Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, chorégraphie (Choreography), 2012, stones. Installation view.

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, chorégraphie (Choreography), 2012, stones. Installation view.

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, chorégraphie (Choreography), 2012, stones. Installation view.

The precipitous staircase leading to Galerie Xippas is certainly one of the most astounding bits of architecture among the Marais galleries. From the bottom of the steps, one cannot see the top. Only the light indicates where the landing must be; one could otherwise imagine the staircase to be infinite. On every step, Céleste Boursier-Mougenot had placed large stones—slowing down the visitor’s ascent, prohibiting a direct path or easy balance, calling attention to each footstep. This stairwell, transformed into a mountain path or riverbed and titled chorégraphie (all works 2012), was really the invitation to a kind of dance that visitors had to interpret in their own way. It also prepared them to approach the exhibition space in the state of concentration necessary to become attuned to the work. This is an essential notion for Boursier-Mougenot, who, since the early 1990s, has developed a practice that emphasizes the aural as much as the visual—not surprisingly, since he trained as a composer. But the sculptural dimension of his art is even more pronounced: Volumes, materials, and colors are essential to the perception of the whole.

After ascending the stairs, a visitor discovered five empty beehives made of burned wood, aligned along the middle of the first room, thus calling attention to the length of the space. These dark, vertical, and geometric masses, each about four and a half feet high, and topped with a large gray stone, could be heard to emit weak, irregular sounds: sharp whistling and muffled beating, vibrations and breaths. Sometimes one thought of bell chimes or objects banging together; at others, one seemed to hear a buzz, faint as the memory of the former inhabitants of these hives. Just as the bee gathers its pollen, one had to listen closely, stop, leave, and return to gather the sounds that obeyed no apparent pattern or logic. Elsewhere, behind a glass-paned door, stood a sixth hive, its upper part intact, populated by a swarm; in this room a window was open so the bees could enter and leave the hive, brushing past a microphone placed at the entrance, skirting it or sometimes even resting on it. It was this ballet that one had heard, captured live and transformed by various computer processes—loops, feedback, delays.

Knowing that this dance and these wing-beats allow the bees to communicate among themselves, one better understood the title of the installation, relais, as well as its connection to U43, a black Bakelite telephone placed on top of a black wax stand in the intermediary space between the five empty hives and the room with the active one. The subject of Boursier-Mougenot’s work is the transmission of information. The means and the encoding used matter little, nor does whether the message is comprehensible. The telephone rang, discreetly, some twenty times per day on average, whenever a Google alert showed the word phantom appearing in a new Web page. From the swarm of bees to the Internet cloud, infinite information circulates around us constantly, affecting us more or less unawares. Boursier-Mougenot asks us to pay attention to this busy space in which we are immersed, to become more sensitive to it, to prepare ourselves to hear its messages.

Guitemie Maldonado

Translated from French by Molly Stevens.