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Serpent d'Océan  (Huang Yong Ping, 2012, aluminum sculpture)

Serpent d’Océan (Huang Yong Ping, 2012, aluminum sculpture)

Here is an amazing giant sea serpent sculpture by the Franco-Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping. The 130 meter long artwork is made of aluminum and is appropriately titled Serpent d’Océan (“Sea Serpent”). The sculptor completed the piece in 2012 for the Loire “Estuaire” festival. He erected the monumental work at the mouth of the Loire River where the great waterway empties into the Atlantic Ocean–just west of the port city of Nantes.

Serpent d'Océan (Huang Yong Ping, 2012, aluminum sculpture)

Serpent d’Océan (Huang Yong Ping, 2012, aluminum sculpture)

The head of Serpent d’Océan lies just above the high tide mark and its tail is just below the low tide boundary. Thus, every day the serpent goes from being mostly submerged to mostly on land. At low tide, art enthusiasts can walk around the piece and see it close up like a museum specimen. At high tide it takes on a mythical supernatural character as it appears to writhe through the waves.

Serpent d'Océan (Huang Yong Ping, 2012, aluminum sculpture)

Serpent d’Océan (Huang Yong Ping, 2012, aluminum sculpture)

The artist Huang Yong Ping designed the serpent to straddle all sorts of boundaries. It is neither at sea nor properly on land. Likewise it lies where river meets ocean and the ecosystem is neither fully marine nor riverine. The serpent is a metal sculpture designed to look like a living skeleton of a mythical creature. The sculptor himself self-identifies as neither entirely Chinese nor French: he used myths from both cultures to inform his sculpture. Indeed the serpent takes on even more facets when considered in the light of world trade (where monsters–real and imagined–abound). Additionally, as a youth, Huang studied with the French master of artistic ambiguity Marcel Duchamp. Most of Huang’s artworks blur the lines between art and non-art (though, like Duchamp, he tries to stick to the former category).

Serpent d'Océan (Huang Yong Ping, 2012, aluminum sculpture)

Serpent d’Océan (Huang Yong Ping, 2012, aluminum sculpture)

The artist has expressed his hope that, as the sculpture ages, various tidal plants and animals will begin to colonize it and live within—or atop–the metal creation. As seabirds build their nests there and living amphibious beasts hide and feed within the snake, it will stretch across even more boundaries.

City Center of Nantes

City Center of Nantes

You are probably familiar with Nantes because of the 1598 Edict of Nantes, a royal proclamation whereby the French king Henry IV granted substantial rights to his Protestant subjects. The Edict of Nantes–and its revocation in 1685 by Louis XIV–were critical drivers for the historical events in continental Europe during the Age of Absolutism (which in turn gave shape to the modern world). However Nantes is also a real place—an industrialized port city near where the Loire river empties into the Atlantic on the west coast of France.

The château of the Dukes of Brittany

The château of the Dukes of Brittany

Although Paris monopolizes most of the international attention which France receives, Nantes is notable as an extremely innovative city which eagerly tries out various new paradigms and technologies. Although not all of these concepts are winners, some of them have paid off remarkably well, and Nantes is often mentioned as one of the safest and most pleasant cities to live in. Indeed back in 2004, a magazine (which was a sort of periodically-issued softback book) named the city as Europe’s most livable.

The port of Nantes ( attributed to Nicolas Ozanne, ca. 1800, inkwash drawing)

The port of Nantes ( attributed to Nicolas Ozanne, ca. 1800, inkwash drawing)

Nantes has a long history as an innovator and early adapter. Through the troubling lens of history we can see how this has been both bad and good. For example, Nantes was the first French city to leap into the slave trade back in the era of colonial expansion and it remained the center of the French triangle trade until that evil commerce was abolished in 1818. Nantes also enthusiastically embraced the French revolution and it was an early industrialized city which featured what was arguably the world’s first mass-transit system.

The Nantes Tramway opened in 1985--as other cities got rid of their trams.

The Nantes Tramway opened in 1985–as other cities got rid of their trams.

In the contemporary world, Nantes has all sorts of futuristic architecture and art projects. These combine very evocatively with its dramatic Ancien Régime heritage to make it look like an alternate reality. Ultra-modern trams run along greenways beneath castle walls. Giant robot cranes loom above bike trails and sculpture gardens. Indeed the sculptures of Nantes are what drew my attention to it in the first place (I, uh, only knew about Nantes because of the famous edict and I sort of thought the place stopped existing after the counter-reformation). I’ll feature an interesting public sculpture from Nantes tomorrow!

dezeen_Tour-Vegetale-de-Nantes-by-Edouard-Francois-1nantes

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