Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s work explores the potential musicality of a place, its location, and objects (which are often ordinary), in order to create situations where the motion and sound propel the spectator’s mind into a mesmerizing fascination for the surroundings. Musician by trade and compositor for the Pascal Rambert theatre company in the 1980s and 1990s, Céleste Boursier-Mougenot has become a key figure in the international contemporary art scene today because of his sound installations.
The artist developed his installations in direct relation with the surrounding’s architecture. For his second solo exhibition at the Xippas Gallery, he chose to reinterpret the stairway leading up to the gallery. He covered certain steps with pebbles and transformed the stairway into a steep path, a mountain hazard, or an old riverbed. The presence of nature facilitates the act of listening and, like a mountain stream, it drowns out outside noises. The stairway is constructed as a transitional space, a rite of passage, a steep and silent ascension that necessitates the visitor’s attention, forcing him to slow his steps and adapt his pace to the exhibition.
In the gallery’s principal space are five structures constructed of carbonized wood from a traditional hive (roof and body of a beehive). They act as virtual sound sculptures, emitting a light hum. The hushed low frequency sound varies slightly and recalls many of the artist’s past sound installations such as schizoframe, shown at Centre Pompidou, or transcom1, presented at the La Maison Rouge in 2010. Several microphones were used to record this sound at the entrance of a large active beehive, which contained several thousands of bees. The hum is produced by the bees’ wings as they fly about and acts as a communication tool that creates cohesion within the colony. The recording was then reworked and installed in the space and the sound vibrations are remixed to create new harmonies. This sound, which is usually perceived as white noise, a confusing murmur, or a worrying sound, is shown as a musical choreography that is both strange and captivating and which is altered by the five sources. As we move through the gallery’s corridor, and thus from one hive to another and one tonality to another, we become part of this buzzing composition.
The artist creates works that are tied to the present and which develop and continuously reinvent themselves. It is this principal that governs the final work presented in this exhibition, entitled “U43,” which is the name of the black Bakelite telephone created after WWII (Universal 1943). This inexpensive model lent itself to mass production and contributed to the democratization of the telephone in France. This telephone, graphed onto a black wax pedestal, rings when we least expect it to. This sound occurs when a certain word appears in the virtual ocean constantly navigated by Google.
The phone rings each time the word “phantom” appears on the web. This surprising and mysterious audio signal alters the object and disassociates it from its usual use of oral transmission. Instead it evokes a network of virtual communication and surveillance, as well as the constant influx of information in our lives, which is embodied here in an elegant, static, audio object.
Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s work does not pretend to have a rhetorical subtext, nor does it demonstrate or engage with a clear discourse on information. However, these new works produced in 2012 stir up our ideas and interrogate the relationship between sound and music, communication, signals, the act of listening and the dizzying possibility of superposing different presents.
Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s installation videodrones was recently shown at the Collège des Bernardins (February-April 2012) and his installation from here to ear will also be a spectacular show at Centquatre opening on September 22, 2012. This autumn, several exhibitions will present his work in USA and south America (Umass Amherst Fine Arts, MA ; French Institute Alliance Française, NYC and Montevideo Biennial, Uruguay).