En Cascade, Mécanique Sablonneuse
Mixed media installation
(11 x 3.5 x 4.5m)

A micro-architecture-automaton, made of paper and cardboard, using sand as its sole means of propulsion, without electricity, yet approaching the sophistication of electronic machines.

From the outside, the movements traversing the walls of this gigantic machine appear to be produced by an array of high-tech motors and electronics. It's only once inside the inner workings of the machine that one realizes the animations come to life thanks to the sand flowing in cascades through each mechanism.

Recharged with sand by the spectators, this installation comes to life without electricity; each compartment has an autonomy of about ten minutes.But beyond serving as a simple propellant, sand becomes a clever means of programming: The mechanisms are brimming with tricks to generate movements as sophisticated as those a programmed motor could have produced—synchronization, repetitions, back-and-forths, precise stops, loops, random or controlled, and more.These setups allow for the perception of phenomena specific to the physics of sand—such as the formation of flows, the geometry of sand piles, etc

En Cascade was first exhibited at the magnificent classified site of Anse de Paulilles, on the coast of Pyrénées Orientales (utilizing sand directly from the beach!) 

This project was produced with the support of "Mondes Nouveaux," a program aiding the realization of artistic projects by the French Ministry of Culture, with the assistance of the french Conservatoire of the coast.

Communication : with Fotokino
Médiation : associations Mobile
Prouction & technical developpement : Ateliers Pinaffo & Pluvinage
( team : Nina Capron, Marie Marcombe, Hugo bochdanowicz)
Screenprinting :  Lézard Graphique

Transcription of a video interview conducted by Caroline Naphegyi* about the project

C. N. :
Handling sand, what does the low-tech experimentation reveal about the complexity of this material?

In our practice, we have often been interested in revealing or allowing the manipulation of scientific or technical phenomena, sometimes quite high-tech, such as electronics, coding, or telecommunications. These are subjects that inherently hold many mysteries. When we approach the question of sand, we somewhat naively think that it is, on the contrary, a very basic subject. But the more we dig, experiment, and try to understand it, the more we realize that it is an extremely complex material, which involves a multitude of phenomena.

For example, even if two sands may look identical to the naked eye, the grain's geometry at the microscopic level completely influences sand's behaviors. It's impossible, for instance, to make concrete with desert sand, as it's too round and too fine. Furthermore, one peculiarity of sand is that it can sometimes exhibit the behavior of a liquid, sometimes that of a solid, or even a gas. The flow of sand, whether in the air or in water, is also quite complex. The shape a sand pile takes depending on its geometry is a real subject of mathematical study.

And beyond the phenomena specific to sand, there are a whole host of physical principles that can be highlighted by sand. We think, for example, of Chladni figures where sand generates patterns according to the vibrations of a plate, mechanical elements driven by sand, or principles of statistical distributions highlighted by the flow of sand.

C.N : What can playing with a low-tech material like sand question in relation to our relationship with high-tech?

In many of our projects, there is this idea of seeking economies of means by using economical materials like paper, pencils, or common wood to create sophisticated, complex systems with experiences that will nevertheless be rich. It is this opposition that interests us: how to generate the most generous experience possible with the most accessible solutions. In this project, there is the question of pushing this economy of means to the extreme.

We could have made an electrified installation with electronics, a digital installation with motors, programming, as we have done before. However, this time, we gave ourselves the challenge of doing all of this in the most low-tech way possible.

Sand is low-tech by nature since it also has the property of a fluid. It allows energy to be stored in the same way as a dam. The energy is stored in height and released when the sand flows. This flow can drive various mechanical systems that will allow for programming movements, rotations, translations, with different angles, different sequences of repetitions. Sand can initiate systems that will take positions 0 and 1, just as a transistor would in an electronic system. Sand can also create systems for generating random movements that are easier to achieve with sand than with a computational method. Beyond the almost symbolic challenge of creating a machine with behavior almost digital but only with sand and very basic materials, one of the interests of this installation is precisely because it is very basic, extremely low-tech; it is understandable by nature. It has no dark areas, nothing to hide, unlike a computer system.

Compared to an installation where we would have microcomputers to run all these motors with programmed sequences, here, when we are inside the room, at the heart of the machine and observe it, even if nothing is explained, we can still grasp all these logic of movement that exist.

C.N. : Sand, what are the stakes (scarcity, what specificity for what uses)?

The question of sand scarcity and its stakes is not the main subject of our project, but it is necessarily a context in which the project exists. Our first experiments took place directly on the beach of La Grande Motte, and very quickly the question arose of which sand we would use.

Sand is, after water, the second most used material in the world, notably for making concrete in construction. And inevitably, dredging on the coasts seriously impacts the marine and underwater environment.

It is this depletion of sand that guided our choice of site for the implementation of our project. We were looking for a sheltered location but close to a beach to be able to borrow the sand used in our installation and return it at the end of the exhibition.