Champagne House Ruinart Collaborates With Artists Maya Mouawad And Cyril Laurier In A 10-Year Countdown To Its Tricentennial
Ruinart may turn 300 in September 2029, but it has decided to start counting down to its tricentennial a decade in advance. In keeping with its long-established history of supporting the arts and promoting artistic firsts ever since it partnered with Czech Art Nouveau painter and illustrator Alphonse Mucha in 1896 to conceive an advertising poster, every year between now and 2029 it will debut an artist or architect collaboration mixing innovation and sustainability that will live at Maison Ruinart in Reims
Mixing innovation and sustainability is part of Ruinart’s goal of becoming the greenest and most socially responsible champagne house, occupying both a leading and an inspirational role in the industry as it believes no human product truly lasts unless it is produced with respect for its environment.
To mark the start of this ten-year-long artistic program, it commissioned up-and-coming French artists Maya Mouawad and Cyril Laurier to create Retour aux Sources, an immersive visual and sound installation combining art, artificial intelligence, and sustainability that has been two years in the making.
Working with a large network of artists, experience designers, audio and video engineers, costume designers and technology providers for the past decade, the Barcelona-based artistic duo and real-life couple has been crafting works of art and live performances through technology to create new types of user experiences.
In partnership with Pablo Valbuena, they pioneered video mapping and have continued in this vein by collaborating with AntiVJ and Romain Tardy. As artists who focus on environmental issues, Mouawad and Laurier were clear from the beginning that their project for Ruinart would address climate change without realizing that the topic was important for the brand too.
Ruinart produces everything on site and depends a great deal on the weather, the terroir, and what nature can offer.
Retour aux Sources takes the form of a root materialized as a steel structure upon which hang handcrafted Murano glass LED lamps. Endowed with sensitive intelligence evolving in a century-old chalk cellar 30 meters below ground, space once occupied by an ocean, the root listens to the natural and human elements necessary to the champagne production process happening above.
These include climate data, vineyard life cycle, grape ripening, fermentation, winemaking, and the number of visitors, conveying emotions to spectators through light, color, sound, movement, and rhythm to remind us that human beings and nature are intrinsically connected.
The installation relies on real-time data collected from sensors in the vineyards, while comparing it with stored data from the last ten years, and learns as time goes by, so the artwork will offer viewers a unique experience each time it’s activated.
I sat down with Mouawad and Laurier to discuss art, technology, and sustainability.
Q&P: Tell me about your backgrounds.
Maya Mouawad: My parents were both fashion designers from Lebanon making haute couture. Cyril and I met at university in Paris where we studied art and technology together. It was linked with a laboratory and research in virtual and augmented reality.
Cyril Laurier: My mother is a dance teacher and with my father and the family, we were always working together to put on shows. I grew up with music, dance, and art. Maya and I attended the same school, which brings programming to art. I focused more on music and sound. Then I did a master at the IRCAM, a well-known music research center at the Centre Pompidou. I did a PhD in artificial intelligence but applied to music. We went on our own paths: I was doing more music technology, and Maya was more into animation and scenography. At some point, we felt like there was a great opportunity to bring our knowledge together.
MM: It’s very complementary. The first time we started doing this kind of thing was in 2007. It was hard. Nobody knew about technology; there were very few tools. We started to work with different artists, but the thing is we have a background in engineering for art, so it was very hard for us at the time to become artists because people didn’t really understand that we could be artists, as they saw us as technologists. It was very hard to carve out our space, so we began by working with artists to create tools and gain experience. Our work needs big budgets because it’s a lot of development time, coding, and materials.
We started working with Romain Tardy, who is a part of AntiVJ, to create software that could control LEDs, which was not really possible this way at the time. We developed robots and devices to control physical elements, and then we started working with Pablo Valbuena, one of the guys who created the concept of video mapping. We had him controlling LED lights with our software and created algorithms to move the light. Then we collaborated occasionally with Adrien Mondot and Claire Bardainne, who are quite famous in France, on their light show and dance with Maotik and these kinds of artists, but then we arrived at a point where there was a limit. We couldn’t express our real art; we were depending too much on the other artist’s idea.
Q&P: How do you view the relationship between art and technology in your work?
MM: It’s not art at the service of technology. Technology is a tool. We never put technology at the center. It’s never that we’re going to do something in augmented reality because it’s fun. It’s what is the message, what do we want people to feel, and then sometimes it uses technology. This is how in the end it happens that we innovate.
We see people around us really enthusiastic about technology, but as we grew up with it it’s not our focus. Our focus is on nature and the connection with it, and the fact that we feel humans are being robotized. We are close to our forties so we need to do something that has an objective, that has meaning. Using technology, we want to fight against climate change and the fact that we are not robots and have feelings. It’s contradictory. There is a connection between you and me when we talk, there are things going on, but we forget about this learning because we start trusting too much in technology. This is basically the main theme we want to keep in our work.
Q&P: Your art aims to question the role of machines in the modern world. How do you use technology to humanize society?
CL: That’s actually what we’re trying to do by using the same tools. Artificial intelligence can be used to predict or induce behaviors for many reasons. It can be for advertisements to make people buy more things or to understand nature better to make better wines and increase biodiversity like Ruinart is doing. It’s hard to know what’s significant to do when facing the challenges of climate change, so these tools are really helpful for understanding the subject and deciding what to focus on. We use artificial intelligence as a way to give a message and raise awareness about what we care about, so it’s another use of the same tools. It’s important to have this balance.
Q&P: How is Retour aux Sources different from your past works?
MM: There is a construction part, which is a new area for us. Usually we work on ephemeral projects, where people come, build it up and then they take it away. In this case, it’s more a kind of architectural approach, which was very different, finding the right specialists in something that is very rare. We had an incredible team. The feeling between each other is also important because we want to have fun when we work and have a connection.
CL: It’s different because it’s permanent, and Ruinart allowed us a lot of artistic research because they trusted in our ideas. We had a long time also to think about it, to design it, to find the right solutions, to experiment. We could focus 100 percent on this project.
Q&P: Is sustainability important in your work?
MM: Yes, like I wonder if it’s sustainable to build Retour aux Sources. How much carbon went into making this sculpture? If I really wanted to be sustainable, I’d go live in the forest. It’s a hard topic. I hear a lot that art can help trigger change, that it has an impact on society to change the way people think. It’s a very hard thing to do to tell people they’re going to change the way they live. So the fact that some people who will see this installation will change the way they live and reduce their carbon footprint will hopefully compensate the carbon of the construction itself.
The guys who made the stainless steel structure are really close by, like half an hour by car from Ruinart, which is good as it’s the most expensive thing to transport. But the blown glass parts, we couldn’t find anybody in France able to do that. So they come from Venice, from Murano. It’s still Europe, and the light inside is from Barcelona.
CL: Sustainability is at the core of our message. Of course, it triggers a lot of questions for ourselves, in our lives and work. We think about the best way possible to lower our emissions. We are conscious that it is difficult because when you work on something, you cannot generate things. It’s always a challenge. Ruinart is also very engaged in this topic and have been making a lot of efforts already, and we’re really happy about it. We worked here and saw that they reduced waste to a minimum on many things, so it’s a good partnership for them.
Q&P: What are the greatest challenges you face when creating your artworks?
CL: The day-to-day, short-term challenges are often technical. Our artworks are usually technically challenging, and we like to innovate, or at least to learn and try new things. So it obviously creates technical issues to solve. However, the greatest challenge is to find efficient ways to make new pieces possible, allowing the freedom to control the message. It means to be able to develop artistic research without much compromise, but still some budget because our tools are not inexpensive. This freedom is precious. Also, we are becoming more and more aware of the impact of our life on the planet, and we use our artworks to convey this message. So it is becoming challenging to be coherent with this as we are building and making things, using energy for the shows and also for traveling, often flying. It is a recurrent question in our daily life and it has recently started to spread in the art world as an important topic, which is very encouraging and exciting. We don’t have all the answers yet, but it feels great to see so many people thinking in the same way.
For more information, please visit www.ruinart.com/en-us/art/artistic-collaborations/retour-aux-sources.