céleste boursier-mougenot plants a kinetic forest at the venice art biennale céleste boursier-mougenot plants a kinetic forest at the venice art biennale
may 06, 2015

céleste boursier-mougenot plants a kinetic forest at the venice art biennale

céleste boursier-mougenot plants a kinetic forest at the venice art biennale
all images © laurent lecat




céleste boursier-mougenot transforms the french pavilion at the venice art biennale 2015 from a vast, vaulted space to a kinetic forested oasis intended for reflection and retreat. the french artist presents ‘rêvolutions’ as an experimental ecosystem that reveals the constantly evolving state of nature through sound, light and motion.


curated by emma lavigne, director of the centre-pompidou-metz, the exhibition transports viewers to an otherworldly oasis of vegetation, where trees have been liberated from their original place of habitation and their roots revealed outside the pavilion and on the gallery floor. a low-voltage electrical current makes the trees move around inside the pavilion, producing an electric rustling sound environment, where visitors can find a place to relax on the semicircle of surrounding steps.

celeste-boursier-mougenot-french pavilion venice art biennale
visitors can find a place to relax on the semicircle of surrounding steps




‘while rekindling the aspiration to the marvellous and the sense of wonder of italian mannerist gardens, céleste boursier-mougenot lets his underlying political thrust filter through’ lavigne says. ‘his intention here is to commandeer systems used for controlling living beings and their movements and compose a poetic work offering humanity living spaces marked by liberty and unconventional beauty.’

celeste-boursier-mougenot-venice art biennale french pavilion
the kinetic forested oasis is intended as a place for reflection and retreat

celeste-boursier-mougenot-venice art biennale french pavilion
the experimental ecosystem reveals the constantly evolving state of nature

celeste-boursier-mougenot-venice art biennale french pavilion
roots of the trees are taken out of their traditional context and revealed on the gallery floor

celeste-boursier-mougenot-venice art biennale french pavilion
peering through branches of the trees within the interior of the french pavilion

celeste-boursier-mougenot-venice art biennale french pavilion
a sound environment is created through the slight movement of the trees

celeste-boursier-mougenot-venice art biennale french pavilion
through electricity, the moving trees transform the gallery into a surreal, organic space

celeste-boursier-mougenot-french pavilion venice art biennale
a low-voltage electrical current makes the trees move around inside the pavilion

celeste-boursier-mougenot-french pavilion venice art biennale
the movement of the trees creates a rustling sound environment outside

  • Author or Other: Could you kindly please clarify the following: it is unclear from this article if the artist has decided to put electricity INTO the living tree in order to produce movement as in electrocuting a living being or if sensors attached to the tree are reading it’s internal processes and translating them into movement made possible through a robotic, wheeled platform beneath the root ball (as reported in other descriptions of the work).

    The recent re-discovery of complex plant signalling and behavior has been the subject or recent attention both in the academic, scientific community and popularized by authors like Michael Pollan (“The Intelligent Plant”, New Yorker, 2013). All of these ideas point towards a hitherto ignored dimension of “plant intelligence”, a form of non-antrhopocentric consciousness operating at a vastly differently time-scale. Translating the internal activity of plants and trees into signals that fall within the human sensory spectrum reveals the obvious fact that trees/plants are most definitely alive, (re)active, learning and communicating beings that share the ecosystem with us. The Swiss constitution, for example, has codified this understanding in their laws and has granted plants/trees “moral rights”, similar to those granted to animals. If a greater public awareness about trees and plants’ unique sense of self, their (scientifically) documented ability to have memory and communicate with kin existed, would we find the segregation and uprooting of a tree from its natural habitat and electrocution (not that this is happening in this Boursier-Mougenot piece) for entertainment in an human-made, art pavillion free of contentions? How might we react if an artist were to display/create sound from the eletrocution of a living cat? This piece raises interesting ethical questions and I certainly hope that’s one of it’s core tenets. However, one could simply make the argument that understanding or considering a tree’s metabolic processes does not require robotics or sensor technologies but rather simply appreciating it in it’s natural surroundings. After all, if Darwin’s root brain theory concerning plants is correct, rather than having a large, grey mass of a brain like we have, their form of intelligence is distributed through millions of tiny root tips coordinating activity ‘above’. When a tree is in a forest near other trees and ‘neighbors’ the entire ecosystem is communicating through chemical messages and sharing resources. What I love about this piece is that it is bringing some of these ideas into the foreground of contemporary discourse whilst referencing nature/tech hybrids, post/trans/humanism but I would urge viewer to deeply consider the issue of the tree’s own consciousness and how it may ‘feel’ alienated, out of context, exploited and exoticized for art. After all, trees did not evolve motility (ability to move) for a reason: they don’t need to. They easily live thousands of years
    longer than we do and feed off the sun, without the need to forage,hunt or gather.

    Finally, I would be curious to know about the maintenance and after-life of this piece- how is the tree kept alive whilst being exhibited? where do the trees go when the Biennale is done?

    Please excuse my long comments – the piece stirred a deep reaction as I hope it does for other viewers.

    David Yann Robert says:
  • Hello David,

    I can confirm that in the moving trees, there are sapflow sensors, which signals are processed to send orders to a wheeled robotic platform behind.

    One of the goals is not to hurt the trees, of course 🙂

    Guilhem Saurel says:
  • Good point, David. I felt uncomfortable with this project and you translated my feelings into words. Plants are not inanimate beings, they should not be used as metaphoric objects in arts, as much as animals.

    LIege Copstein says:
  • Glad to hear this project was made without the introduction of electrical signals into the tree. Congratulations!

    the more awareness raised about plant consciousness the better.

    people are just too people-centric in their definitions of “personhood”.

    as long as people are not putting electricity IN TO the plant… artists want to go for novelty and accidentally inject living, communicating beings (like trees/plants) with electricity to make their piece work but forget they are overriding the plant’s natural communication with their human, unaware signal-pollution. long-term affects to the tree/plant are yet unknown.

    David Yann Robert says:

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