuon) and will invite national and international guests to mentor workshops with a strong focus on: bioart practices related to biology of evolution and marine biology; global algal photosynthesis and solar energy systemics; edible algae ethno-botany, algae foraging & cooking; circular economy, sustainable design, upcycling and biomaterials; hypermedia practices related to those fields.

ArtLabo Retreats are part of the Feral Labs Network and co-funded by the European Union – Feral Labs (2019-2021) & Rewilding Cultures (2022-2026)

The Rewilding Cultures (RC) project wants to reposition the wild after COVID and focus on inclusivity and ecology within the art, science and technology area. A new gaze at this sector is needed and the stop in everything caused by COVID, provides us with an uncomfortable, but much needed time for reflection on potential change. We cannot go back to business as usual, especially in terms of polluting and important inclusion issues unaddressed. We need to rewild on terms fit for the present and future.

Within the last 10 years we have witnessed a large growth of various Creative Hubs; Maker-, Bio-, Art-, Coworking- Labs and -Spaces. They come in many shapes and sizes and operate as initiatives that give participants a social space equipped with technological opportunities, a space where everyone is encouraged to experiment, explore, create and share. The importance of the social and the communal aspect is one of the most important aspects of these Creative Hubs; they are not only places of rapid prototyping and caters to artists’ and makers’ needs, they are so much more than the fabrication machines and tools and their operators. They are places of rich social life and homes of diverse communities. Creative Hubs are now indispensable facilitators of Open and Citizen science and localization of production, New business model, testers and developers of Future technologies, as well as places of new and innovative uses of old technologies. They are places of reinvention and innovation in educational, life-long-learning processes.

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