by Stéphanie Hornstein
And so we did and got through the Beaver Hall show quite well with our formula of read label, look at art, chat about it, next. My mother really enjoyed the exhibition and I really enjoyed taking her through it, pointing out what I knew about the artists. And she told me about the parts of Québec she recognized in the paintings, about what she thought, which works she liked and which she didn’t. As we exited the last gallery, I could feel her initial uneasiness dissipating.
We still had a tiny bit of time before our lift was due and I was hungry for more. Seizing the opportunity that her newfound assurance afforded I lead us downstairs (why is it, by the way, that the contemporary galleries are relegated to the basement?) to the Boursier-Mougenot installation without really knowing what it was myself. “This won’t be long,” I offered as a consolation. And so we entered quickly, impulsively, completely ignoring the shadowy description panel next to the door.
The first thing that hit me was the movement. Birds! I turned to my mother who was having the same giddy reaction as me. There were real live birds flying around the room—over seventy zebra finches to be exact. They dipped and glided, bobbed and bounced between a dozen amplified guitars that were propped up horizontally on poles and arranged around the room like small stages or a strange looking forest. A whole habitat had been conceived for the finches with nesting holes in the walls and long grasses on the ground. Amid the scattered sand, upturned cymbals served as water and food receptacles. And whenever a bird landed on an instrument, the strings they brushed would pull sounds from the amplifiers, making the whole place resound with random, although not unpleasant, chords that the little performers added to by chirping their own tune. Elated by this simple concept, my mother and I watched as an industrious trio attempted to weave grass blades through the strings of a Gibson Thunderbird bass. Yes, it was all very clever and very amusing. Every single person walking the makeshift paths between the guitars had a big smile on, no matter their age or museum cred.
In this environment of pure glee, wordy terms like ‘installation soundscape’ or ‘ecological Gesamtkunstwerk’ or, yes, even ‘phenomenology’—too stale for the astonishing reality of live birds playing guitar!—fell away. There was no need for them, because the piece—very literally—spoke for itself. More importantly, it spoke to everyone. This, I realized as we reluctantly dashed out to catch our ride, is the true smarts of from here to ear. Far from being devoid of symbols, Boursier-Mougenot’s piece has the ability to engage nearly all viewers (minus the ornithophobics among us)—something that very few ‘cerebral’ contemporary pieces can achieve. “You’ll never guess what we saw in there!” my mom gushed to my father as we jumped into the car. Energized from my victory, I smiled from the backseat only a little smugly and listened to my parents discuss contemporary art.
from here to ear v.19 will be on view at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts until March 27th, 2016.
Image is courtesy of the he Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Copyright © Stéphanie Hornstein & art plus thought. All Rights Reserved