Art Review

Art Review: China Bowls, Fluid Mechanics and Zen – Celeste Boursier-Mougenot’s clinamen at the NGV

 

Installation view of Celeste Boursier-Mougenot, clinamen, from Art & Music: the Search for New Synesthesia, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Japan (Oct. 27, 2012— Feb 3, 2013) © Celeste Boursier-Mougenot. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, and Gallerie Xippas, Paris

Installation view of Celeste Boursier-Mougenot, clinamen, from Art & Music: the Search for New Synesthesia, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Japan (Oct. 27, 2012— Feb 3, 2013) © Celeste Boursier-Mougenot. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, and Gallerie Xippas, Paris

The installation of Celeste Boursier-Mougenot : clinamen in the forecourt of the NGV International is a wonderful companion piece to the current exhibition, Monet’s Garden.  The form of this installation is a large round pool, constructed with a blue lining on which float a large number of white ceramic bowls of different dimensions.  Max Delany, the NGV’s senior curator of contemporary art, refers in the May June 2013 edition of Gallery to Boursier-Mougenot working in the tradition of chance and indeterminacy epitomised in the music of John Cage.  He refers to the random movements and associated noises reflecting the randomness of nature within an orchestrated whole. Yet, rather than a completely random representation of nature, this installation can be see as also representing a more ordered and elegant view of nature that is equally rooted in Japanese art, so admired by Monet, and in the movement and sounds presented in a formal Japanese garden.

The water circulating in the pond represents both continuous movement and places of stillness where the principles of fluid mechanics result in two opposing movements of water cancelling each other out so that single bowls remain motionless for extended periods of time.  The circulation of water and bowls around the perimeter of the pool allows the viewer to contemplate a continuous loop. This is much like a life cycle often represented in Japanese views of nature, with flowers and insects presented at various points of their life-cycle. The constraint of the random, within a closed structure, presents another reflection of Japanese art and philosophy epitomised in the confines of a Japanese garden with perfectly placed plants and rocks arranged to illustrate the ‘random’ in nature.

The sounds made by the bowls gently knocking against each other are again reflective of the purity of the Japanese garden rather than the more ‘prepared’ elements of a John Cage composition.  The bell-like resonances of the striking bowls are reminiscent of the most beautiful bamboo wind chimes, a range of gentle notes that add to the viewer’s deep sense of calm. In the midst of the busy forecourt the installation is an oasis of calm, particularly if one takes the time to sit at the edge and allow total immersion in the sound and movement.  While allusions have been drawn between the bowls and water lilies, they are much more than that.  The installation presents a magnet for small children, as any combination of water and movement would do, but for an adult it invites one to be still; to be absorbed in the continuous loop; to contemplate movement and sound and to find our own Zen moment.

Leanne Norris

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