BOURSIER-MOUGENOT, Celeste; from here to ear (v.13)
‘from ear to here (v.13)’ is an immersive sound installation that was originally commissioned for the ‘21st Century: Art in the First Decade’ exhibition. Alongside Carten Höller’s ‘Left/Right Slide’, the proposed work has become recognised as a major destination piece for the Gallery of Modern Art, attracting large, diverse audiences and receiving considerable attention in the local and national press. It would be a major, high profile acquisition for the Gallery.
The artist, Céleste BOURSIER-MOUGENOT, is internationally renowned for his unique art practice that merges the visual and the auditory. He considers music the medium through which humans most commonly experience the intangible and abstract. His art works seek to create the conditions for experiencing what composer and innovator of ambient music Brian Eno called ‘the long now’. A simple analogy is the experience of ‘live’ music with its sense of ‘being there’, in a spatial and sensory sense, which goes beyond the experience of listening. As Boursier-Mougenot underlines: ‘Live music, produced live and where we are present, is among the phenomena which have the property of amplifying our feeling of the present moment’. The artist aims for this harmony of process and effect to encourage viewers ‘to witness their own present time’.
Boursier-Mougenot’s installations combine the technical with the aesthetic and sensorial; he refers to them as functioning like a ‘dispositif’ rather than an installation. The term, loosely translated as ‘device’ or ‘structure’, foregrounds the potential to engage viewers in both the operational and aesthetic components of a work. ‘from here to ear (v.13)’ explicitly orchestrates a space for listening and experiencing. ‘Instruments’ have been constructed and tuned to create an environment for finches to feed, fly, rest and make music through interacting with them. Rather than ‘participation’ on the part of the viewer, the artist is particularly interested in the quality of human attention that arises through experiencing the installation. In an art historical context, the work can be understood in relation to the experimental sound installations and environments pioneered in the 1960s and 1970s by artists such as La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, Bill Viola and Bruce Nauman.
‘from here to ear (v.13)’ was especially created by the artist for the ‘21st Century: Art in the First Decade’ exhibition and is currently installed in gallery 3.1, GoMA. At its largest size the work comprises 5 ceiling-mounted hexagonal timber frames across which harpsichord strings are stretched in a grid formation. Numerous coat hangers are hung from the harpsichord strings so that they create dense wire columns spanning from ceiling to floor. Approximately 60 finches inhabit the art work at its largest size and fly freely between the five column forms, each of which contains water, food or nests. The finches’ interactions with the environment trigger vibrations in the harpsichord strings which are, in turn, transferred to an audio system that translates them into highly synthetic, low frequency sounds. The installation was approved by the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals and supported by the Queensland Finch Society, an internationally affiliated aviculture organisation based in Brisbane.
The art work has its genesis in a piece made by Boursier-Mougenot in 1999 while on a studio residency at PS1 Contemporary Art Center, New York. As writer Alan Lockwood described,
‘from here to ear’ debuted as an aviary festooned with wire hangers in New York… The work drew rapt attention, its finch population busily and inadvertently generating eerie electronic tones from the musical mechanism of their home. … [Subsequently] a monumental version in a scrim cube of 12 square metres, in the domed glass courtyard of the Beaux-Arts de Paris, garnered acclaim in 2002 and and offshoot – with Australian zebra finches as electric guitarists – ‘played’ the Barbican in London in May 2010.(1)
Although the version being proposed for the Collection was originally designed for gallery 3.1, GoMA, its overall size can be adapted to accommodate installation in other spaces. If approved for acquisition, the artist has made an undertaking in writing to produce detailed documentation outlining three different options for the installation of the work. The smallest of these would occupy an approximate area of 14 x 12m and contain three of the five coat hanger columns; not requiring its own discrete room, this smaller variant of the work would be able to be installed as a free standing structure within a large gallery space such as gallery 4 at QAG or galleries 1.1 and 3.3 at GoMA.
Bringing together elements of sound art, sculpture and installation art, the proposed work connects with several existing strengths of the Gallery’s Collection and would support a wide range of cross-collection displays.
1. Lockwood, Alan. ‘Céleste Boursier-Mougenot: Sonic Simplicity’. ‘Artlines’, Dec. 2010-Feb. 2011, p.22.