Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, Three Zebra finches on the electric guitar. Image courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum
SALEM, MA – From Here to Ear, an installation created by internationally acclaimed French artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, is attracting a lot of birds and people, too. The installation is part of FreePort [No. 007]: Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, the newest contemporary art exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM). The show explores soundscapes and nontraditional forms of music. Located in PEM’s Barton Art Gallery, Céleste Boursier-Mougenot installation consisting of a flock of 70 zebra finches. The installation artist converts the exhibition space into a spacious aviary in which birds interact with an array of tuned and amplified guitars. The result is continuing melody and spontaneous music.
Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, a former musician, and composer believe that rhythms and vibrations are an integral part of everyday life and must be liberated. He notes:
Music is waiting to be revealed everywhere.” This principle of music has guided many of his installations aimed at translating the visual into the auditory. With his installations, Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s creates a new musical experience by extending the 20th-century tradition of experimental music in which chance and accidents play critical role in the fostering of new sensibilities. From Here to Ear follows that tradition, engendering an innovative paradigm for how people perceive and interact with music. Trevor Smith, PEM’s Curator of the Present Tense notes that “This boundary breaking installation embraces the element of surprise, while asking us to consider the way we perceive, create and interact with music.
From Here to Ear, is Céleste Boursier-Mougenot largest finch installation to date, and perhaps the most challenging. The 70 zebra finch and the specially designed aviary that make up this installation require adequate and special care: the aviary has to be cleaned twice daily and the birds provided with fresh food and water. The birds’ health also needs serious attention. In addition to ensuring that the birds maintain a healthy circadian rhythm, exotic bird specialist Dr. Elizabeth Bradt of All Creatures Veterinary Hospital, checks on the finches health on a weekly basis. She is also on call.
Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s installation activates an environment where birds explore their habitat and respond to museum-goers. When the finches alight on guitar strings, they create a constantly changing harmonic environment, which has become a major fascination for museum visitors who cannot stop interacting with the birds. Children, in particular, have become even more engaged with the unpredictable activities of the flinches and the unrehearsed melodic and ambient music they create. Sourced from a specialty animal casting company, the 70 zebra finches which were raised in captivity by professional breeders, will be returned to their owners at the end of the exhibition.
The FreePort exhibition, an innovative project initiated by PEM, has the objective of engendering a cross-disciplinary conversion fundamental to the evolution of a 21st-century museum. To this end, contemporary artists are invited from across the globe to create unique art projects that will ensure a dialogue between the museum and its audience. From Here to Ear is one of such projects.Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s From Here to Ear, has not only become a major source of conversation among many museum-goers, it is also fostering a new understanding of the concept of art museums in the 21st century.