Nature knows best

We travelled to Southern France in early September 2016. At 11am, we exited our air-conditioned TGV at Bollène – La Croisière. Our plan was to walk to St-Martin-d’Ardèche, where we would spend the night. After a gruesome hour and a half, we reach the town of Pont-St-Esprit and reassessed the situation over lunch: with the heat reaching 35 degrees Celsius, we would have to wait for the coolness of early evening to go on walking on the small tarmac roads leading to our destination. So we explored the town museum and an art exhibition taking place in the priory. The attendants at the table barely lifted an eyelid and ticked a piece of paper as I entered; I seem to remember one was smoking. The exhibition itself involved video set-ups made by artists inspired by Nam June Paik. At the back, was a stack of TV screens of various sizes showing interference patterns and chaotic trajectories: light paths on a darker background, I cannot remember much colour. The artist was there, frustrated by some technical issues, and asked what I thought. The question was hard to answer. The setup was interesting, the maths teacher in me enjoyed the references to dynamical systems, yet I found watching all these lights flashing in various directions very unnerving and disquieting – which if I remember well was part of the idea. I remained skeptical.

The following day, after an early morning hike along the Ardèche on another canicular day, we settled by the river to cool down. I soon became fascinated by the patterns of light reflected from the water surface underneath the rocks overhanging the river. Their soft moves and shimmerings were hypnotising, surprisingly relaxing and conducive to contemplation. It seemed to me that nature was doing with ease and elegance what the video artist has been trying to recreate on his screens. In this, as in many things, I concluded, Nature knows best.

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The Ardèche, the light patterns can be guessed more than seen on the rocks.