French artist has art installation made from sponge

Written by Lauren Fenner, CNN

French aerial photographer Philippe Gregoire has created an extraordinary response to nature’s wildest storms: a wind-resistant art installation that is protected from the elements by a purple sponge.

The sponge, which has been made of 1,000 Tuba Rubber, is bright purple, and fitted with an invisible sponge-like material. If the sponge is standing in water, it’s waterproof; if not, it becomes highly absorbent and retains very little of the rain’s weight.

The installation is located in Rocha, in Calange, the coastal district of Notre-Dame d’Ivoire, south-east of the capital Abidjan. Its purpose is to challenge the so-called myth of the habitable seas, whereby the sea is dangerously polluted and devoid of life.

Such a belief, the photographs shoot to remind us, arises from a distorted conception of nature. Jacques Vinelière, Gregoire’s partner, says that based on extensive observation and experimentation, the craft began as a tool to revive a sense of innocence for children growing up in developing countries: “The sponge keeps them from pretending that what they see is real.”

This “Sponge Box,” as it’s known, can “dent” tall buildings with its steady swathes of tiny waves, which have been whipped by a powerful hurricane. If you look up, you’ll also see the structure’s coral-colored walls made from resin, which both offer sheer aesthetic pleasure and serve to shield the entire installation from flying debris.

The installation was made in memory of Gregoire’s three-year-old daughter, Edith, who died in an auto accident in France in 2012.

However, since its launch, the installation has drawn praise from conservationists, and won Gregoire a European green prize, amongst countless media attention, from around the world. It is expected to soon travel around the world, after being selected by the United Nations for inclusion in its Coral Reef Watch Project.

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