As part of its contemporary art programme this year, Musée Rodin invited Erik Samakh to hold a solo exhibition in the museum garden. Describing himself as a “hunter-gatherer” of images and sounds, Samakh always aims to create a unique experience for the audience; for this show, the artist has created a sound installation in the rose gardens surrounding The Thinker and The Three Shades, and an installation of ten natural stone blocks placed throughout the rest of the garden.
The sound installation Voices, Yew Trees accompanies the audience as they wander through the beautiful floral gardens leading them to The Thinker. The recordings feature women laughing, whispering and singing – all of whom are in fact workers at the gallery. During the day, this seems to replace the background noise of reactionary gasps and chatter. It detracts your full attention from The Thinker as you absent-mindedly try to source the voices around the garden, a totally different experience of visiting Rodin’s famous sculpture. Obviously you still find yourself standing in awe at the feet of the pensive man, but you cannot help your mind wandering as you listen to the whispers teasing your attention away. Voices, Yew Trees effectively complements whilst altering the visual and aural encounter of the rose gardens at Musée Rodin – and especially The Thinker.
Installation Pierres de lucioles au musée Rodin, Nuit des musées, 2013; Crédit Erik Samakh, ph. J. Manoukian.
Contrasting with this, the first thing I noticed about Samakh's Firefly Stones was its inefficacy during daytime viewing. The contrast between the large, squat boulders and the impressive Rodin sculptures rendered the second installation rather mediocre. It was difficult to find much to admire in comparison other than the ability to create such large structures, and Samakh’s success in creating something that is undisruptive. So, on first impressions, this installation was rather disappointing. However, on returning the same evening for the evening opening, it seemed like a different exhibition. Samakh uses his trademark “fireflies” in this installation, which fade in and out in an ethereal green glow around the garden. This is what it was all about. The boulders’ physicality adds to the otherworldly quality as the fireflies are spread over all sides of them, clustered and scattered, creating a conversational element to the light display. This coupled with the sound installation takes the audience on an eerie and transcendental journey through the otherwise familiar environment.
Erik Samakh, "Pierres de Lucioles" ; © musée Rodin 2013.
The absorbing, sensory nature of the exhibition during its nocturnal opening was masterful and powerful. It also managed to compensate for the previous disappointment. The only suggestion would be to not bother visiting during the day – try to make the evening openings as the pieces only really come to life in the dark. These are, however, only on Wednesdays, which does make it tricky but it is definitely worth it. I would go as far as to say Samakh has essentially created a performance piece, which considering the immobility of his materials is a considerable feat.
(Image on top: Erik Samakh, "Pierres de Lucioles" ; © musée Rodin 2013, photographies M.Domage.)