Céleste Boursier-Mougenot

Bénédicte Ramade
  • Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, transHumUs 1, 2015. Photo: © Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, courtesy of Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
  • Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, transHumUs 1, 2015. Photo: © Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, courtesy of Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
  • Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, from here to ear v. 19, installation view, Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, 2015 – 2016. Photo: Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, Justine Février, courtesy of Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal
  • Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, from here to ear – FreePort [No. 007]: Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, installation view, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, 2014. Photo: © Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, courtesy of the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
  • Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, from here to ear (version hors série), installation view, dépôt du CNAP au Frac Franche-Comté, Besançon, 2014. Photo: © Blaise Adilon, © Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, courtesy of the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot plays the living like an instrument. Whether with trees or with birds, he creates subtle installations that encompass the social behaviours of species and maximize the effects of the presence of living beings. For the 56th Venice Biennale, three Scotch pines were installed on motorized platforms propelled by the stimuli emitted by the trees as a function of the ambient environment (light, heat, humidity) and translated into electric waves (transHuMus, 2015). The trees moved slowly and also produced sounds that could be heard in the pavilion: the sound of nature converted into electronic sounds.

Whether plants have intelligence is a debate that has raged among scientists: can they have such a capacity when they don’t have neurons? We know already that plants “communicate” with each other, modify their chemistry when threatened by certain species, and draw rain, but are these motorized trees capable of thought? And how do birds acclimatize to the environment of an installation (from here to ear, 2008 – 2015, presented at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts)? For this work, Boursier-Mougenot selected not a wild species but domestic specimens. These delicate zebra finches, originally from Australia, move with volubility and velocity through the space, pecking at the ten electric guitars and four basses attached to amplifiers; they seem quite oblivious to the feedback and riffs that they produce, as well as to the appreciative visitors. Indifferent to the sometimes thunderous sounds, the birds frenetically generate a score that celebrates the random. The social organization of their colony and the soft chirping exchanges are contrasted against the haphazard, confused throbbing of the guitars, all of which is observed by visitors who seem captivated by this naturalistic concert.

[Translated from the French by Käthe Roth]

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