Design, Maker Stories

Physics and Poetry Meet with the Beating Heart in a Bottle

January 17, 2017

Leave it to the French to make physics seem…romantic. Artist Philippe Bouveret truly marries science and poetry in our Beating Heart in a Bottle Sculpture: two halves of a heart joining together again and again in a rhythm much like the beating of our own hearts. Thanks to the power of capillary action, the piece is almost like a living work of art.

Never lacking in inventiveness and always eager to experiment, Philippe spent years (from the ages 13-18) building a real, 6m long boat. Eventually, after getting a technical degree, he traded his plans of becoming a naval architect for more artistic endeavors: assisting in the construction of Jean Tinguely’s Cyclops, an enormous moving sculpture tucked away deep in the forest, creating massive pendulums and fountains, and crafting “hidden tableaus that reveal unexpected objects simply by placing an aspirin tablet in a provided slot. Much of the work Philippe has created, either on his own or in collaboration with other artists, engages the viewer in a game of sorts. Now, you can find him continuing to follow his playful sensibilities, working in his “laboratory-studio,” as he calls it, “accidentally making little discoveries that arouse [his] curiosity.”

Acclaimed art collector and museum director Pontus Hultén describes Philippe’s work as containing “an intriguing element, like a happy secret, an awareness of something that leads on much further, towards infinity.” We’re pleased to share the happy secret of the Beating Heart in a Bottle with you–it’s one of our very first international products that’s exclusive in the USA to only our customers.

Another (not-so) happy secret? Few of us here speak French. And so communicating with Philippe necessitated a bit of extra je ne sais quoi. See? I don’t even think I used that right. Fortunately, Philippe’s son Grimaud stepped in to help with an interview and ensured that nothing got too lost in translation. (Merci beaucoup, Grimaud!) Read on to learn more about Philippe’s inspirations and obsessions, as well as what he hopes for everyone who receives a Beating Heart in a Bottle.

Did your parents encourage your artistic leanings?

Yes, my father used to help me with my work. He was really interested in it–especially when he was retired, he was visiting me every week in my studio! I had a very strong relationship with him.

What are your sources of inspiration?

My main sources of inspiration are movement and forces of nature. My objective is to make movement with no electricity, and I’ve had this obsession since 1987…to make something living as long as possible, to approach perpetual movement.

A peek inside Philippe’s home, featuring some of his own creations

How does it work?

It works due to a physical phenomenon called “capillary action,” the same that allows insects to walk on water.

What have been some of your favorite reactions to your work?

My favorite reaction is when I see them realizing that they will give proof of their love to someone, and when they tell me which friend or lover will receive the gift.

I think they also love when they leave something and it keeps moving by itself! They imagine the bottle in their living room, showing it to their visitors. It’s like a cat, it moves by itself, it’s silent. Once in a while you have to turn it over to get it going again, it’s simple.

Beating Heart in a Bottle Sculpture - UncommonGoods

Heart Bottles in the workshop. Photo via Facebook

How did you dream up the heart bottle?

When I was completing my military service, and was surprised that we weren’t allowed to “march” on the bridges because it could destroy the bridge, specifically because of the rhythm of the steps, it got me thinking. From then on, I was seeking the phenomenon of capillary action everywhere, in pubs/bars for instance…I made myself a promise to express nature with simple forms, in a poetic way, and with a rhythmic flow.

(If you happen to speak French, you’ll understand Philippe above. But watch either way to see the bottle assembled and in action!)

Whose heart(s) were you thinking of when you made it?

It’s been a very long process. My research began as a student of Beaux ARTS Paris in 1987. In 2001, I felt I needed to make something different than my past sculptures and meet a public audience. My wife, Dorothée, thought the concept of the bottle and the heart was very good–so I had her heart in mind. The idea to take a “common” good, the bottle, and make it uncommon was another very important basis for my work.

What do you hope for people who buy and/or receive one of these?

I hope that people will be surprised by the bottle, and see something that they’ve never seen elsewhere–completely natural, without a screen. I want them to be connected, fascinated, hypnotized, and offer it to their friends and lovers, to show them how important they are.


  • Reply Curt Bachtell August 1, 2017 at 7:38 pm

    My wife’s most favorite gift ever!
    Heart has now stopped working after about a month.
    Top sphere is only half full and will not drip to bottom section.
    Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  • Reply Hadley August 2, 2017 at 5:08 pm

    Hi, Curt! Have you tried turning the bottle upside down, then turning it right side up again? This should allow the sphere at the top to fill back up with water, and it should begin to drip again, causing the heart to beat. If this doesn’t work, please let me know and I’ll reach out to someone from our customer service team!

  • Reply Curt Bachtell August 5, 2017 at 9:51 am

    Thanks! Let set for a couple of days and inverted as suggested and it is now working perfectly.

  • Reply Felice S September 18, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    My favorite gift ever from my daughter. The beating heart has stopped beating, similar to the problem Curt described. The water at the top globe is stuck halfway and is not dripping any more. Please help.

    • Reply Hadley September 18, 2017 at 2:54 pm

      Hi, Felice. Sorry to hear you’re having trouble with the sculpture. Have you tried the method I suggested to Curt above — turning it upside down, allowing the globe to fill up, and turning it right side up again? If you have tried this and are still having problems, please let me know — I can reach out to our CS team for further help.

  • Reply Z April 9, 2018 at 5:06 am

    I saw this work at M&O exhibition. I like it very much. But now I’m back in China. Where can I buy this work?

    • Reply Hadley April 16, 2018 at 12:54 pm

      Hi, Z. Unfortunately, we’re no longer selling this work at UncommonGoods, but perhaps you could give the artist’s website a try?

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