As Renovations Continue on Notre-Dame Cathedral, Its Bells Inspire a Work of Art

Where art, technology and history meet

Notre-Dame Cathedral
A giant crane outside Notre-Dame Cathedral, which was partially destroyed when fire broke out beneath the roof on April 15, 2019.

It’s been over two years since a fire devastated Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Since then, the iconic building has been the subject of an extensive and ongoing renovation project, one which seeks to restore one of the world’s most famous buildings to its past glory. Over the centuries, the cathedral has been the source of inspiration for countless visitors — some for religious reasons, others for its distinctive history and architecture. And even as the building is slowly healed by a team of experts, it’s continuing to inspire works of art.

At The Art Newspaper, Helen Stoilas has details on the latest artist to take inspiration from Notre-Dame. That would be sound artist Bill Fontana, whose long career has taken him to museums like the Tate Modern and Whitney — and led him to collaborate with CERN in 2013. All of which is to say that Fontana is an artist who excels in evoking unexpected locations into compelling works of art.

Stoilas’s article offers an in-depth look at what Fontana is doing at Notre-Dame Cathedral. His project involves the cathedral’s bells — beginning with Emmanuel, the oldest and largest one there. Stoilas writes that the artist “installed an accelerometer on Emmanuel to measure the low-level vibrations the bell emits in response to its environment.” Once that was measured, it was transformed into something audible to humans.

Following this initial test, Fontana plans to gather data from all of the cathedral’s bells, and then use that to create a work of art which can be broadcast. The Art Newspaper notes that this piece, titled Silent Echoes Notre Dame, will debut next June.

Fontana hopes to complete an outdoor version of the piece that could be played outside of the cathedral as well. “[I]t’s like a spirit that’s living inside of Notre Dame,” he said in an interview with The Art Newspaper. “It’s not dead, it’s alive.” And Fontana’s work represents yet another way that the cathedral has endured as a symbol of resilience over the years.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.