What happens when you put a white flower in a vase of coloured water? It’s an experiment some of us might fondly remember from our childhood, magically transforming a bunch of flowers with a dash of food colouring.
But the results are a little more frightening in a similar experiment by French artist Cornelius de Bill Baboul, as his flowers suck the colour out of sugary energy drinks. “I think they look a little bit like dancers,” he says. “Like kids on ecstasy in a techno club celebrating the end of the world”.
When De Bill Baboul first encountered the brightly-coloured drinks he was equally attracted to and amused by them, because they reminded him of engine coolant. He’d buy a bottle, taste it, then display it on a windowsill in his studio, “it was just a funny object to have,” he says.
Then one day he was sent some flowers, and recalling his own childhood experiments, put one of the stems in a drink. To his delight, the flower lapped up the sugary red fuel, and its petals took on the colour. It was the start of his latest series, Thirsty, then boosted.
A browse through de Bill Baboul’s website articulates his persona as an artist clearer than by words – like his work, the website is playful and ironic. “I find it really sad that we’re working in the art world and our websites are conformist,” he says. “It doesn’t feel like we’re thinking about what it means.”
Similarly, his artwork bends the rules, often fusing sculpture, collage and photography. Past projects include robot ballet dancers made out of iced eclairs, and delicate porcelain boots that double as a urinal. Currently, he is working on an installation that involves robots controlled by fish, and a perfume for artists inspired by the smell of food.
In a similar way, Thirsty, then boosted is charged by the clash between the artificial and natural. As de Bill Babout points out, it’s a clash we’re visually quite accustomed to in every day life. Perhaps what makes this work interesting – and slightly frightening – is that we’re seeing a product of nature and artifice that we’ve never encountered before.