La Maison d'Oskar Serti, 1997

5 sound boxes, 5 audio CDs,
3D sound (Fr.), 4’
Gift of the Caisse des Dépôts
et Consignations, Paris, 2005

Oscar Serti's House (1997) is a sound piece made by Belgian artist Patrick Corillon two years after Victor Brauner's Neighbour, his first commission from the Centre Georges Pompidou. The installation is composed of five imaginary spaces in a dark, silent room: the living room, the bathroom, the attic, the basement and the bedroom. Each one is represented by three wooden boxes of different colours, a soundtrack and a bench. The soundtracks combine a text and sound effects. A voice is thus the visitors' sole guide in moving through this imaginary house.


Particular emphasis is given to the quality of the sound, which creates the most realistic possible impression of the fictitious space. The visitor physically experiences the noises and sound effects of the soundtrack.


Corillon's set-ups are deliberately simple and unobtrusive so as not to intrude on the visitors' experience. The artist draws on their imaginative capacity and their propensity to appropriate the narrative elements he has conceived.


Corillon's fictitious character Oskar Serti is a Hungarian writer who was born in 1881 and died in 1959, the year of the artist's birth. Invented in 1988, Serti frequently reappears in Corillon's works, such as, for example, Oskar Serti's Points of View, shown at the Galerie des Archives in Paris in 1995.


The length of the text the visitors hear is important for the artist because it permits the duration of the work to be experienced. The time of the narrative merges with the time spent with the work.


The spaces of the house are accompanied by the following stories:

The basement is the place where Serti was confined by kidnapers with a blindfold over his eyes. When he managed to undo his bonds after a few days, he was in fact disappointed because during the time he spent in the dark, he had fantasised an imaginary presence. He thus preferred to put the blindfold back on and resume this companionship. The text is accompanied by the sounds of pipes, footsteps and breathing.


The attic symbolises the garret where Serti lived when he left his family's home. At night, he could hear a famous poet reciting his verses and all his life, he tried to reproduce the feeling of intimacy he had by reading his own texts to his listeners from behind a wall. The soundtrack plays on the effects of the voice coming closer and moving away.


The living room is Serti's cabinet of curiosities, where he collects fascinating animals. The narrator tells the story of the faton, a kind of rodent which, like the cuckoo, invites himself into the nests of others to eke out his means of survival. The text is accompanied by sounds of chairs and falls.


In the bedroom, Serti tries to overcome his anxiety after he receives his draft notice for the war. By walking in circles, he manages to reproduce a creaking sound similar to the one made by his father when he came to tuck him in at night during his childhood. These sounds calm him down. The text is accompanied by creaking noises.


The bathroom, last of all, is the place where he barely escapes being crushed by a meteorite which falls into his bathtub: thinking remorsefully about the way he has treated a woman years before, he throws himself down on the floor with grief. This last text is accompanied by sounds of water, dripping, buzzing and the collapse of a ceiling.


Corillon, a real biographer of invented figures, counts on the evocative power of sound to awaken the viewers' other senses, such as sensations of coldness, or tastes going back to childhood. He encourages these associations by plunging his work into a dark space which provides a more fertile terrain for the imagination.


Laetitia Rouiller

Translation and adaptation: Miriam Rosen