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Peabody Essex Museum presents 70 Zebra Finches and more

Posted by  December 10, 2013 10:00 AM

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The following was submitted by the Peabody Essex Museum:

The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) explores soundscapes and nontraditional forms of music in its newest contemporary art exhibition, FreePort [No. 007]: Céleste Boursier-Mougenot. Created by internationally acclaimed French artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, this installation transforms PEM’s Barton Gallery into a spacious aviary in which a flock of 70 zebra finches interface with an array of tuned and amplified guitars. As the birds explore their habitat and respond to museum-goers, they alight on guitar strings to create a constantly changing harmonic environment. From here to ear is the artist’s largest finch installation to date and is on view at PEM from January 18 through April 13, 2014.

Formerly a musician and composer, Céleste Boursier-Mougenot is known for creating installations that translate the visual into the auditory as well as for activating environmental systems that take on a life of their own. Boursier-Mougenot is interested in liberating the rhythms and vibrations of everyday life and believes “music is waiting to be revealed everywhere.” Extending the 20th-century tradition of experimental music in which chance plays a critical role, from here to ear fosters close listening and attunes us to the present moment.

“Boursier-Mougenot invites us into a three-dimensional score where the randomized activities of finches creates a sonic experience that is at turns melodic and ambient,” says exhibition curator and PEM’s Curator of the Present Tense, Trevor Smith. “This boundary breaking installation embraces the element of surprise, while asking us to consider the way we perceive, create and interact with music.


Where do the birds come from?

The zebra finches are sourced from a specialty animal casting company whose professional animal handlers and trainers facilitate the installation and removal of the birds as well as certify their health. The birds were raised in captivity by professional breeders and will return to their owners at the exhibition's close.

What is the care and feeding of the finches?

Twice daily, the aviary is cleaned and the birds are given fresh food and water. The finches’ health will be checked on a weekly basis by exotic bird specialist Dr. Elizabeth Bradt of All Creatures Veterinary Hospital. Additional “house calls” will be arranged as need be.

How are the birds monitored?

Only 20 people are allowed in the exhibition at any one time and a gallery interpreter is on hand at all times to answer questions and ensure animal safety.

Where do the birds sleep?

The birds rest in the hanging nest “condos” and special UV lights gradually come up in the morning and down again in the evening, so the birds maintain a healthy circadian rhythm. 

Do the birds ever escape?

The aviary has been specially designed to prevent birds from getting loose and everything the birds need is provided in the installation. 

Find more interspecies art on view in the Art & Nature Center’s newest exhibition, Beyond Human: Artist–Animal Collaborations. From bowerbirds that create elaborate displays to Asian elephants that have learned to paint and Weimaraners that patiently pose for photographs, Beyond Human explores the varied ways in which contemporary artists interface with animals to create original and surprising works of art.

Each FreePort exhibition is an invitation to a contemporary artist to establish a unique dialogue with the museum and its audiences. These artists explore the dynamics of cultural change; their creative expressions open conversations across disciplines critical to the evolution of a 21st-century museum.

THURSDAY | JANUARY 16, 2014 | 9:30 – 11:30 AM
Please join us for a breakfast and exhibition preview tour of FreePort [No. 007]: Céleste Boursier-Mougenot with curator Trevor Smith. RSVP to Caryn Boehm by January 9 by emailing or calling 978-745-9500 ext 3146.

Generous support provided by FreePort funders Jeffrey P. Beale and Fay Chandler, and with the support of the Institut Français and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States. Additional support provided by the East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum.

© 2010 Céleste Boursier-Mougenot. Courtesy of the Barbican Centre, London, and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. Photo Credit: Lyndon Douglas, Barbican Art Gallery.

Founded in 1799, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) presents outstanding works of artistic and cultural creativity in ways that transform people's lives. The museum's collection is among the finest of its kind, showcasing an unrivaled spectrum of American art and architecture as well as outstanding Asian, Asian export, Native American, African, Oceanic, maritime and photography collections. In addition to its vast holding, the museum offers a vibrant schedule of changing exhibitions and an interactive education center. The museum campus features period gardens and 22 historic properties, including Yin Yu Tang, a 200‐year‐old house that is the only example of Chinese domestic architecture on display in the United States. Currently, a comprehensive $650 million Campaign is underway to advance PEM's mission, fortify its endowment, improve infrastructures and build a 175,000-square-foot expansion.

HOURS: Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 am-5 pm, and the third Thursday of every month, 10 am-9:30 pm. Closed Mondays (except holidays), Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.

ADMISSION: Adults $18; seniors $15; students $10. Additional admission to Yin Yu Tang: $5. Members, youth 16 and under and residents of Salem enjoy free general admission and free admission to Yin Yu Tang.

INFO: Call 866‐745‐1876 or visit our website at

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