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A 21st Century Manifestation of the Enlightenment: Jean-Pierre Gauthier, Battements et Papillons Essay

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Updated: Jun 21st, 2021

Introduction

In 2006 Jean-Pierre Gauthier, a talented Canadian artist who won numerous prestigious art awards, created one of the most significant artworks of the beginning of the 21st century (Jean-Pierre Gauthier 2008). He also won one of the most significant art awards, Sobey Art Award (Juliusson 2004). He called his work Battements et Papillons (Beats and Butterflies).

This installation is a great illustration of digital art since it is created with the help of technology and at the same time bears prominent artistic value. It inspires and evokes ideas about some personal things. Every viewer perceives this work of art in his/her own way (Jean-Pierre Art Gallery of Nova Scotia 2009). Beats and Butterflies is not just another installation which includes some musical instrument creating some sort of noise.

Gauthier’s art work represents a divine device which creates beautiful melody with no human interference. In one of his interviews the artist stated: “The motion, the sound, all the dimensions and the references too – I try to bring them to another level” (Landry 2009). He manages to do so. His unique to reveal new facets of motion and sound make his installation Beats and Butterflies one of the most explicit manifestations of liberation aesthetics.

The artists does not resort to conventional rules of form, he rather tries to reveal his own emotions, what he feels “from the work” (Landry 2009). Gauthier’s installation Beats and Butterflies is liberated from any conventions and laws. There is only one person to dictate his will in his art work – Jean-Pierre Gauthier himself. The installation also illustrates the four principles of the art of Enlightenment which make the work that important and valuable.

The principle of autonomy is explicitly revealed in the work

The artwork, Beats and Butterflies, is unique representative of kinetic art. Gauthier is regarded as not only an artist, but as “inventor and musician” as well (Jean-Pierre Gauthier: Machines at Play 2009). He does not follow some fashionable trends or conventional rules. Gauthier’s installation Beats and Butterflies differs from the rest of artworks.

The artist is absolutely autonomous. The installation reveals individuality of the talented kinetic artist who controls motion and sound. It is also important to point out that the artist utilizes “everyday instruments” and ordinary objects “creating a hazy environment from easy pieces” (Orlov 2003, 103).

This is one of his peculiarities which made some people call him a “virtuoso of everyday reality, an artisan of contemporary art, an entomologist of sound” (Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal 2007). Gauthier’s uniqueness lies in his absolutely inexplicable ability to transform “everyday objects” (MOCCA 2005).

Moreover, this very installation also reveals the idea of autonomy. There is no human to play the piano. The sounds are created by some external invisible power. It is possible to see and feel the motion which creates the beautiful melodies: there are some cables moving and keys are also in motion. Nevertheless, there is no definite creator of the music.

The work’s Agency description

The second principle of the art of Enlightenment is also explicitly revealed in the work. The installation, Beats and Butterflies, can be characterized by the relationship between the principal and his agent which is absolutely unique. Gauthier’s works of art cannot be regarded as “art that just hangs quietly on the wall” (Clair 2008).

Gauthier’s Beats and Butterflies is constantly in motion. Though the work has been created by the artist it has the life of its own. There is certain power of Providence in the installation since it seems that some divine powers play the instrument. When listening to the music it is possible to feel that it is not about physical rules of kinetics or rather that kinetics is not about Physics, it is something about magic.

Viewers can see “piano, bench, aluminum tape, motion detectors, microcontrollers, solenoids, relays, metal tension cables, motor” and other physical objects (DOCAM n.d.). Nevertheless, it is impossible to perceive this work of art as a physical object. The instrument is ordinary piano, but the artist made it look like a magic cornucopia which produces divine sounds instead of divine food.

At this point it is necessary to add that this very installation has been presented at numerous exhibitions not only in Canada, United States or Europe, it was popular in countries of the East (Garcia 2007). There is even a documentary devoted to the artist’s works (Akron Art Museum n.d.). Nowadays his works can be also viewed online (Vimeo n.d.). Thus, seemingly distant from its creator the installation reveals his vision and his feelings worldwide.

The work’s Criticality description

Every art work of Gauthier bears important message. His installations can touch upon absolutely different topics. For instance, he tied motion and sport in his installations (Arena: The Art of Hockey 2008). His artwork, Beats and Butterflies, draws links between music and motion.

It goes without saying that this installation evokes curiosity and like all his works makes viewers try to figure out how it all works (Johnson 2003). Some find it easy to teach acoustics and kinetics using Gauthier’s art (Jean Pierre Gauthier: Machines at Play n.d.). Nevertheless, the idea of his works is much more important than evoking curiosity or teaching some laws of Physics. Gauthier stipulates:

…I try to create brief moments of elation that activate the ear so it is no longer an organ waiting to be stuffed like a goose. At those moments, the ears are mouth and eye at once; they observe carefully, stealthily, and greedily imbibe the sound. (Jean-Pierre Gauthier’s Official Website)

Thus, the artist creates a whole new world, the fourth dimension where sounds can be perceived in some other way. Gauthier’s Beats and Butterfly carry out his intention perfectly. The dark space and the piano creating magnificent sounds do transform the ideas of motion, sound, music and art.

The work’s Universality description

It goes without saying that the work which appeals to the bottoms of viewers’ hearts, evokes various thoughts and ideas, and simply inspires, is universal. Of course, everyone perceives it in some specific way, but no one remains indifferent. For instance, people pertaining to the world of art regard Gauthier’s works “transforming an environment in a way that gives the viewer a new experience of the familiar” as unique and significant (Rudolph 2010).

Children also appreciated this installation and their astonished faces became an evidence that the work reached their hearts (Police Community Response 2010). Some say that Gauthier’s works “have a strange effect on viewers” and it is really so (Machines at Play 2010). This peculiarity of his works makes them universal.

Conclusion

On balance, it is possible to state that Beats and Butterflies is the work of art which is the perfect illustration of the art of Enlightenment realizing the four principles: Universality, Criticality, Principles of Agency and Autonomy. This installation is a unique artwork which makes people see and feel new dimensions and worlds.

Reference List

Akron Art Museum. : Machines at Play. Western Reserve Public Media. Web.

Arena: The Art of Hockey. 2008. Canadian Art. Web.

Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Jean-Pierre Gauthier Makes a Generous Gift to AGNS. Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Web.

Clair, Jeff St. 2008. : Machines at Play at the Akron Art Museum. WKSU. Web.

DOCAM. , 2006. Documentation and Conservation of the Media Arts Heritage. Web.

Garcia, Cathy Rose A. 2007. . The Korea Times. Web.

Jean Pierre Gauthier: Machines at Play. 2009. Akron Art Museum. Web.

Jean Pierre Gauthier: Machines at Play. Western Reserve Public Media. Web.

Jean-Pierre Gauthier: Machines at Play to Open at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. Web.

. Web.

Johnson, Ken. 2003. ; Jean-Pierre Gauthier – ‘Sporadic Exchange’. The New York Times. Web.

Juliusson, Svava. 2004. Jean-Pierre Gauthier Wins Sobey Art Award. E-Flux. Web.

Landry, Mike. 2009. . The Coast. Web.

Machines at Play. 2009/10. Art Gallery of Nova Scotia Winter Journal, 34: 21.

MOCCA. Toronto International Art Fair. Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art. Web.

Musée d’art Contemporain de Montréal. Jean-Pierre Gauthier Exhibition: February 10 to April 22, 2007. Musée d’art Contemporain de Montréal. Web.

Orlov, Piotr. 2003. Chelsea Version. The Village Voice, July 9: 103-117.

Police Community Response. 2010. Spotlight on Public Safety, 2, no. 4: 3.

Rudolph, Ellen. 2010. What Is Kinetic Sound Installation? An Interpretive Guide to the Exhibition… The Prairie Art Gallery, January. Vimeo. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'A 21st Century Manifestation of the Enlightenment: Jean-Pierre Gauthier, Battements et Papillons'. 21 June.

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