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Jean-Pierre Gauthier and the birds (theme #15)

Mis à jour : août 21

Theme : DIY / Handmade


Do it yourself, Do it yourself: the expression suggests inventing machines using everyday materials or repairing everyday objects. Do it yourself also means (re)creating something that already exists, but in an unexpected way. Think of a foley artist in a dubbing studio. Plasticine is used to reproduce the sound of handling raw meat, playing dice in water replace ice cubes in scotch, and breaking celery suggests the cracking of bones.

Let's look at some elements of Jean-Pierre Gauthier's artistic practice from this angle. The artist reclaims, alters, and mechanizes everyday objects in order to exploit their sound potential in installations that are often poetic and playful. He designs machine-artworks to resemble living things through the articulation of mechanical, electronic, and computer systems. In the summer of 2018, the Musée d'art de Joliette presented an exhibition of his work entitled The Stochastic Generators, which I curated.

In 2002, Gauthier completed a project at AXENÉO7: a bird house on a human scale entitled Becoming a Bird. It was topped by various weather-vanes connected to piezoelectric motors that produced a chorus of bird songs according to the wind. This launched the artist’s research about the relationship between system and chance, the organic and the inorganic. In the following years, he combined a similar mechanism with various amplifying objects to create something like rare bird calls. Visitors are invited to turn a handle that activates the hybrid instrument and triggers an unearthly song.


© Jean-Pierre Gauthier, Clarinette, deuxième partie, 2017. Photo : Paul Litherland

By injecting a dose of chaos into a mechanical system, Gauthier attempts to reproduce a living sound. Can randomness be generated? Can chance be reproduced? Although a roll of the dice will never abolish chance, as Mallarmé once wrote, Gauthier approaches it through play. His recent works are most often activated by the presence of the public, whether passing or acting: the primary principle of interactivity. This is an additional layer of DIY in Gauthier's practice: invited to interact with the work, visitors "do" the work themselves, at least in part.


© Jean-Pierre Gauthier, Générateur stochastique, 2018. Photo : Ysabelle Forest

The installation Stochastic Generator (2018) invites playfulness. In mathematics as in music, a stochastic process involves at least one random variable. This installation is akin to a music box in the form of an interactive game-of-chance console; its randomness lies in the composition being partially in the hands of the public. Turning the machine’s knobs generates analog sounds that are transmitted to, then modulated by digital audio programming inspired by generative music. Three distinct tracks start to intertwine in an acousmonium of ABS tubes. The viewer, through the activation of controllers, kinetic sensors, and coloured buttons, becomes the performer.

The Stochastic Generator was to be included in Jean-Pierre Gauthier's solo exhibition at the artist-run centre OBORO in April 2020. The event was obviously postponed due to the pandemic. The health crisis forced the artist to rethink the interactivity system of his artwork, which was done by manipulating knobs and a joystick. Version 2.0 of the installation includes three pedals and laser kinetic sensors to avoid hand contact. This is yet another quality of the DIY: increased adaptability and otherwise unsuspected possibilities. The exhibition, now presented in collaboration with the ELLEPHANT gallery, is scheduled for the fall of 2020.

Stay tuned not to miss it!


© Jean-Pierre Gauthier, Les oiseaux, 2011. Photo : Paul Litherland


This article was written by Charlotte Lalou Rousseau, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art, Musée d'art de Joliette.

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