The Zodiac Project

 

The Zodiac Project is a multimedia art installation dedicated to animals endangered due to climate change. The ancient and cross-cultural system of the Zodiac Wheel is modernized to map out Red Listed species worldwide. This project confronts viewers with our global biodiversity crisis while inspiring a systemic and symbiotic worldview.

PROJECT STATEMENT

Existing at the intersection of art and environmental education, Zodiac by Laetitia Soulier is a multimedia monument to animal species being pushed to extinction by climate change. To collectively face the reality that 27% of assessed species are threatened with extinction, the project mobilizes the art sector to raise public awareness.

Zodiac features a twelve-sided monument with every wall representing one of the earth’s regions as mapped out by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Using the symbol of a zodiac wheel, the structure is an evocation of human interdependence with animals. Each wall features local animal species that are extinct or endangered in that region due to unregulated man-made production and consumption. 

Zodiac makes the invisible visible by mapping the impending crisis and connecting the dots between these sporadic ecological collapses. The project makes the loss of biodiversity something impossible to ignore. Moving beyond the fear and guilt that dominates the climate conversation, Zodiac wishes to inspire people to mend the broken connections and restore the lost understanding that has put us on a collision course with our own home planet. Zodiac serves as a platform to build interconnectivity and imagine a new Anthropocene. 

What will the multimedia installation look like? 

The Zodiac Project is built as a 1:25 scale model of an abandoned industrial warehouse that also functions as a photographic set. This sculptural diorama is an eight-foot-wide, twelve-sided architecture, with each wall representing one of the earth’s twelve regions as mapped by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and featuring animals endangered or extinct in each region. 

Water and light flood the hyperrealistic arena through the perforated roof, creating an upside-down, meditative starscape. Perforations in the ceiling, along with the windows, diminish the barrier between the monument and nature, invoking the caves that humans occupied and decorated in the Prehistoric Age. Through the combination of spatial immersion and earthly elements in an otherwise industrial void, a cognitive shift in awareness is triggered, inciting the viewer to rethink their place in nature. 

Why did you build the Zodiac architecture as a 1/25 scale miniature diorama? 

Architects use scaled models to visualize and better build their final project. Geographers use maps as a guide to navigating complex and unknown territories. Scientists use models as representations of processes and natural phenomena in order to make predictions. The Zodiac diorama brings into perspective the out-of-scale climate crisis, in hopes of sparking imagination and action. 

In a sense, models in science and children’s toys serve similar functions. My work is inspired by children’s play. Construction games and patternmaking help us understand spatial relations between singular elements and a greater whole. Through these forms of creative play, we get a sense of our place as individuals in relation to larger cosmic harmonies.

How is this work formally similar yet different from your past work? 

As I have in previous work, I will photograph this sculpture and create a series of twelve large-scale photographs illustrating each of the IUCN world regions. The sculptural diorama and photographic series will be exhibited in the formal spaces of galleries and museums. The final element of the Zodiac is to transform the project into an online virtual space. Using video and digital design, this website will offer Zodiac’s deeper scientific data and will be an interactive visual experience accessible to anyone with internet connection.

What is Zodiac’s cultural ancestry?

Data visualization is a prehistoric practice. Stellar data, information like the location of stars, was painted alongside animals on the walls of caves like those found in Lascaux in Southern France close to where I was born. 

Later, Zodiac wheels proliferated across ages and civilizations, expressing humanity’s relationship to animals and greater natural cycles. The cross-cultural aspect of the Zodiac wheel is a powerful symbol of human interdependence with animals. It helps nudge aside the modern binary that conceptualizes nature and culture as opposites.

What is the Zodiac’s art historical context? What are the artistic influences in this work?

Hilla and Bernd Bechers’ photography of abandoned industrial architecture is a strong historical anchor for my work. I am struck by the melancholy that emanates from their photographs of a lost world. Their “Anonymous Sculptures” typology is powerful memorabilia of the wonder and horror of the industrial revolution. The Zodiac Project brings color to the Berchers’ grey skies and mechanistic approach with the magical realism of animals dancing within those same industrial ruins.

The way artists like Gordon Matta-Clarke or Georges Rouse use architecture and photography as a part of their process paved the way for my approach. Along with my closer contemporaries, Becher’s student Thomas Demand or American artist James Casebere, I build architectural models and photograph them. This process questions our perception of reality through photography and media and contributes to rewriting subversive historical tableaux. 

How does the Zodiac project challenge your artistic process?

My previous work The Fractal Architectures, inspired by my Algerian and Berber heritage, integrates geometry and mathematics as an aesthetic and conceptual exploration. In the Zodiac Project, the stellar patterns of Islamic art are still the underlying lattice, yet I embrace science and data as a political subject. While this project is still motivated by my introspective practice and artistic research, it is also my first step into data visualization and activist art. The eminence and irreversibility of the climatic tipping point we are facing compels me to challenge my work and adopt a more impact-driven art form.

Can you talk about the Zodiac’s dystopian elements?

The overwhelming reality of the climate crisis paralyzes global authorities and individuals because the solution requires a complete change of behavior and values. In Ancient Greece, tragedy offered cathartic experiences to help free the audience from the immobilizing fear of death and catastrophe. Zodiac, by portraying climatologists’ dystopian scenarios, has this cathartic potential. 

Where can people engage with the Zodiac project? Will this project reach beyond the art community?

Zodiac combines art, science, and activism. This project carries a strong appeal for galleries and museums, especially those with academic missions including institutional museums, research centers, and even Natural History museums. While the sculpture and photographs can exist in a physical exhibition space, the website offers the possibility for broad and sustained engagement with the public online.