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Uncovering the invisible: underwater connections, by Agnès de Cayeux

A call for projects has been launched for Art Factory’s pilot season, with two themes for artists to explore: The materiality of the network and the world of LoRa. Today, we talk with Agnès de Cayeux, a Net Art artist since the 1990s, who works with all forms of multimedia.

Over a year spent in residence at Orange’s innovation campus, Agnès de Cayeux pondered the materiality of the network. She chose, pragmatically and with a great deal of emotion and poetry, to explore “where data goes”.

But…What is the network’s story?

Agnès de Cayeux emphasizes that almost all data exchanged around the world passes through underwater cables, a fact little-known by the public, who imagines that it most often travels via satellite or antennas. While the reality lies on the seabed, they look to the skies…

“I take a keen interest in the network and data, a subject I was exposed to during my work in Net Art,” Agnès de Cayeux explains. “The fact that the vast majority of data is exchanged using underwater cables speaks to me, above all, on a human level (there are sailors in my family). What I find just as interesting is the question of art: seeking to understand the technology around networks, of course, but also to transport it somewhere. I hope, with artistic intent, to turn this into a tangible relationship between man and his earthly and underwater world”, she says.

Indeed, Agnès de Cayeux’s approach is very human. During her year in residence at Orange, she looked to get to know employees, rummage through the archives, and shine a light on Orange’s historical collections and audiovisual archives on networks. Her intention? To tell us a story.

A multifaceted artist

Agnès is a visual artist: she creates machines (such as “the wave machine”, in conjunction with Orange engineers) and installations. She also produces written work through her correspondence or poetry. Her work is testament to “how an artist latches onto a scientific theme on an axis which is not (exclusively) scientific”.

Her multifaceted artwork will be embodied in an installation including some elements created in conjunction with Orange employees:

– a plastic installation which combines her research, creations, an object found in the historical collection, a sound narrative,

– and a project which will also include the drafting of a White Paper on her vision of underwater connections, as well as her perception, having spent time on the Pierre de Fermat cable ship and in Orange’s archives, and also the time she spent conversing with researchers. She will evoke sailors and uncover their physical work and the entire industrial universe which they inhabit.

– A glossary containing vocabulary specifically used in maritime and cable-laying discourse is a planned component of this White Paper. “The idea is to uncover it all”, she explains. “How is our data processed, where does it go? Humans still have a role to play. One expects there to be a lot of electronics involved, but there are sailors who lug around the cables. It is still a very working-class world inside this industry which remains physical, in the middle of the sea or under it, on the sands of the seabed. It is very moving and powerful to see that this industrial world still exists at Orange”.

For Agnès de Cayeux, a network surveyor, the connection to her work is anything but random. She explains, “the man who installed the very first underwater cable was a painter and a poet: John Watkins Brett”. She is committed to evoking this forgotten figure, thus linking the past to the future…

Please note:

Catherine Ramus, design engineer at Orange, recalls the aim of the Art Factory project: “This project was born of Orange’s desire to carry out multidisciplinary collaborations between artists and the Group’s employees. Its purpose is to encourage innovation, explore the creative process, trigger a reflective process on the multidisciplinary approach, and pave the way for other ways of working”.

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