In his first China show, exciting French creative Céleste Boursier-Mougenot is set to prove his lifelong belief that just about anything can be music. Known for making finches play guitars (kind of) and vacuum cleaners play harmonicas, the artist’s signature exhibition, SONSARA, at Minsheng Art Museum explores how humans interact with nature.
After training for a musical career at the Conservatoire National de Nice, Boursier-Mougenot worked for over ten years as a professional composer, before turning his ear to art installations in 1994. His Shanghai exhibition features six large sound installations in combination with moving images and impressive sonic processing. Aiming to capture the diversity of sound, the show promises to ‘guide the audience through a futuristic world of noise’. And boy, does it deliver.
The exhibition begins outside the museum, with
two escalators side by side, one of which is covered
in hundreds of pebbles. It’s a unique and striking
installation juxtaposing the natural world
with manmade machinery that literally
forces you to slow down and contemplate
how the two worlds collide before entering.
Visitors are then guided through a dark fog-filled
space buzzing with a faint industrial
noise from another room and mirror-like
projections of mysterious silhouettes on
the walls that foreshadow the fascinating
installations to come.
The next room is the home to ‘Scanners’, a
piece featuring large helium balloons floating in the breeze created by electric fans with wireless
microphones attached underneath. The microphones
are used to detect and amplify random ambient sounds
By this stage, the inventive multimedia exhibition
already has our undivided attention, but the stars of the
show are still waiting in the wings. As we step through
to a large bright white room, we’re greeted by fleets of
tiny birds swooping towards us, and it takes a minute to
recognise that: a) they are real, and b) they’re just doing
whatever they damn well please.
There are 168 zebra finches in total, zooming between
strategically placed electric and bass guitars and amps.
It’s Boursier-Mougenot’s hope that the birds landing on
the strings will create the experience of listening to live
performances in nature. It kind of works, but you get the
sense the birds haven’t been adequately briefed on what
exactly they’re meant to be playing – they’re just wingin’
it if you will. Despite the somewhat overwhelming
noise combination, the installation is
If you can tear yourself away from the
bird show, the final installation room stages
two hundred white porcelain bowls floating
in a pool of water. The flow of the water is
controlled as such that when the bowls touch,
the beautiful, delicate sound reverberates
around the entire hall.
In a city that thinks it’s seen it all, Boursier-
Mougenot’s works are as refreshingly
alternative as it gets.