Arts Blog

The Audio-Visual Art of Céleste Boursier-Mougenot

In my last blog I shared information about a few different abstract forms of music-making, from albums made of tree rings to Swedish cattle herding calls. Much in the same way that people from different parts of the world create meals unique to the ingredients found in their region, musicians from around the world are able to draw on their local environments for artistic inspiration. In keeping with the theme of unique creations, I want to introduce you to the work of French artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot.

I first learned of Boursier-Mougenot when I saw a YouTube video of an art installation that consisted of white china bowls floating in a pool of slowly moving water and clanking into one another softly as they drifted in the current. The sound produced by the bowls is reminiscent of heavy wind-chimes, but with a greater resonance due to the nature of their housing. Boursier-Mougenot explains that the piece is called “Clinamen” – a Latin word that refers to the random nature of swirling atoms. The piece is mesmerizing, to say the least, and offers a therapeutic combination of visual and audible art:

In addition to his aquatic art installation, Boursier-Mougenot has created numerous other sound-oriented art installations, some of which utilize foam, vacuum cleaners, or seventy very talented finches.

Boursier-Mougenot’s installation, “From Here to Ear,” is a piece that allows viewers to walk pathways through a room that houses seventy zebra finches and a number of electric guitars and bass guitars that are positioned around the exhibit on stands. As the birds behave naturally in their surroundings, they land on the strings of the guitars (which are connected to numerous amplifiers) and a unique song is produced. The birds are well cared for and have food, water, and nests available to them in the exhibit. Boursier-Mougenot describes “From Here to Ear” as “a piece that’s impossible for humans to play,” a statement that is verified by the heavy reverb of guitars intermingling with the bird’s chatter:

In addition to being audibly stimulating, Boursier-Mougenot’s installations are also visually captivating. The housing for his sound-rich creations adds an additional theatrical element to the display, whether it’s a cave-like setting for “Clinamen”; an open and airy aviary for “From Here to Ear; or in the case of “Harmonichaos”, a luminous sequence of vacuum cleaners outfitted with harmonicas staged a dark room that makes me think of a mashup between E.T. and the Overture from “Phantom of the Opera”. I mean that, of course, with the greatest reverence for the works of Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, Steven Spielberg, and Andrew Lloyd Webber.


Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s work provides stunning examples of how music and visual art overlap one another. It’s also a reminder of the resourcefulness and versatility of artists and musicians.

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Intern: Winter 2017


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