New Art at Amiens

Égilope. Photo: Richard Hanson’

Jackie Bennett checks out the latest installations at the Amiens Festival, France

Over the past seven years, the Art, Cities & Landscape Festival in Amiens in northern France has developed as a destination for young artists, designers and landscapers. Currently there are 28 gardens and 12 installations, with new ones added each year to replace older ones that have reached the end of their natural lives.

In 2016, the successful applicants – all under 36 years of age – have responded in very different ways to the unique atmosphere and challenges created by the complex Somme landscape. The former hortillonages (market gardens), set on islands within the shallow lakes fed by the river Somme, have been revitalised by international creators keen to reflect the area’s history and culture.

There is a combination of art installations, sculpture and conventional gardens, all set in or beside the water. Many can be reached on foot, but the best way to see them is to hire a boat and wind through the waterways, mooring up and exploring the wooded islands. Here are some of the new works on show at the most recent festival.


By Collectif élément collectif: Jimme Cloo, Marion Flament, Soline Portmann

Illustrating a light touch and a respect for this fragile environment, this Paris-trained group of artists have installed 3,000 golden rods to represent a field of wheat. The title is derived from Aegilops, or goat grasses – an ancient and wild genus of wheat from which agricultural cereals were developed. Making the connection between land, water and sky, the ‘field’ recalls the productive market garden plots that have now disappeared from Amiens. The painted rods are floated by corks (painted black to be invisible), which means they move with the water and the wind, in harmony with the reed beds.

Sphère Nourricière. Photo: Richard Hanson


By Manon Bordet-Chavanes, Marie Brégeon, Johann Laskowski

For this work, three professionals from different branches of the landscape profession came together to create a sphere of plants, meant to illustrate the contrast between intensive and non-intensive farming techniques. The visitor is led through a deliberately sterile environment towards the interior, where the dome of woven willow is a biosphere where balance has been restored. The trio have interesting backgrounds – Bordet-Chavanes is an agronomist, Marie Brégeon works on communal gardens with a medical role, and Laskowski is trained in agro-ecological techniques. They hope that this project will make viewers meditate on how we produce food and question their own professions.

Les Berges Sonores. Photo: Richard Hanson


By Collectif Creative Landscape Process: Florian Bonino and Stéphanie Querio

Trained at the landscape school in Versailles, this duo from Bordeaux has created a musical installation that echoes the closeness of city and river through sound. It is a huge musical instrument, built on a pontoon in the waters of the Étang de Clermont. The sound of the water lapping against the bank is amplified, and when the waters are high, it rings loudly to warn the gardeners of the rising water. When the water subsides, the instrument rings softly, inviting visitors to sit down and listen. The title loosely translates as ‘the singing banks’.

Le Jardin Des Cimes. Photo: Richard Hanson


By Atalier Landscriptum: Alexandre Liebersart, Nicolas Orgelet, Maryline Tagliabue

An exploration of one of the key environmental challenges for the hortillonages today – the gradual encroachment of trees, particularly poplar and willow. While some see this as a good thing – the roots help to stabilise the islands – many see this as a loss of the very nature of the hortillonages, which were open fields with views across the marshland. Describing themselves as engineer-landscape designers, the members of Atalier Landscriptum have ‘harvested’ the leaves of the trees by throwing a huge 500m2 net above them that will be gradually encased with the falling leaves and colours of autumn. The message is that gardeners benefit from this slow decomposition of the leaves into a growing medium.

Réservoir. Photo: Richard Hanson


By Matthieu Pilaud

A new piece by French artist Matthieu Pilaud, who last year created the memorable ‘Dazzle’ to represent the camouflage of ships in the First World War. This metal sculpture creates a steel shell, which, paradoxically, cannot be used as a shelter despite its appearance. Constructed from stainless steel sheets, it is inaccessible, while the lines cut out echo some of Pilaud’s earlier work. It is not, he says, a memorial to the military dead, but pays homage to the living. Pilaud has exhibited in outdoor spaces across France, but also in China, Serbia and India.

Vive Les Hortillons! Photo: Richard Hanson


By The Cloud Collectif: Joris Lipsch, Rene van Poppel, Floriane Pic

This multi-disciplinary practice takes on the challenge of telling the whole evolution of the Hortillonnages from the Middle Ages to the present day. Gently perched on a sliver of land, this translucent structure tries to depict the continuing changes. It consists of two parallel corridors with moveable walls, which the visitor can manipulate to show both the advance of nature and of cultivation. One obstructs the other – so the message is that collaboration between people is needed to reach the goal – a balance between the two. Lipsch and van Poppel are Dutch architects; Pic is a French graphic designer. 

To find out more about this year’s festival, go to