Any old iron?
Penny Bunting visits an intriguing
Fascinating, whimsical – and at times downright surreal – the kinetic sculptures on display at Univers du Poète Ferrailleur are quite unlike any other art forms you’ll ever see.
Artist and filmmaker Robert Coudray uses recycled materials, scrap metal, and random bits of old junk to create incredible works of art. Many of them move – powered by water, wind or the sun.
Wandering through the museum and gardens, near the picturesque village of Lizio in Brittany, is like entering a fantasy world – the sculptures and architecture have a dream-like quality that fires the imagination and are completely absorbing.
In French, “ferrailleur” means scrap metal merchant. But Coudray’s sculptures are not just made of metal. He sources many of his materials from the local rubbish dump, giving unwanted and discarded items a new lease of life by using them in his art.
Look closely for a moment or two at any of his creations and you’ll soon spot an endless array of everyday items, incorporated into the sculptures in unexpected ways – an old motorcycle engine has become the body of a horse; high-heeled shoes an animal’s feet; multi-coloured electricity cables a woman’s hair.
Empty cotton reels, a pair of bellows, an ancient pocket watch – and lots and lots of bicycle wheels – are all put to ingenious, artistic use.
Inside the museum building you’ll find the artist’s solar-powered sculptures – there are 140 square metres of solar panels on the roof to ensure that his quirky creations are always moving. There are tiny clocks, mechanical puppets, carousels and huge flying machines – all spinning, whirring, ticking and flapping.
One of our favourites was an intriguing assemblage of assorted cogs and wheels and other bits and bobs that perpetually collected marbles. The marbles were carried up to the top of the structure, then released to twist and turn along a helter-skelter maze of slides back down to the bottom, where they began their journey all over again.
Many of the exhibits are interactive – great for kids, who can push buttons, pull levers and turn handles to bring the sculptures to life. One of the structures – a rusting petrol station pump with windmills of all shapes and sizes attached to it – is pedal-powered by an adjacent stationary bike.
Outside in the gardens are more fantastic creations: a metal tree with rotating windmill branches; various water features and fountains; and a collection of ramshackle, fairytale towers.
A man-made stream flows through the grounds, setting various models in motion along its way, and sheep and chickens roam around, giving the whole place a whimsical, bucolic air.
The environmental message behind the museum is clear. But Coudray’s concern for the environment doesn’t end with the sculptures – the whole place is a showcase of renewable energy and sustainable features. Buildings are made from natural materials, electricity is generated using hydraulic, wind and solar power, there are waste water treatment ponds and a water-harvesting system.
The compost loo is one of these features. Let’s face it, most people don’t have high expectations of composting toilets – it’s usually a question of get in, get out, as quickly as possible. But the compost loo at Poète Ferrailleur, with its interior of colourful mosaic tiles and antique mirrors, is delightful – and just one more example of Coudray’s ability to turn something ordinary and unremarkable into something extraordinary and beautiful.
Univers du Poète Ferrailleur is just outside Lizio, in Brittany, France. For more details and opening hours, visit www.poeteferrailleur.com.
Green Adventures June 2015