© Elsa Guillaume

Winner of the 2015 COAL Prize Art and Environment, Elsa Guillaume will take part in the upcoming Tara Pacific expedition. As artist-in-residence she intends to carry out a project entitled “Coral Cosmography.”

During Tara’s long expeditions, a diversity of artists-in-residence have been welcomed aboard — a way of getting a different perspective on the environment, science and life on board. Tara Expeditions sponsored the first  “Oceans” edition of the 2015 COAL Prize.  The laureate, Elsa Guillaume presented us with a few pages of her notebook, before getting on board of the Tara Pacific 2016-2018 expedition (start 28th May from Lorient FR).


26-year-old Elsa is already a confirmed adventurer. India, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, China, Japan, Brazil, Panama — Elsa hasn’t settled anywhere for long, a habit she began during her 5 years at the Beaux Arts in Paris. “I escaped for half of the year to take  a trip,”  she says.  Initially, some winter jobs in the mountains led to a summer job in the Friuli archipelago off Marseille. There, she went diving for the first time: “It was a revelation, an incredible experience, as if I had discovered another world, the other half of the world in fact.” On the internet, she found Tara and the Arctic expedition: “Polar immensity, total isolation and stories of this crew trapped for 500 days in the ice. I found it fascinating,” she says with a twinkle in her eye.

When traveling, Elsa explores and prefers “not to plan anything, in order to marvel at everything.” She takes advantage of student discounts and leafs through guides only after boarding the plane. And then she dives in search of “animals and monsters — all kinds of things, sometimes ugly and weird, that don’t look like anything ordinary. The sea abounds in these, but we know very little about the teeming life it contains.”  In Japan in 2013, she discovered the coral reefs of the Okinawa and Ichigaki archipelagos between Japan and Taiwan. “Corals were divided into small units and looked like tiny islands. Fish darted from one small island to another via the underwater currents, like invisible roads. In these incredibly rich ecosystems, everything is organized, each organism has its territory”. Overflowing with imagination, the pages of her notebooks are covered with notes and drawings of tiny crabs, strange corals, sea spiders and chubby fish.

In Limoges in 2014, the young woman discovered porcelain techniques. At the same time  she scoured libraries, immersing herself in the study of 16th century sea charts  and atlases of the New World. She was inspired to draw mysterious and bountiful islands where joyful, frolicking cannibals devour each other with charm and elegance. This was the basis of the project she presented a few weeks later for the Coal Art and Environment 2015 Prize in the Oceans category: “I want to show what’s under the water’s surface and use specific elements from the old marine maps to represent coral reefs in a fantasmagoric way. I’ve called this “Coral cosmography.” From her artwork we can guess the outlines of a commitment she herself has yet to define. But from traveling and learning, Elsa is already sure of one thing: “Like the approach taken by the Tara teams, my work should be accessible to all.  So I will focus on drawing, travel diaries, and a cartography full of images, forms and mysteries.

Elsa isn’t the least bit worried about meeting the scientific world or daily life on the exploration schooner. “I’m very curious by nature and have no trouble observing, listening and questioning people. I’m waiting to be on board to figure out how to integrate into my work all these measuring instruments, these machines, the crew and their habits,” she says impishly. Welcome aboard Elsa!

Victor Branquart for Tara Expeditions

Learn more about Elsa Guillaume’s next exhibition from  March 17 to April 1st 2016 in Paris.

More information on Elsa Guillaume’s website.

Exposition premier regard

Related items:

- Six artists have been nominated for a special COAL “Oceans” award in partnership with Tara Expeditions

- Elsa Guillaume, winner of the COAL “Oceans” prize