Celeste Boursier-Mougenot at the NGV

I’m in Melbourne for the weekend and yesterday chanced upon Clinamen, the sculptural installation by French artist and composer Celeste Boursier-Mougenot that’s currently in residence on Level 3 of the NGV International.

My first encounter with Boursier-Mougenot’s practice was back in 2010, when I experienced his commission for The Curve at the Barbican in London. A trained musician, Boursier-Mougenot’s acoustic installations employ chance and indeterminacy in a contemplative dance of parts that explore the laws of nature and the rhythms of everyday life. At the Barbican, it was a walk-through aviary of zebra finches. The space was full of cymbals and electric guitars that transformed the feeding, bathing and nesting activities of the finches into a delicate and joyful soundscape that was honestly like no other.

Celeste Boursier-Mougenot, Clinamen, 2013.

In Clinamen, Boursier-Mougenot presents a collection of white porcelain bowls, which are gently and continuously swept around a bright blue pool of water by submarine currents. The bowls – there may have been 100 of them – each have different depths and scales that affect the depth of the chimes they produce upon collision.

These deep and meditative peals recall the strange nostalgia of old clanging church bells and this ad hoc score is unsurprisingly conducive to moments of profound contemplation.

 Visually, the swirling bowls suggest everything from junk boats on the harbour to universes in orbit. Perhaps it was the headspace I was in, but these circling bowls, moving silently through the water, only to chime deeply and repeatedly upon chance collision, spoke to me of loneliness, and then fate, and then hope.

I don’t know how long I sat there for – it wouldn’t have been especially long – but I left feeling moved, calmed and quietly elated that art, once again, could offer such a space for reflection.