CoSi on Absinthe


If magic can be mechanical, you’ll find it in the Machines of Isle of Nantes. This museum, dedicated to the machines and visions of Jules Verne and Leonardo da Vinci, presents a bizarrely functional world for visitors to explore. Note, I call it a museum because I just don’t know what else to name it. The project describes itself as an artistic project, which is certainly true, but the project’s goal is to inspire creativity through hands-on learning, which essentially makes this place CoSi on absinthe.

The Machine Gallery presents mechanical marvels you can not only admire from behind a rope, but actually touch, sit in, and use. The variety is as staggering as it is strange. In The Workshop, visitors can take a look under the literal and figurative hood of many of the museum’s exhibits – both those already functioning and those still in development. Everything from sketches to videos to projects mid-assembly fill the space.

Once you can appreciate what you’re about to see, it’s time to get to the serious magic.

The Great Elephant is 40 ft. high, features an indoor lounge, and makes life exciting for everyone by blasting passersby with water from its mighty trunk. It’s essentially the elephantine version of Howl’s Moving Castle. Keep in mind, however, that this is truly a beast of burden, and The Great Elephant makes itself useful by shuttling 50 visitors at a time across the extensive grounds of the museum/art project/whatever this glorious thing is.

The Marine Worlds Carousel sits on the riverbank, a three-tiered masterpiece of carnival art. It can hold 300 people in all, with 85 seats for riders. The three levels of the carousel represent different depths of the ocean, with creatures like angler fish on the bottom, and sail boats, flying fish, and jellyfish at the top. Rather than a basic, stationary mount, however, each creature on the carousel comes alive at the rider’s hands. Tentacles writhe, wings flap, and the rider controls it all. The creatures, of course, straddle the line between animal and machine. Although their model creatures are obvious, the designers chose to leave much of the inner workings exposed, especially those around moving segments. It’s a beautiful blend of natural beauty and clever machinery.

The Heron Tree is still in construction, and it will take riders to a whole new world. While the Great Elephant explores the earth, and the Marine Worlds Carousel dives into the sea, the Heron Tree will explore the sky. Currently, there is only one great branch of the tree available for the public to stroll along, but a full hanging garden is in the works. Two herons will top the tree, providing rides over the magnificent scenery.

Not only are the Machines of the Isles of Nantes based on classic steampunk literature, but they also epitomize the spirit of the movement with hands-on mechanics and the child-like wonder of the marvelous and bizarre. Blended with all of this is Verne’s own dual fascination with the works of nature and the inventions of men. All in all, I don’t think I could imagine a more fitting or appropriate tribute.

M. Leigh Hood is a rare beast of the Cincinnati wilderness typically preoccupied with writing, nerding, and filming The Spittoon List. For more articles and stories by M. Leigh Hood, look HERE.

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