Meet Marie-Luce Nadal, the Scientist Who Tames Flies and Captures Clouds

Marie-Luce Nadal at work  | © Marie-Luce Nadal
Marie-Luce Nadal at work | © Marie-Luce Nadal
Marie-Luce Nadal is a fascinating Paris-based scientist whose quirky projects involve capturing real clouds in a tank and taming flies. She weaves the logic of science with a love for art, proposing a unique form of poetic exploration.

Marie-Luce Nadal—a graduate of architecture and scenography and a Palais de Tokyo artist—first entered the world of science with an internship at the prestigious Pierre and Marie Curie University. The DNA studies conducted required that an abundance of flies be used for experiments, but this sparked a surprisingly heartwarming emotional attachment.

Acclimatation, La Grace et la Nature, cr MLN, 2015

“I wanted to give these flies a second chance at life. Rather than raising them to be killed, like guinea pigs, I wanted to save and train them to become domestic. Training them is a form of freedom,” she said. “All they need is sugar, water, and lots of love. This way, they can live for up to five weeks.”

Mise en laisse, La Grace et la Nature (fly on a leash) © Marie-Luce Nadal

“When you first try to teach flies to fly, they go to the end of their leash and run around in circles. It’s like when you’re training a horse; you must give it support, give it a platform so that it feels safe. The lead was specially crafted to fit the anatomy of the fly’s head so that it didn’t cause any harm. I used hair because it’s the perfect thickness, then tied it in a double knot.”

“In total, there are ten fly-taming professionals that I’ve trained in the world. But tamed flies are not for sale. They’re only to give away for adoption and not just to anyone—the fly must want to go to them. I set up at the Marché Aux Oiseaux (the bird market) in Île de la Cité and let the flies choose who they wanted to go [with]. It was very respectful.”

Domptage, La Grace et la Nature (taming the fly) © Marie-Luce Nadal

As intriguing as taming flies sounds, this is not the bulk of her work. She works mainly with clouds, but ideas around control are a constant theme. “I explore the human obsession for controlling the environment. The more you seek out something that can’t be seized, the more it flees. I put things in a box to show what cannot be contained.” She delights in chasing after what can’t be caught, like in her project La Fabrique de Nuages (Cloud Factory).

Marie-Luce Nadal at work © Marie-Luce Nadal

Over the course of her travels, Nadal developed a system that allowed her to catch real particles of clouds and electric residues of thunderstorms and reduce their ephemeral essence to chemical extracts. The aim was to be able to reproduce these illusive, vaporous formations at will.

“I find it fascinating that clouds are always present but only certain conditions permit us to see them. You never see a cloud in birth or death, they’re either there or they’re not.”

La Fabrique du vaporeux, Palais de Tokyo © Marie-Luce Nadal

Nadal’s fascination for the delicate line between what can be captured and what can’t—whether through the eye’s perception, or captured in a tank—is what filters through in her project Eolorium.

Eolorium, Boite Noire, 2016 © Marie-Luce Nadal

She made an aquarium for clouds, mapping the wanderings of the atmosphere using 3D printing, so you can glimpse its geological essence and understand its evolution.

Eolorium © Marie-Luce Nadal

In her project Faire Pleurer les Nuages (Making Clouds Cry), she manufactures a crossbow weapon that shoots a special cocktail of scientifically crafted substances into the air. The aim is to cause a poetic downpour of tears. “To make a cloud cry, you need a moment of friction. But the fight is in vain, like the battle between the day and the night—there will never be a winner.”

Faire pleurer es nuages (making clouds cry) © Marie-Luce Nadal

Her family history of vineyard farming is what feeds this inspiration, having observed her grandfather’s practice of weather modification known as “cloud seeding” from a young age. The explosive practice of firing substances into the air is generally a way to increase precipitation by altering the microphysical processes within the cloud. “It’s terrifying, but magic!”

Incident domestique, experimentation © Marie-Luce Nadal

Always entangled in empathetic concerns—as was the case with the flies—she points out that clouds are always in movement, which means that the act of shooting at one cloud to create rain is an act of consciously helping your neighbor. “It’s like holding up an umbrella for another person. You’re helping your neighbor out, and you must never break the chain.”

Extrait de nuages (Extract of clouds) © Marie-Luce Nadal

Marie-Luce Nadal is currently visiting Moscow to exhibit at the 7th Moscow International Biennale of Contemporary Art.