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Utopian ecosystems by Damien Viel

 By Andrea Laugerotte

Our world is a complex ecosystem whose origins and functioning are still debated today. Why is there matter rather than nothingness ? And where does this mechanical and symbiotic order innate to nature come from which, moreover, constitutes, for some, the proof of the existence of a superior and divine force ? All these questions inhabit the work of Damien Viel, a multidisciplinary artist who graduated from the École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Nantes. As a child, Damien Viel lived very close to nature, already aware that he was part of a whole; this sensitivity can be found today in each of his works, which themselves refer to molecular biology as well as to human physiology and metaphysics. However, this creative process is never motivated by a desire to reproduce scientific phenomena identically, but rather to offer a more aesthetic, fictitious and personal interpretation. Inspired by the thinking of naturalist scientists and philosophers such as Charles Darwin, the works produced by the artist then integrate evolutionary series that can interact with each other and exalt each other, thus reproducing the pattern of evolution according to which the living thing adapts to its environment and to the other living organisms that surround it in order to better survive. This formal experimentation is also found in the use of a plurality of techniques including engraving, monotype and digital drawing on various supports such as glass, composite aluminum or plexiglass.


“Art allows us to discover ourselves much more multiple and complex. I offer my perception which invites the spectator to observe reality differently and offers a new look which goes beyond appearances…”


Damien Viel's artistic approach begins with a first work of archiving, a process constantly nourished by research but also walks in nature and varied readings. Today the collection accumulated by the artist consists of photographs, preparatory sketches, plants, roots, stones and fossils, but also drawings made by renowned researchers such as the Spanish neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal or the German biologist Ernst Hackel. This step allows the artist to deepen his understanding of the living world and his place within it, but also to memorize the different biomorphic forms and organic structures that surround us. These elements then resurface randomly within his work, creating complex networks called utopian ecosystems. Each combination is then fundamentally accidental and may turn out to be surprising or may not work, in the same way that a hypothesis may be refuted following an inconclusive scientific experiment. During his research, Viel realizes that there are many similarities and connections between very different environments such as the neural network and the root system of trees; by choosing to combine them, he offers a new perception and invites us to look at the world differently. These links woven between the natural and the human which coexist in symbiosis in the visual universe of the artist offer a new look at ecological art. Our world is a subtle mixture of order and disorder, matter and light; within this world, Damien Viel shows us that Man and Nature do not necessarily have to be placed in opposition but rather are two interdependent elements which form part of a whole. Thus the very term utopian ecosystem reveals the artistic concept developed by the artist, celebrating a scientific beauty that is at once imperfect, balanced and idealistic.


Anxious to constantly reinvent his artistic production, Damien Viel has been working for several years to diversify his practice, confronting new mediums and integrating drawing as a true extension of his thought. The exclusive use of black pushes the artist to always put his technical skills to the test and allows him to explore the full range of possibilities in terms of working with matter, transparency, dilution of pigments, etc. While science is constantly progressing, particularly in the fields of study of medicine, biology or in the context of microscopic analysis methods, each new discovery can also find its place within the pantheon of the archives of the artist, making all these studies and inspirations sources of inexhaustible creative wealth.


Damien Viel is a French artist who graduated from the École supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Nantes Métropole in 1989 and has been a professor of digital art at the Malouine Academy of Plastic Arts in Saint-Malo since 2017. He currently lives and works in Saint - Malo. 

  “Study the science of art.

Study the art of science.

learn to see

realize that everything is connected. » 

Leonardo DeVinci

By Andrea Laugerotte

Science and art have always had a common history, without a number of scientific advances such as the invention of the train and the paint tube, the Impressionists could not have painted these landscapes which are today so acclaimed by art lovers. art and adorn the walls of our museums. Historically, some of the most famous and studied artists were also and sometimes above all scientists, this was the case of Leonardo da Vinci but also of Samuel Morse or even the botanist Anna Atkins, considered to be the first woman to have made photographs. . These examples reflect the complementarity between two practices that complement and feed each other. It is in this same logic that fits the astonishing work of Damien Viel, an artist whose vocation is to explore the limits of life in its most diverse forms and representations.  

By working and reworking visual languages and textures belonging to different scientific fields, the artist seeks to open doors to new realities, to conduct experiments, both aesthetic and plastic, in order to transcend the very object of his creation. This protocol stems from the idea that great discoveries are sometimes born of great chance or even accident, artistic experimentation can then bear fruit, or not, but the aesthetic outcome of the work does not motivate this first creative gesture of the artist. The philosopher Kant thought of Beauty as the object and the result of disinterested pleasure, the artistic genius being unaware of its own capacities; this particular vision of beauty, associated with a formal methodology, is what gives Viel's works such a daring and innovative character. If the experience of Beauty seems to be different for everyone, it still represents a significant issue and can guide the hand of the creator, in a more or less conscious way, just as it can guide the thought of the scientist: recent studies in neuropsychology have thus proven that scientists favor certain protocols or specific mathematical formulas based on their aesthetic value. In this particular case, the visualization of a "beautiful" equation activates the same area of the brain as that stimulated in front of a work of art. Beauty as conceived by the artist is therefore not so different from that of the scientist and it is therefore not surprising that these two practices, linked by Damien Viel, correspond so well.

Among the large number of series produced by Damien Viel, those dealing with images of nature are, in my opinion, of particular interest. The artist explains that he developed, at a young age, a great sensitivity for biodiversity and from this same sensitivity is born a rich and committed imagination. His work then resonates with a need to develop a new awareness of the world in which we live by sharpening our perceptions of it. Viel's works allow us to question our relationship to nature by revealing what is invisible to the naked eye and the complexity of the interactions between all living organisms.

The interest in questioning the innate beauty of nature is parallel to a desire to protect it; the birth in the 1980s of a sub-discipline of aesthetics then called environmental aesthetics largely fueled research on this subject. The writings of Emily Brady, an important researcher in this field, have sought to bear witness to a real inseparability between human beings and nature: from the food we eat to the air we breathe, everything that integrates our body ends up becoming part of it, just as the environment in which we evolve defines our movements and shapes our daily habits. If research and environmental sciences today make it possible to speak with precision of nature, to study it, the arts can go much further by bringing our imagination to go beyond the field of the possible and the intelligible. Faced with the utopian ecosystems of Damien Viel, the spectator never observes a faithful representation of the natural but finds himself more fascinated by a vision that will transcend his reality without his being able to really explain how or why. 

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