“MURMURE” IS THE NAME GIVEN TO THE FLIGHT OF STARLINGS
“How should we take account of, question, describe what happens every day and recurs everyday: the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the infra-ordinary, the background noise, the habitual?”
Georges Perec, The Infra-Ordinary, Seuil, 1989
From 2009 to 2010, every Sunday for an hour, the artist Élodie Merland opened her gallery by appointment, located each time in a different district of one of the cities where she lived: Dunkirk* and Toulon*. A gallery of about one square meter, including a wired telephone. A phone box.
During the performance One hour galleries, people who had been previously invited by the artist had the possibility of calling her at the number of the phone box she occupied. After picking up, Élodie described for ten minutes the situations around her or the details she had in front of her, following the four cardinal orientations. Like a kind of oral and poetic postcard, the work was the result of this exchange: activating the imagination of the people listening on the other end of the line.
Inspired by La Vue by Raymond Roussel and his interest for the micro-detail that can build a world, this telephone performance device is also reminiscent of that of the artist and poet John Giorno, with his famous Dial-a-Poem, from 1968. In New York, passers-by could call a number and hear random recordings: poetry readings, political speeches, Buddhist mantras, songs…
With another performance, Concert for 52 phone boxes (2010), Élodie Merland takes this principle even further: the artist asked 52 people with cellphones to call one of the 52 phone boxes she had turned into galleries the previous year. The spectators of this inaudible concert witnessed a silent action where the "performers" held their mobile phones to their ears and a screen was installed as a conductor, displaying the time that passed.
Like László Moholy-Nagy and his Telephone Pictures (1923), where the artist described the composition and colors of a painting by telephone to an artisan who was supposed to make it, Élodie Merland questions the status of the artist as a producer of concepts and provokes a shift in the conventional definition of the notion of author.
Currently the artist is working on a book of photographs collecting the traces of the protagonist phone kiosks of these two series of performances. These objects having now disappeared from the public space, the artist has photographed their absence. Following a very strict protocol which takes into account, for the framing, the cardinal orientation of the vanished payphone, Élodie Merland creates an archeology of everyday life, of a media world today supplanted by new technologies, and of his own artistic past.
Since 2016, words have been the main support and content of her art. Alone in his own silence is written in white chalk in a busy London location, at the height of the legs of passers-by; Sol amb el seu propi silenci is on the wall of a small passage in the city of Barcelona; Je manque d’air (I am breathless) is written on a public notice board in the city of Roubaix*.
Both powerful and fragile, the poetic fragments of the artist fit into the interstices of the city, they stand at the edge of the crack, they are in permanent tension. They defy the everyday and offer unexpected perspectives on the banal.
As an anthropologist of the “endotic” – as opposed to the exotic to quote Georges Perec once again – Élodie Merland poetically appropriates non-places: places of passage, walls of public space, shores…
Anonymous, her sentences activate a "transfiguration of the banal" (Arthur Danto) and remain imprinted in the imagination. By not claiming her actions, just by documenting them to save them from their ephemeral fate, Élodie Merland adopts the status of an anti-heroine and invites us to look at her micro-interventions from the angle of reception and the experience they provoke – as long as we manage to perceive them.
Waves never stop crossing borders (2019), is a sentence written with spray paint on a beach in Folkestone in the United Kingdom and immortalized by an overhead video shot with a drone. We can see the waves that cover and uncover these words, written towards France.
In a world defined by the attention economy, the pollution of images and the overconsumption of visual information both on social networks and in urban reality, the artist chooses discretion, suspension, projection and imagination.
At the opposite, other works by Élodie Merland materialize words or phrases through sculpture-objects in concrete or steel, heavy and durable materials. With Weakness, she fixes the moment that could lead to irreparable harm: engraved on a concrete pillow we can read: Je me retiendrai de saisir cet oreiller pour t’étouffer (I will keep from grabbing this pillow to suffocate you), a clear reference to situations of domestic violence.
In Escapade, following a residence in 2018 at the Schadet-Vercoustre foundation – a nursing home in Bourbourg in the north of France – she writes a set of words that arise from discussions or observations after spending time with about twenty memory-failing residents. Être à sec de tendresse (To be dry of tenderness); Le temps ce n’est plus de notre âge (Time, this is no longer for our age); Aller pisser et disparaître (Go piss and disappear) are a selection of sentences that she then transcribed on corten steel sheets and installed vertically on the ground, like steles forming a monument to memory that flies away.
Murmures is the artist's latest creation, an idea born during the lockdown and performed at Fructôse in Dunkirk* when social distancing was less strict. For the first time, Élodie Merland got physically closer to her audience, in particular by whispering in ears sentences on the social behavior of animals highlighting aspects of socialization and isolation.
The otter enjoys loneliness and excludes other individuals of the same sex from its territory ; The whale migrates alone or in a pair ; The naked mole rats live in a society, there is a queen, male warriors and female workers.
By encouraging the public to listen to the person receiving the "murmure", and by excluding some of the spectators from the action, Élodie Merland subverts the expectation of spectacularity that often go with artistic performances. The situation she creates is so intimate – so private – that part of the audience ultimately does not share the message and the experience. Another part, on the other hand, establishes a link, by exchanging the objects and words that Élodie has randomly distributed in order to perform actions, such as opening a bottle of beer. Without giving instructions or protocol, the artist questions the processes of sharing and observes the interactions between those present, activated by her performance.
The starlings move in groups to protect themselves from birds of prey.
Another enthusiast of everyday life, Michel de Certeau, also spoke of groups of individuals, in particular the crowd of the cybernetic age: "Number has arrived, the time of democracy, of the big city, of bureaucracies, of cybernetics. It is a supple and continuous crowd, woven tightly like a fabric without tear or seam, a multitude of quantified heroes who lose their names and faces while becoming the mobile langage of calculations and rationalities which belong to no one." For the Jesuit philosopher, “This anonymous hero is very ancient. He is the murmuring voice of societies”. Michel de Certeau, The practice of everyday life, 1984.
"Murmure" is the name given to the flight of starlings - whispers today Élodie Merland.
* French cities and towns
Text written by Valentina Peri. « Murmure » est le nom donné au vol des étourneaux ["Murmure" is the name given to the flight of starlings], published on lacritique.org, 2022.