“Caten” by David Letellier.

BERKELEY, California — Remember Ernesto Neto’s jaw-dropping installation “Leviathan Thot,” at the Panthéon in Paris in 2006? As much as I loved “Leviathan Thot” it could have easily been made in the 1970s or 80s. Recently however, I stumbled across another artist in who has made an equally powerful and much more contemporary, albeit more subtle, installation in another French church.

Caten” is a kinetic sound installation by David Letellier in the Saint Sauveur Chapel in Caen, France. While mirroring the the chapel’s arches in form; in movement and sound, “Caten” possesses a wholly alien aesthetic than the one found in the historic chapel. With a minimal soundscape playing and 300 thin metallic wires slowly rotating with four arms, the installation remains fragile and in constant motion. Despite the mechanical nature and contemporary noise of the installation, “Caten” works well in the old chapel — there is an other-worldly quality to both.

“Caten” gets it’s name from Catenary, which describes the curve formed between two points by a rope. Although the entire installation is reminiscent of many works by Los Angeles-based Ball-Nogues Studio, the kinetic and audio qualities makes it much more dynamic.To elaborate on the sound composition, Letellier’s website writes:

… inspired by the medieval solmisation prayers, especially the first verse of “Ut Queant Laxis”, also known as the “hymn to St John the Baptist”, used in the eleventh century to determine the names of the notes of the scale used in latin countries.

At each turn, the engines emit one of the first 4 notes of the scale (Ut, Re, Mi, Fa), creating a sequence of intervals, constantly reconfigured.

Simply put, this means the sounds created used a very particular set of notes that creates a truly pleasant and calming effect without an especially musical structure to them. The piece is such that I really wish I could have been there to see it in person, it is very responsive and interactive with the site in a way hard to truly feel through online representation. Unlike one of my favorite kinetic works, “Tele-Present Water” by David Bowen, which uses real-time bouy information to represent far-off ocean swells inside the gallery, “Caten” can only exist in Saint Sauveur Chapel.

Ben Valentine

Ben Valentine is an independent writer living in Cambodia. Ben has written and spoken on art and culture for SXSW, Salon, SFAQ, the Los Angeles Review of Books, YBCA, ACLU, de Young Museum, and the Museum...