This animated structure is made from wood and paper, and powered by sand

Pinaffo & Pluvinage have created a structure that doubles up as a dazzling art installation and technical design

It’s a system. Moving parts, shapes and materials all bound to a chain reaction; all powered by sand. Pinaffo & Pluvinage’s En cascade incorporates a ‘micro-architecture automation’ of a yurt-like structure, which was born out of an idea that came to them on a day out at the beach, where they were stirred by the flow of the sand. “We knew straight away that we had a project in mind, and started to explore a whole host of scientific phenomena studied in relation to sand,” says Marion Pinaffo, one half of the studio. This research spanned the physics of granular materials to the geometry of the sand heap, with a trustful and surrendered approach, Marion adds: “even if we don’t fully understand all of them, we always welcome the new ideas it gives us”.

For Marion and the other half of Pinaffo & Pluvinage, Raphaël Pluvinage, it was paramount that En cascade consisted of low-tech materials. “In many of our projects, there’s this idea of looking for ways of saving resources by using materials like paper, pencils and ordinary wood to create this sophisticated and complex systems,” Marion shares. Being that sand is low-tech by nature, while also having fluid properties, the team soon realised that it could store energy in the same way as a dam. “The energy is stored up high and is released when the sand flows down. It can drive various mechanical systems that can be used to programme movements, rotations, translations, with different angles and different repetition sequences,” says Marion.


Pinaffo & Pluvinage: En cascade (Copyright © Marion Pinaffo and Raphaël Pluvinage, 2023)

For the building of En cascade, Pinaffo & Pluvinage first employed the principles of animation and interaction, “but on a much smaller scale,” Marion tells us, “a booklet containing six toys, animated and powered by sand”. After the fact, they spent several weeks playing with the materials, learning more about how they interacted when paired or connected. “There’s this moment, after dozens of inconclusive attempts, where a ‘surprise’ finally occurs on the corner of the table in the studio. After this, all of our work is focused on sublimating this moment, or rather about bringing what is by nature already sublime, into the moment,” Marion adds. The results that follow took months, as they strive to become specialists with the materials and its parameters, in order to produce an installation that works next-to perfectly.

With this comes challenges; from finding the right design, to constructing the right shapes, installing the materials for its best uses, but nothing that the team aren’t familiar with. The greatest test throughout has been with the manufacturing and technical development, because as Marion says, “you never get used to that”. For manufacturing, it was the scale and ability to multiply the elements – 70 animated poster panels, and for technical development they found that a lot of the process is particularly invisible, you won’t know what it requires until you’re in it. “For example, all of the slopes of the work have a certain angle, so that the sand flows well, but not too quickly so that we can appreciate its flow,” Marion adds. But two days before production they realised that the humidity level in the air could change the angle requirements for the sand – something they would have never considered before starting the project.

All in all, Pinaffo & Pluvinage’s feat shows us that simplistic materials can still be altered and assembled to construct the most complex of structures. It’s because of this that En cascade finds its balance between installation art that is to be explored and a design structure that is meant to be studied. For Marion and Raphaël, it’s all about “playing with the viewer’s curiosity”, through the fostering of fascination and surprise, and providing hints of understanding. “We want to do this without revealing everything straight away, so as to invite them to ask themselves questions, or even leave with the desire to understand a little more”.

GalleryPinaffo & Pluvinage: En cascade (Copyright © Marion Pinaffo and Raphaël Pluvinage, 2023)

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Pinaffo & Pluvinage: En cascade (Copyright © Marion Pinaffo and Raphaël Pluvinage, 2023)

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About the Author

Yaya Azariah Clarke

Yaya (they/them) was previously a staff writer at It’s Nice That. With a particular interest in Black visual culture, they have previously written for publications such as WePresent, alongside work as a researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.

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