contemporary art / history of art

Artwork of the Month / February 2023

Hyper Conditionnement – Gabion 50 cm³
(Hyper-Packaging – Gabion 50 cm³)
Anne-Laure Wuillai

Water from the Mediterranean Sea, gabion in stainless steel, thermos-welded plastic bags, ampoule with light-emitting diode
50 cm x 50 cm x 50 cm

The sculptural installation “Hyper Conditionnement – Gabion 50 cm³” (Hyper-Packaging – Gabion 50 cm³) by Anne-Laure Wuillai is a gabion filled with plastic bags containing water from the Mediterranean Sea. A bulb emitting white light on the ground of the gabion makes the installation shining from the inside.

Instead of representing the sea or water in an image, Anne-Laure takes real water from the sea to lock it up. Even though imprisoned, its qualities like transparency and liquidity stay tangible, since the water is enclosed in diaphanous and elastic plastic bags. The illumination underlines this perception. However, to avoid that the bags slip apart, they are enclosed in a gabion.

Originally, gabions, filled with rocks, concrete, or sometimes sand are used in civil engineering, road building, military applications and landscaping. Nowadays, the previously mainly invisible installed cages, are getting more and more creative components in the design of public developments and even in private gardening. They serve to hedge slopes, to secure patches or even to hide storage areas. In Anne-Laure’s “Hyper-Packaging”, the gabion is the constituting element to keep the sculptural installation together.

Since the sea water is fluid, the artist needed a container to encircle it. As already stated, the transparent plastic bags allow to conserve the qualities of the element. Nevertheless, the plastic bag also refers to the contamination of our oceans by plastic waste. This becomes evident in a statement by Anne-Laure where she imagined with a touch of black humour, “that one day there would be so much packaging in our oceans that it would end up packing the entire sea”*. In consequence, the artist has wrapped at least a small part of the Mediterranean Sea.

Another association might come to mind, looking at “Hyper-Packaging – Gabion 50 cm³”: in some regions, when there is an extended interruption of water supply, similar gabions with 5 litre bags of potable water are set up in the streets, to enable the population to have some water for cooking and essential hygienic needs. Considering increasing water shortages due to the climate change, the sculptural installation could be a warning.

At the same time, the sculptural installation could refer to the domestication of water and other vital natural elements. As suggested by the enclosed water of the Mediterranean Sea, we are domesticating water for our daily use or for our protection, in building wells, dams, water pipelines and we are filling potable water into bottles.

Despite all the negative connotations, considering the daily reality of the oceans and water in general, Anne-Laure has created an artwork with a certain poesy. Even though the industrial packaging and the metal enclosure recalls our current civilisation, an undefined light shines through, like a shimmering on the ground of the sea, a message from another world.


Anne-Laure Wuillai

Born in 1987 in Versailles, France, Anne-Laure Wuillai studied two years plastic arts and applied arts at the Université Le Mirail in Toulouse. After having frequented the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris for five years, she made her bachelor in visual arts at the Université du Québec in Montreal, Canada and subsequently her Master of Arts in Paris. Already during her studies, Anne-Laure started to participate in group exhibitions, first in Paris and after her relocation to Nice (2015) in the Côte d’Azur region and in other towns in France. Since 2018, she has her workshop as permanent residency in “La Station”, a centre of contemporary art in Nice.

A determining element in Anne-Laure’s oeuvre is water. She creates artworks representing different physical states of it, as liquid or steam and also frozen, combining water with other materials, like sand and sediments. Mostly she is using water from the Mediterranean Sea, as in our artwork of the month February 2023: “Hyper Conditionnement – Gabion 50 cm³” (Hyper-Packaging – Gabion 50 cm³) from 2019. Here she enclosed the salty liquid in plastic bags and put them in a gabion. In other works of the series “Hyper-Packaging” the water bags are in a shopping trolly or combined with stones from the beach. Moreover, she collected water samples and presented them, partly coloured in glass tubes, spheres, or Plexiglas sculptures.

Combined with air, the resulting pieces might reflect the blue sky in the water or show the evaporation of the liquid element. In most of her works, the artist points to our infinite environment, which we are trying to domesticate. Besides the aspects of reality, she also introduces poetic components. In consequence, the artworks have scientific orientation and are technically accurate, but at the same time they refer aesthetically beyond that.

Until the 18th of June 2023, Anne-Laure’s works are on view in the exhibition “Vues sur mer” at the Centre International d’Art Contemporain in Carros, France. From 18th of March to 14th of May, she will participate in the group show “Puissantes” at the Citadelle de Villefranche-sur-Mer (Chapelle Saint Elme). Her residence in the Parc National de Port-Cros, in partnership with the FRAC Paca from 2022, will end with an exhibition in the Fort Sainte-Agathe, on the île de Porquerolles starting at the 29th of April 2023.

Anne-Laure lives and works in Nice.


* « Il me plaît à penser, avec un brin d’humour noir, qu’un jour il y aurait tellement d’emballages dans nos océans, que ceux-ci finiraient par emballer la mer toute entière. » quote from Michel Gathier: L’eau dans tous ses états, 2019, in: Portfolio Janvier 2023, Anne-Laure Wuillai, p. 6