Beyond the experience of listening: Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s musical installation


Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s installations combine the technical with the aesthetic and sensorial; the artist refers to them as functioning like a ‘dispositif’ rather than an installation. The term, loosely translated as device or structure, foregrounds the potential to engage viewers in both the operational and aesthetic components of a work.

From here to ear (v. 13) explicitly orchestrates a space for listening and experiencing. Instruments have been constructed and tuned to create an environment for finches to feed, fly, rest and make music through interacting with them. Rather than ‘participation’ on the part of the viewer, the artist is particularly interested in the quality of human attention that arises through experiencing the installation.

Watch | Installation time-lapse

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, France b.1961 / From here to ear (v. 13) 2010 / Octagonal structures, each made in maple and plywood, harpsichord strings, piano pins, contact microphones and broadcast system, coat hangers, metal containers, seeds, water, nests, pine, sand, grass, finches / Commissioned for ‘21st Century: Art in the First Decade’ / Purchased 2011. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Céleste Boursier-Mougenot

After training as a musician and composer, Boursier-Mougenot forged an art practice that merges the visual and the auditory. Boursier-Mougenot considers music the medium through which humans most commonly experience the intangible and abstract. He aims to create the conditions for experiencing what composer and innovator of ambient music Brian Eno called ‘the long now’, by interrupting the constant assault of sensory data which passes for experience.

A simple analogy is the experience of ‘live’ music with its sense of ‘being there’, in a spatial and sensory sense, which goes beyond the experience of listening, as Boursier-Mougenot underlines:

‘Live music, produced live and where we are present, is among the phenomena which have the property of amplifying our feeling of the present moment’. The artist aims for this harmony of process and effect to encourage viewers ‘to witness their own present time’.

Watch | Musical installation

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot From here to ear (v. 13) 2010

When displayed, the work is generously supported by the Queensland Finch Society, an internationally affiliated aviculture organisation actively involved in bird conservation programs. Four species of Australian finches inhabit the art work: the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata), Gouldian finch (Erythrura gouldiae), black-throated finch (Poephila cincta), and the crimson finch (Neochmia phaeton).

The finches were cared for by volunteers from the Queensland Finch Society and Gallery staff. Further information about the Queensland Finch Society can be found at: and