Nicolas Floc'h

The Colour of Water

2014 - ongoing

Since 2014, Nicolas Floc'h and artconnexion have been working on projects linked to the marine environment. The Colour of water project was initiated as part of The Toilers of the Sea programme, bringing together scientists and artists at the Wimereux Marine Biology Centre (University of Lille – LOG 8187) with the support of the Daniel and Nina Carasso Foundation.

The scientist Hubert Loisel and Nicolas Floc'h have been working together on the colour of water in order to understand and define, on a large scale, the biological variations of the environment. This collaboration led to them attending the Ocean Optics congress in Dubrovnik at the end of 2018. What motivates this scientific community of over 500 researchers to regularly meet to discuss the issue of colour?

The stakes are high for humanity. The colour of water is largely determined by phytoplankton, the first link in the food chain at the base of life, by sediments and dissolved organic and inorganic matter.

The study of ocean colour allows us to understand and define the biological variations of the environment. Changes in ocean colour are induced by variations in the concentrations of optically significant elements in surface waters, primarily phytoplankton, but also dissolved organic substances and mineral particles. The biogeochemical composition of the water and the type of phytoplankton present can therefore be determined from the colour. Phytoplankton is not only vital for marine species but also for all species on the planet. It plays an essential role in climate regulation, CO2 absorption and storage, and oxygen production. The ocean alone assimilates 25% of CO2 and produces more than half of the oxygen. It is the regulator of the planetary balance, in permanent interaction with the land, the ice and the atmosphere. But this balance is partly based on what produces colour, i.e. the living organisms in the ocean.

Scientifically, the project combines radiometric measurements with photographs, in natural and polarised light along the water column, an innovative combination, in different regions of the world, over a wide range of marine environments. Currently, polarised measurements of ocean colour have only been approached from theoretical or in situ radiometric approaches (Marshall and R. C. Smith, 1990; Kattawar, He et al., 2014; Chowdhary et al., 2006). The first and only study showing that it is possible to detect the polarised marine signal from space was published by Loisel et al. (2008), one of the project participants. While it is recognised that such polarisation measurements are useful scientifically, as they can extract information on the chemical nature and size of suspended particles (phytoplankton, mineral particles, etc.), there is a need to continue such studies and to communicate their importance to the scientific community.

Artistically, it is a pictorial representation of the ocean and the living elements that compose it. A prairie in bloom, as depicted by the Impressionists, becomes a green, blue or yellow monochrome under water. This view takes us back to the history of art and painting, and in particular to the history of the monochrome and immersive installations, from Yves Klein to James Turrell and Ann Veronica Janssens. The colour of the water is not limited to the representation of the underwater landscape, it constitutes its complexity, richness and specificity. The immersive pictorial dimension of the marine environment, the capacity for apparent abstraction offered by the environment, makes it a complex space for exploring, at different scales, colour, light and the living organisms that compose it...

The photographs of colour and its variations in the water masses are taken according to a protocol of depth and distance from the coast. The double shooting allows us to have a complementary image to that provided by the satellites and from within the water masses.

By immersing two cameras in the water column, photographs up to 100 m deep are taken by Nicolas Floc'h or delegated to partner teams from different boats. The photographs are taken at regular intervals in the water column, at different depths, vertically and out to sea. The resulting mosaic of images forms a cross-section of the water masses showing a double gradient, one towards the shade and depth, the other towards the blue and therefore the open sea.

The series of images produced between 2015 and 2019 mainly show isolated images of water colour taken in different seas and oceans. The series from the summer of 2019 onwards will be composed essentially of sets of images like those presented in the exhibition Paysages productifs by Nicolas Floc'h at the FRAC PACA in 2020. In addition to their destination within the art field, the images will be subject to scientific analysis for the study of the colour of the ocean.