Céleste Boursier-Mougenot

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19 March 2010

Curve art is a series of site- specific commissions created for The Curve (based in the Barbican Gallery) by contemporary artists.  The latest commission for The Curve is by French artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, a trained musician and composer, creating works by drawing on the rhythms of daily life to produce sound in unexpected ways.

His first solo exhibition in the UK, takes the form of a walk-though aviary for a flock of 40 zebra finches, furnished with bass guitars and Gibson Les Paul electric guitars as perches, and cymbals as feeders containing water and seeds.  As the birds go about their routine activities, plucking strings and pecking cymbals, perching on or feeding from the various pieces of equipment, they create a random and captivating live soundscape.  The sounds are amplified to resonate throughout the gallery.

Carefully pulling back the metal chain curtain draped across the entrance, I wander into a dark passage way of flickering video imagery featuring close-ups of hands playing electric guitars. Rather than hearing the sound of the guitars playing I hear a humming drone produced by the amplification of the video signal.

As I walk into the light and into the main installation space, I expect to be confronted with a noisy composition of birds and people talking and moving around the space, instead I can only hear the occasional squeak from finches bouncing from one instrument to the next.  The installation was at full capacity, so had around 25 visitors, silently stood in small groups, huddled around instruments, patiently watching with expectant smiles to see how the birds would interact with the instruments.

Moving slowly around the small islands of sand sprouting cymbals and guitars to follow birds and find new ones, my movements within the space were affecting the movements of the birds, thus contributing to the live soundscape. I sat with other visitors around the edge of the installation and waited for birds to perch on an instrument close to me, observing the reactions of new visitors and listening to excited whispers as one bird startles another and they both move along the fretboard creating a random chance composition. The immersive live experience was both surreal and uplifting.

The artist Celeste Boursier-Mougenot said this: “My actions aim at giving structure to flows of activity whose input I do not determine, but whose resulting form is my objective.”  And the wonderful thing about this “resulting form” is that no visit is ever the same.  Because people are walking around all the time, the birds react; they move away from you, pick up a twig and start bashing it on the “A” string.

Lucy Jones, Culture blogs editor for the telegraph described the installation as ‘an oubliette of magic and fantasy in the concrete jungle of the Barbican… the best gig/art experience OF MY LIFE.’

Check out Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s installation at the Barbican Gallery on until 23 May 2010.

For further information and to watch a video of the installation please click here.

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