Words are the raw material of Dominique Petitgand’s (1965) work: sequences of words, extracts of recordings he makes of various people (often the same people). These fragments of voices are cut up, isolated, repeated, associated with other bits of sound (musical or vocal) and presented in multiple forms: records, radio broadcasts, listening sessions in darkness (like a “cinema for the ear”) or else installations of several loudspeakers arranged in the exhibition space.

La Porte ne s’est pas ouverte (The door didn’t open)

Commissioned by Mudam for its collection, the installation of five loudspeakers and subtitles La porte ne s’est pas ouverte (The door didn’t open) (2008/2009) presents a voice combined with various sound sequences. The piece describes a moment of fear and upset: “La porte ne s’est pas ouverte (The door didn’t open) is the story of a precise moment when for the character, who is a child, everything plunges into something totally unknown, when fear settles in. This fear is completely imaginary and it disappears as quickly as it arrives. The anecdote on which the work is based is not the centre of the installation; I could have used a completely different situation. The anecdote simply serves as a support for the idea that everything can vacillate.”

The voice is situated in the gangway that leads to the The Henry J. and Erna D.Leir Pavilion and is combined with three sound sequences broadcast in the pavilion. This choice of distribution of sounds is above all linked to the space: “Each space has its own special nature, shape and resonance. I try to assure as far as possible that my installations use these particularities as a support… While resonance can be a problem for sounds such as a voice, for other sounds it can be a joy to plunge into this resonance.” The voice assumes the role of a foreground, while the sounds in the pavilion function as a background that modifies the perception of fear: “The most violent and disturbing colour is the sequence with the electric guitar. It evokes something, which breaks down in the listener’s head... While the other sequences are stranger, somewhere between disturbance and suspense.”

The repetition of the same vocal motif confronted with three sound colours also raises the question of sound obsession. Dominique Petitgand compares the temporal form of the installation and the fact that it is constructed in the mode of a changing repetition to the idea of the spiral: “With the spiral, the same movement is repeated but at each starting point it moves a bit. The spiral is more worrying than the time loop. There is a form of violence, something ungraspable. The presence of three sequences also evokes the beginning of infinity. The same thing returns, but in a different form every time.”


Dominique Petitgand
La Porte ne s’est pas ouverte (The door didn’t open), 2008/2009
Installation with 5 speakers and subtitles
Commission and Collection Mudam Luxembourg
Acquisition 2008
© Photos: Aurélien Mole

Dominique Petitgand’s installations spatialize time and listening. An edit that is temporal on a record or in a listening session becomes spatial in the framework of an installation. It is the listener who operates the editing through his movement in space: “How can the installation cut up the discovery of something into different times?” In La porte ne s’est pas ouverte (The door didn’t open), the visitor wanders about and divides his listening between voice and sound space: “The association in the head of the listener hearing the voice confronted with these sounds produces different effects each time. I do not control this effect; I present things that add up in the listener’s head.”

Statements gathered during an interview with the artist in January 2009.