In a gloriously original and creative move, Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s first UK solo exhibition taps into an audiovisual buffet of nature. At the Barbican’s ‘Aviary’, visitors find themselves unwitting participants in a dance of nature as birds ‘perform’ in an art installation.
A dark space opens into a cheerful seaside promenade, complete with wooden decking and islands of sand and grass. Curiously, Les Paul guitars, bass, and cymbals rest in these spaces. As your senses adjust to the surroundings, inexplicable bursts of loud musical chords emanate from speakers dotting the room. The instruments are ‘played’ by none other than dozens of zebra finches, perching and feeding on the instruments.
“Draw[ing] on the rhythms of daily life to produce sound in unexpected ways”, this exhibition cleverly channels the natural behaviour of birds to produce artificial sounds. The flow of visitors causes counter movement from the birds, who are encouraged to perch on the instruments with titbits of food. The contrast between these tiny and colourful birds being the source of loud and random variations of electric guitar chords is a startling surprise.
With an aim of instilling “a relationship to life, to motion, and to physical presence”, the French artist trained as a musician and composer. His previous experiments with “blending [visitor] movement with the visual and sonorous” include ‘Harmonichaos’ (‘00-‘06). This involved rigging vacuum cleaners and harmonicas to respond to visitor movement, resulting in a wave of sound.
The beauty and intricacies of nature are the real stars of this exhibition, albeit with clever manipulation from Boursier-Mougenot. Nature lovers and art enthusiasts alike will find this a captivating experience as the charming sight and sound of birds is given new dimension. A live soundtrack of natural and artificial sound spliced together, the ‘Aviary’ is a relaxing tonic for urban dwellers.
Barbican Centre, EC2
27 February - 23 May 2010