the ramp

The River, an installation by Charles Sandison

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from 9th March 2010

Commissioned by the musée du quai Branly, THE RIVER is an installation by the contemporary artist Charles Sandison.

Visitors are invited to immerse themselves in a river of moving words projected with varying rhythms and concentrations along the lenght of the ramp leading up to its source: the collections area. 16 597 names of all the peoples and geographic locations displayed in the museum's collections accompany the flow of visitors.

The installation is brought to life by software that combines speech and hydrological cycles, mixing simulation techniques intended to create artificial life and to illustrate the laws of physics. The wealth of the cultures flows like the words through time and space, like water. This also allows us to observe human diversity by contemplating the channels and canyons that mark its surface, engraved by the flood of language. The way in which these signs move is designed to captivate the visitor, who is encouraged to imagine relationships between the signs, to bring them together, interpret and dream about them.


© DR

Charles Sandison was born in Scotland in 1969. He currently lives, works and teaches in Finland.

In 2009, his work Cryptozoology (2006) was projected at the Espace Culturel Louis Vuitton during the Silent Writings exhibition. In 2008, to mark the end of France's presidency of the Council of Europe, he presented his work, Manifesto, Proclamación Solemne, a public commission for the Dans la nuit, des images exhibition, in which he projected extracts from the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union onto the façade of the Grand-Palais.

The same year he stepped into the limelight with Nymphéas bleus, at the Musée d’Orsay as part of the Correspondances exhibition.

He also took part in the Shanghai Biennial in 2006 and has exhibited work at the Centre for Contemporary Images in Geneva and at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma in Helsinki, as well as holding a number of exhibitions around the world, both collectively and as an individual. He was also discovered by the general public when he took part in the Venice Biennale in 2001.

Galerie Yvon Lambert: Yvon Lambert has been representing Charles Sandison since 2007 and in January and February 2010, hosted his second Parisian exhibition, entitled Writing with light.

a foreword by Charles Sandison

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© Charles Sandison

"Rivers are the circulatory system of our planet, flowing from high ground to the oceans and seas. Water is vital as both sources for life and transportation of necessary elements.

We can think of language in a similar way, as both medium and message. Ideas flow as words through time and space, momentarily manifesting themselves as events and objects briefly imbued with specific meaning. Like water this meaning gradually evaporates and merges back into the river of human life and death. We observe human history not in terms of specific meanings but in terms of the channels and canyons inscribed on the face of our history, carved out by the flow of language.

A text projection generated by multiple computers connected to data projectors creates a river of information that flows up and down the main access ramp to the Permanent Collections. The computer program is executed in real-time creating constantly changing and evolving currents of text. The text interacts with itself, increasing and decreasing the flow of data up and down the ramp. It represents a linguistic 'hydrologic cycle'.

The programs are written in the C++ language. Each computer runs its own individual copy of the program and communicates with the other computers via a network, creating a powerful parallel processing ensemble. The system represents one of the more powerful clusters of computational power in central Paris, comparable with a cosmopolitan traffic control centre.

The mechanics of the software use a combination of artificial life and physics simulation techniques to combine language and the hydrological cycle. Computers allow us to examine seemingly unrelated concepts to discover convergent patterns. In this instance the museum architecture and presence of the visitor are catalysts, extending the physical permutations of the artwork.

The text used represents a vocabulary based on the the contents of the Permanent Collection, like a living thesaurus for the Museum. The words emerge from the entrance at the top of the ramp as if the contents of the museum had dissolved into a liquid language that then drains from the Collection.

The extent of the projection is defined by the architecture of the ramp. There is a constant implicit dialogue between visitors to the Museum and the artwork. As the visitor moves up the ramp the words flow under and around their feet as if they were paddling in a stream. At certain points the degree of immersion within the projection increases, immersing the visitor deeper in a sea words.

By the time the viewer has climbed and descended the ramp they will have unconsciously encountered the entire literal content of the collection as it flows around them. From beginning to end, the journey introduces the visitor to the objects and ideas they will encounter in the space beyond.

The aim of the work is to prepare the viewer to enter the collection, to create a state of reverie consistent with the architecture and the dream-like experience of the Permanent Collection space."

Charles Sandison, 22nd November 2009