Tuesday, November 17, 2009
The Sultan's Elephant
We had the extraordinary treat last weekend of visiting Nantes, southwest of us, just up the Loire River from the Atlantic ocean. We were there as the support/babysitting team while our daughter Emily and her theater troupe performed their Cabaret Decay Unlimited. Nantes is a beautiful, lively city with elegant old buildings, a fabulous open air market (of which more next time), a castle, and vibrant cultural life. But the single thing which makes Nantes the most special in my mind is the Sultan's Elephant and Machines of the Island (les machines de l'île). In Nantes, as in Paris, between the right and left bank of the river is a large island which houses the workshop, museum and ultimately a park (still under construction) of the artist François Delaroziere, famous throughout Europe for his incredible moving sculptures and gigantic puppets. The 50 ton, 35 foot high elephant, is made of wood, iron and leather and is operated by 22 people. He moves realistically as all Delaroziere's creatures do. He appeared on the streets of London a few years ago without any prior publicity. This is one of the favorite methods the artist uses to introduce his characters. They are a surprise and they gather unsuspecting, amazed crowds around them as they appear as if from nowhere. It adds to the magic that surrounds the work of this unique artist. While visiting the elephant, who now lives next to the workshop and museum, we were able to see him come alive. He raised his trunk, opened his mouth, bellowed and shook his ears from side to side. His eyes opened and closed. He did not, however, take a stroll or blow water from his large trunk. To see all the elephant is capable of, click here. Inside the museum is a scale model of the elephants skeletal structure. The museum houses several other creatures from Delaroziere's workshop. He begins each project with a detailed mechanical drawing and then builds his creations, with a large team of craft's people, from the most ordinary of materials: billows, fans, pulleys, wire, leather, metal and beautifully carved wooden pieces. He points to Leonardo da Vinci, Gustave Eiffel and Jules Verne as his major influences. Certainly his creatures are a perfect blend of those three geniuses! All of the creatures move and visitors can ride the machines and interact with the creations. He works very hard to make the movements and articulation of his creations move in realistic ways. The sea monster was seen to emerge from the Loire river in Nantes one morning and float away. He now lives in the museum. The enormous workshop is also open to view. There is always some new and mysterious project being planned and constructed. The little girl giant is one of the most astonishing of Delaroziere's creations. She lives out of sight, but appears in one European capital or the other from time to time, usually unannounced. Over 2,500,000 have viewed this YouTube video. The princess is a recent project which appeared on the streets of Liverpool last year. Francois Delaroziere also has a Music Project which he talks about in this interview.