The Sirènes Sylvestres Genesis Post collection

Sirènes Sylvestres is a night-time interactive installation opening progressive light passages through the forest. In a collection of posts, I will try to render its main creation steps. I will predate the articles to respect the chronology.

  1. Call for Proposal, Carte blanche for an exhibition in Bordeaux
  2. Trails and ideas, Explore, get lost, discover…
  3. The lights, design and prototype
  4. Preparing the exhibition, the rush
  5. The first exhibition, Sirènes Sylvestres brought to life

This should bring us to the current state of the project Sirènes Sylvestres.

The first exhibition Sirènes Sylvestres brought to life

Sirènes Sylvestres is a night-time interactive installation opening progressive light passages through the forest.

This first version was presented during the Nuit Verte of the panOramas Festival. It was co-produced by Média-Cité.

Warm thanks to Rabah, Ben, Tam and Média-Cité team, panOrama team, Lab212 and friends for their precious help.

Preparing the exhibition The production rush

The interactive light installation Sirènes Sylvestres was planned to be exhibited near Bordeaux. Its lights were designed in Berlin, to be produced in-situ.

With the great help of Ben’s family, in Bordeaux, in 3 days, we managed to produce a fair amount of lamp-shades.

Those lanterns where build out of heat-resistant confetti, and were big enough to host the light blocks. But after some tests and a couple of unexpected issues, we had to give up on using those blocks. We used instead classic halogen light bulbs, easier to attach and to plug. Here is how it looked like:

Lamp-shade made out of heat-resistant confetti, litten by an halogen bulb.

Lamp-shade made out of heat-resistant confetti, litten by an halogen bulb.

Came the time to go to the woods! The nice part was to find interesting spots for the lights to guide the visitors, but most of the time and efforts was spent on cutting and connecting cables to the lights and sensors. More than 200 meters of electric cable were running in the forest, next to the path. I’d like to warmly thank Rabah, Ben, Tam, Média-Cité team, panOrama team, Lab212 friends, Léna and her friends for their precious help.

Preparing lights and sensor.

Preparing lights and sensor.

Shortly before the opening of the event, half of the path encountered a short circuit, but the main part of the path was ready for the first exhibition of Sirènes Sylvestres!

The lights Design and prototype

Sirènes Sylvestres means Sylvan Murmaids, or Sirens from the Forest. They are materialized into interactive lights, dragging progressively wanderers into the woods. The design of such lights had to be organic and enchanting, yet to inspire a mixed feeling of trust and doubt.


LED blocks: big, heavy, super bright, and scorching.

We had the opportunity to work with a local partner, specialized in LED streetlights. They proposed to give us 40 lights for the time of the event. The challenge was to find a way to attach massive industrial LED blocks into the trees, and to design a bunch of expressive and subtle “lampshade” for it, either easy to transport or fast to build in-situ (from the atelier in Berlin, Germany, to the exhibition in Bordeaux, France).

Sketches of different ways to lit trees.

Sketches of different ways to lit trees.

My researches went on naturally lighten organic things: fireflies, glowing fishes, jellyfishes, mushrooms… Artists and designers worked on related themes: Bruce Munro and his light installations, Barry Underwood‘s works, the photographer Rune Guneriussen, and the designer Ionna Vautrin and her Moaïs lamp. Here is a collection of other aesthetic references.

As previously mentioned, to be feasible it had to be easy to build and or transport. Recycling objects was an interesting option, inspired by the lamp design of Rolph Sach and the photographies of Tim Walker, both fascinating and disturbing, like fairies and mermaids.

The other option was based on DIY paper lanterns. The Pulp Lamp, by the designer Enrique Romero, using papier-maché on inflatable molds, prove me it was possible to use this technique to produce ecological, easy, cheap, yet original and interesting shapes.

Using wire structure to constrain inflated balloons, I produced shapes that evoke insect cocoon, and some weird fruits and vegetables. Covered with paper and glue, after being dried, it becames a lantern.

Some sketches of shape researches

Some sketches of shape researches

Lamp shades inflatable prototypes.

Prototypes made out of inflatable balloons constrained into metal wire structures.

Lanterns created with this technique had the advantage to be big enough to host the LED blocks, heat-resistant if build with the right material, and aesthetically coherent with the idea of the installation. That was the chosen option to produce a couple of dozen of light-shades.

Trails and ideas Explore, get lost, discover...

Planned for a night exhibition in a park, I wanted to design an interactive installation to bring people in the middle of the woods. People usually don’t step out of the main enlighten way. Yet One has to feel lost, somewhere in a dark undergrowth, to fully be aware of One’s surrounding. Somewhere between the treasure map and Hansel and Gretel’s trail, the installation was aimed to guide the wanderer on undiscovered paths, where only the few meters ahead would be lid.

A first creative option was to use an Ariadne’s thread. Holding it would make a light shine ahead, leading the way to the undergrowth. Releasing would turn off the light.

Ariadne's thread, Sirènes Sylvestre first sketches.

Ariadne’s thread, Sirènes Sylvestre first sketches.

As in all interactive artwork, the idea also come from/with the technical solution. The thread touch detection would have been done by capacitive detection over a metal thread. But it might have been unreliable and complicated to produce, risking to end up with a poor interactive experience. The use of sound guidance or sound detection was quickly dismissed because it might have interfere with the sounds of nature. Motion detection appeared then to be the most simple, cheap and efficient solution. It made the thread useless, and with no action required from the visitor, it would create an even more immersive feeling. Lights turning magically on ahead, and off behind, the visitor would not see anymore where he came from, neither far ahead, the only choice offered to him would be to go on.

The inspiration came from mythology, fairy tales and popular stories. It is connected to the mermaid and their ability to lure wanderers away from the safe ways. Inspired by Ariadne’s thread or Hansel and Gretel’s rocks path: both knew an efficient system to find a way through an hostile environment. The light path, which disappears behind you as you go through, is also an interesting idea from the Alice in Wonderland journey. The little forest spirits, guiding Mononoke Princess in the Miyazaki movie. The Faeries, in the book by Brian Froud illustrated by Alan Lee…

The project fed on all those fantasies connected to the unknown things of nature, which follow their own ways and interact from times to times with humans. As any phenomenon, they are beyond moral judgment: neither good nor bad, they are pure instinct.

Working on the design of the lights meant trying to find a way to express this facinating characteristic: to attract and repulse at the same time…

Call for Proposal Carte blanche for an exhibition in Bordeaux

Média-Cité contacted our collective Lab212 to be part of the festival PanOrama, and more specifically the Nuit Verte (Green Night), happening in a park near Bordeaux. The goal of this festival was to highlight the many parks on the east shore of the Garonne river. The Nuit Verte was a special event happening on one night, in the parc de l’Hermitage. It was an art event, where dozens of performances, projections and interactive art works were programmed.

Map of the parc de l'Hermitage, where the event happenned.

Map of the parc de l’Hermitage, where the event was going to happen.

The possibility to work on an interactive installation for a park, at night, was exciting. It brought back childhood memories. Deer bellow in autumn, stories told at night in the middle of the woods, like the legend of Thibaud “the Cheater”, who was damned after chopping a priest’s head, to chase a dear he could never catch…

Roe-deer eating bushes in the garden of my childhood house.

Roe-deer eating bushes in my parent’s garden.

I decided to use this opportunity to bring people away from the main paths of the park.

*cover image: View of Bordeaux and the Garonne river from the parc de l’Hermitage, picture by Jamé Decentrois