The Monumenta 2012 exhibition invited Daniel Buren to create a work for the monumental space of the 45-metre high glass atrium in the 13,500-square-metre nave of the Grand Palais in Paris The annual exhibition featured Anselm Kiefer in 2007, Richard Serra in 2008, Christian Boltanski in 2010 and Anish Kapoor in 2011.

Buren based his installation, Excentrique(s), travail in situ, on the observation that the late 19th century baroque architecture of the Grand Palais building was based on the geometry of the circle. He has created a lily-pond forest of flagpoles supporting transparent, plastic discs, which project the spectrum of light onto the ground.

 Buren adopts mathematical sequences to the structure of the work. The polycarbonate discs are limited to four colours – blue (repeated 95 times), and  yellow, red, green (each repeated 94 times) displayed in an alphabetical sequence. In the central space a mirror glass platform reflects the dome above. A soundtrack repeats the names of the colours in 40 different languages.


Interview: Marc Sanchez and Daniel Buren

Marc Sanchez: How did you choose the colours and arrange them in the work?

Daniel Buren: First of all, and this often happens to me, the decisions and choices made depended not only on the constraints of the venue but also on the materials available. For colouring the light as I wanted to, the best solution turned out to be plastic film, a light, flexible, transparent material, stretched over circular steel frames specially made for the occasion. But this film comes only in four basic colours: blue, yellow, orange and green. So I used those four colours because there was no other choice. So that was my basic coloured material, to which I added white and black.
Then, using a very simple system which proved to be very effective, I distributed those four colours over the plan of the whole device, starting from the top left (the north is on the right) and systematically filling in all the circles with colours in the alphabetical order of the names of the colours (in French): blue, yellow, orange, green. That gave an astonishing distribution in which the first colour (blue) was used 95 times and the three others 94 times. An equal distribution, plus the first colour, as if the cycle B, Y, O, G, B, Y, O, G, B, Y, O, G could go on forever but had to end with the first colour, blue.
In the centre, the vertical projection of the circumference of the dome stops the accumulation of coloured circles and opens a big circular empty space on the ground. This ring is filled with round mirrors reflecting the image of the dome, which visitors can climb on to. The dome is coloured with a chequerboard pattern of filters, placed at the highest point in the space, on the skylight itself, more than 35 metres in the air. The colour used here is blue, and I am looking forward to seeing how it will mix and the new colours that will appear when it is projected on the four colours of the circles underneath and on the black and white stripes on their vertical posts.

MS: The colours are foremost in this project: you wanted people to see them, walk into them and for them to be projected on the place and on the visitors themselves. But you also wanted their names to be spoken and heard in many different languages. Why did you include sound in the exhibition and how will you get the public to hear the names?

DB: The idea is to use sound to act on the volume of the space, to mix sound with the ambient air by using a very specific, particularly sophisticated system, which will influence the visitors in the space, taking them by surprise rather than inflicting a steady flow of sound on them. The sound will be made up of words: mostly just the names of the four colours, plus black and white, and numbers. They will be the keys to the construction of the whole piece and will end up with the total number of coloured circles filling the space.
This text will be spoken in about forty different languages, from all over the world, such as Creole, Gaelic, Hebrew, Czech, Albanese, French, German, Finnish, Arabic, English, Spanish, Italian, Berber, Portuguese, Turkish, etc. The speakers will say the names of the colours in alphabetical order in their respective languages and then additional sound will be mixed by Alexandre Meyer.

MS: In the centre of the work is an open space where you have put podiums that the public can climb on. The top side is covered with mirror glass. What is this space for?

DB: Metaphorically speaking, as soon as visitors step into the nave they enter a “forest” of vertical black and white posts formed by the legs supporting the coloured circles; in the centre of this “forest” there is a “clearing”, an empty, circular space, suddenly free, where they can stop and rest for a while. In this clearing, the coloured “sunshade” is no longer just over the visitors’ heads but nearly 35 metres higher up. The space is suddenly “empty”, compared to the clutter they have just been through, and by sucking them upwards should make them aware of the spatial dimension of the building and the volume of air and light filling it. The dome then becomes an enormous sphere, a great balloon or sort of airship, which suddenly rises freely into the sky, a sort of irresistible air current, in contrast to the devices anchored to the ground below.
The circular mirrors, that visitors can sit, lie or walk on, reflect the image of the central dome, whose pattern and colour are projected directly on to the ground with the first ray of sunshine.   Interview: Marc Sanchez and Daniel Buren.

MONUMENTA 2012 is organised by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication (Direction générale de la creation artistique), the Centre national des arts plastiques (CNAP) and the Réunion des musées nationaux – Grand Palais.

Monumenta 2012: Daniel Buren at the Grand Palais, avenue Winston-Churchill, 75008, Paris. 10 May – 21 June 2012

Photo credits: Cosmin Năsui