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Somi Sim at Orbital Time - Frieze NYC 2023

Curator Somi Sim Reflects on the Year-Long Collaboration between Breguet and Frieze 

The past year, a revelatory collaboration between distinguished independent curator Somi Sim and iconic luxury watch brand Breguet was introduced, and a seasonal and transcendent journey honoring the intimate relationship between contemporary art and universal time was sparked across the globe.

This February at Frieze Los Angeles, a revelatory collaboration between distinguished independent curator Somi Sim and iconic luxury watch brand Breguet came to a ceremonious close. The tremendous artistic partnership between the two visionaries was introduced one year ago at Frieze New York during the spring with the overarching theme of “Orbital Time,” and placed the visceral creativity of Raqs Media Collective and Ann Lislegaard into rapturous conversation with Breguet’s pioneering horological background.

From that moment, a seasonal and transcendent journey honoring the intimate relationship between contemporary art and universal time was sparked across the globe. In September of 2023 at Frieze Seoul, “Streaming Time” shined a light on the deft practices of painter Heemin Chung and media artist Sungseok Ahn in relation to the innovative chronometer invented by Abraham-Louis Breguet in the 19th century. 

“Resisting Time” proposed a refreshing outlook on conventional timekeeping practices at Frieze London in October alongside creatives Hanne Darboven and Julien Coignet, connecting organically with Breguet’s ingenious, poetic craftsmanship. The final installment at Frieze Los Angeles, “Inhabiting Time,” brought together the glorious imagination and ingenuity of late American artist Gordon Matta-Clark and the Los Angeles and Beijing-based People’s Architecture Office (PAO), unfolding into a meditative vessel of art, architecture, and human behavior. 

Whitewall had the opportunity to speak with the Seoul and Paris-based curator, researcher, and writer on her first profound visit to the Breguet manufacturer in Vallée de Joux, conceiving a curatorial concept that transcends all boundaries, and inviting international viewers to contemplate the intricate relationship between time, horology, and art. 

Breguet's Installation view of

Installation view of “Inhabiting Time,” Frieze LA 2024, courtesy of Breguet.

WHITEWALL: As an explorative independent curator, what specifically sparked your emotions and creativity when first embarking upon the prestigious Breguet manufacture as well as its comprehensive museum?

SOMI SIM: Reflecting back on that moment one year ago, in the early spring of 2023, I recall vividly the profound experience I had an opportunity to visit the Breguet manufacturer in Vallée de Joux surrounded by the very peaceful mountains, witnessing the intricate process of handcrafting hundreds of watch components. The entire process felt like a journey through the history of horology, each step unfolding before me with reverence to the artistry and precision of countless watchmakers and craftsmen.

During that time, I had the opportunity to experience techniques like guilloché and engraving. Engaging in the intricate craftsmanship, where even the slightest manipulation required intense focus, I felt as though my entire being, from my veins to my brain cells, was engaged. Observing artisans meticulously balance their physical and mental faculties while dedicating themselves to watchmaking, I couldn’t help but contemplate the creative measurement of time and the interconnectedness of artists—from the microcosm of craftsmanship to the broader realms of artistry and perhaps even the cosmos itself.

Portrait of Somi Sim at Resisting Time - Frieze London 2023 with Breguet

Portrait of Somi Sim at “Resisting Time,” Frieze London 2023, courtesy of Breguet.

Somi Sim and Breguet Create a Time Museum with Frieze Global Art Fair 

WW: You previously shared a deep interest in this partnership between Breguet and the Frieze global art fair to “show the complexity of a universal time, allowing us to recontextualize time across geopolitical divisions, cultural differences, and other boundaries.” Through the visceral lens of contemporary art, what was the starting point to such a profound endeavor which began last year and journeyed through the maison’s lounges at Frieze in New York, London, Seoul, and Los Angeles?

SS: In conceptualizing this collaborative project with Breguet in partnership with Frieze, which spans across four cities and unfolds within different time zones, I envisioned it as akin to a time museum. I imagined individuals from diverse backgrounds visiting this museum dedicated to time, encountering artworks that explore various facets of temporal experience. Reflecting on this, I pondered the curatorial concept that could transcend our boundaries and differences, aiming to foster dialogue between Breguet’s cultural heritage and contemporary art.

Sequentially, I sought to incorporate reflections on the diverse urban and cultural backgrounds offered by each city, facilitating a dialogue between Breguet’s rich heritage and contemporary artistic expressions. The journey began with the cyclical orbit of time in New York and the dynamic forefront of time in Seoul, traversing through London where artists creatively measure time, and culminating in Los Angeles where the architectural experience embodies the connection of individual time. Each theme unfolded progressively, inviting viewers to contemplate the intricate relationship between time, horology, and artistic perspective.

Breguet's Streaming Time - Frieze Seoul 2023

Installation view of “Streaming Time,” Frieze Seoul 2023, courtesy of Breguet.

A Post-Pandemic Reflection on How We Inhabit Time Unfolds 

WW: Do you perhaps have any primary or personal experiences with the nuances of time that illuminated your path throughout this sweeping project?

SS: The collaboration with Breguet unfolded in the wake of the post-pandemic era, a period marked by the gradual recovery from the pandemic. The pandemic’s time instilled profound anxiety about time itself, both for me personally and for all of us. Concerns about the uncertain future and whether we could continue into that future weighed heavily on our minds, fostering significant contemplation and reflection on how we inhabit time.

Encountering Breguet’s history and background amidst these uncertainties provided me with an opportunity to explore further imaginations and artistic approaches to overcoming anxious times. Breguet’s horological background, rooted in the precise measurement of time amidst unstable environments and eras, offered a compelling narrative. Particularly striking was Breguet’s aesthetic sensibility and design, challenging norms and conventions. Curating the relationship between watchmaking and art became a platform for slowly unfolding dialogues, bridging the gap between art, watchmaking and society, and enriching relationship between contemporary art and craftsmanship.

Breguet's Somi Sim at

Somi Sim at “Orbital Time,” Frieze New York 2023, courtesy of Breguet.

Frieze New York 2023 Illuminated Breguet’s Artistry with Raqs Media Collective and Ann Lislegaard

WW: During Frieze New York’s 2023 debut, the theme of “Orbital Time” was vividly expressed through Raqs Media Collective’s I fall in love out of orbit (2009) and Ann Lislegaard’s Oracles, owls…Some animals Never Sleep (2012-2021). How did the juxtaposition of emotional clock faces and natural disorder echo Breguet’s visionary perspective on horology?

SS: Your questions delve precisely into the inquiries I intended to explore in “Orbital Time.” Breguet’s horological background seems to stand in stark contrast to the works of two artists who measure time through emotion and disorder. In “Orbital Time,” through the challenging narrative that Breguet has contributed to horology, I aimed to present alternative possibilities and open perspectives in experiencing time, beyond the confines of traditional measurement. 

This curatorial approach emerged during my research into the inventions of Abraham-Louis Breguet, the founder of Breguet in 1775. His countless inventions challenged the norms of horology at the time, introducing new technologies, sciences, aesthetics, and designs. For instance, during the height of the Baroque era when elaborate timepieces were in vogue, he presented radical designs with the most minimalist approach possible. He pioneered a new aesthetic that departed from established conventions in time measurement.

I sought to connect these revolutionary narratives in Breguet’s work with the concept of time as depicted in the artworks of Raqs Media Collective and Ann Lislegaard. Raqs Media Collective explores the concept of time changing with every moment’s emotion, while Lislegaard articulates the disorder of time through stuttering speech patterns, thus presenting another way of measuring our world. Two artists’ approaches to time often encapsulate senses that aren’t evident in everyday life. Moreover, contemplating the perspectives of various beings—human, non-human, and beyond—opens up the realms of the universe in perceiving time.

Breguet's Streaming Time - Frieze Seoul 2023

Installation view of “Streaming Time,” Frieze Seoul 2023, courtesy of Breguet.

Frieze Seoul United Painter Heemin Chung and Media Artist Sungseok Ahn

WW: The vibrant Korean edition of Frieze in the capital city of Seoul unveiled “Steaming Time,” and united cutting-edge painter Heemin Chung and media artist Sungseok Ahn. How did you incorporate their perceptive works and modes of process?

SS: When one hears the term “Streaming Time,” there’s a tendency to interpret it as a period where content is momentarily generated, akin to the streaming services prevalent in the digital world. This exhibition delves into the most forefront and unstable time of our society today—fluid time. 

The genesis of my conception of “Streaming Time” was inspired by the chronometer invented by Abraham-Louis Breguet in the 19th century. This marine chronometer was crafted to accurately measure time in the face of the unpredictable anxiety and danger of navigation at sea. This history continues to be carried forward today, evolving into Breguet’s aviation pilot models. Similar to the mechanism of watchmaking that has overcome humanity’s anxieties, how can we support each other firmly in the midst of this uncertain time? This question was framed to reflect on the contemporary world through the historical legacy of Breguet. 

Heemin Chung and Sungseok Ahn are prominent Korean artists who have challenged the concept of unstable time. Their works provided an opportunity to observe the underlying mechanisms of time reproduction that occur within the ephemeral structure of “streaming time” in our period.

Heemin Chung’s Paintings Mirror Breguet’s Dedication to Hand-Craftsmanship and Innovation

WW: How is the precise materiality and skill of Chung’s tender paintings reminiscent of Breguet’s dedication to hand-craftsmanship and constant innovation?

SS: For “Streaming Time” at Frieze Seoul, Heemin Chung presented a series of paintings under the working title of Receivers. By layering and complicating the image of flowers, Chung asked how we might represent the flow of time in an age of digital ecology that never decays. 

Through her layered paintings, Chung seeks to challenge and deconstruct the aesthetics of our period. I wanted to open up contemporary interpretations and perspectives on Breguet’s art and design, which challenged dominant aesthetic conventions by revealing the mechanisms in Breguet’s early watch designs. 

Chung’s paintings, crafted with layers upon layers of delicate layers, are akin to the intricate watch mechanisms of Breguet timepieces, composed of hundreds of components. These paintings intertwine the precise watch mechanisms with organic bodies, resembling delicate structures akin to flower petals. In this way, her paintings bring us a thoughtful link between the hands of craftsmanship and the hands of a painter. Chung invites viewers to contemplate the intricate relationship between timekeeping and artistic creation.

Breguet's Installation view of “Resisting Time,” Frieze London 2023

Installation view of “Resisting Time,” Frieze London 2023, courtesy of Breguet.

Creatives Hanne Darboven and Julien Coignet Reconsider Time at Frieze London 

WW: “Resisting Time” beautifully underpinned the London fair. Can you share a bit of the unique daily practices of selected creatives Hanne Darboven and Julien Coignet, which reconsider the traditional recording of time?

SS: In contemporary society, our perception and measurement of time are often fragmented and transient, akin to the relentless flow of social media feeds where time is quantified in seconds, numbers, and their economic value. For “Resisting Time” at Frieze London, I aimed to propose an alternative approach to measuring time—one rooted in the creativity and thought-provoking nature inherent in art’s challenge to societal norms. The two artists featured in this exhibition resist conventional and passive notions of time through their distinctive structural practices, offering novel temporal frameworks.

Hanne Darboven’s work diverges from conventional numerical systems, instead employing her own invented systems to measure time and dates. On the other hand, Julien Coignet’s paintings begin with daily collages of discarded flyers, advertisements, and leaflets collected from the city. His process of dismantling and reassembling discarded images and words each day reveals the artist’s creative time through his own practice and perspective, without succumbing to the flow of consumption. They transform our understanding of labor, norms, calculations, and values by reconstructing numbers, geometry, and order through their daily bodily practices. 

This can be seen as resistance against the repetitiveness embedded in everyday life, resistance against a society obsessed with time, and refusal to passively accept time. This resonates deeply with Breguet’s creative craftsmanship.

Breguet's Installation view of “Resisting Time,” Frieze London 2023

Installation view of “Resisting Time,” Frieze London 2023, courtesy of Breguet.

Frieze Los Angeles Connects the Artistry of Gordon Matta-Clark and People’s Architecture Office 

WW: Invoking Breguet’s passionate crafting of horological mechanisms, the “Inhabiting Time” exhibition at Frieze Los Angeles this year brought an investigation of art, architecture, and human behavior front and center. What were the first stirring connections in your mind between late American artist Gordon Matta-Clark and the Los Angeles and Beijing-based People’s Architecture Office (PAO)?

SS: The passage of time we experience is intricately woven into our interactions with architectural spaces, both shaping and being shaped by them. For Frieze Los Angeles, my aim was to provoke questions into how we inhabit time and share our temporal experiences within spatial contexts. My inspiration for “Inhabiting Time” stemmed from the inception of our collaboration, which began with visits to Manufacture Breguet in Vallée de Joux one year ago. 

“Inhabiting Time” draws upon my impressions of the vast temporal landscape witnessed at Manufacture Breguet, where the intricate mechanisms of time creation intersect with the countless seconds of everyday life. This thematic exploration brings to rethinking Gordon Matta-Clark’s performance, which echoes the intricacies of watch mechanics, while PAO’s architectural installations redefine spatial dynamics and human engagement within them.

WW: What was the process like working with PAO’s prolific founders James Shen, He Zhe, and Zang Feng to ideate and develop Time Pieces (2024), a lively and poetic installation?

SS: PAO, based in Los Angeles and Beijing, brings audiences into architectural experiences crossing diverse cultural backgrounds and boundaries. For “Inhabiting Time”, my aim was to seamlessly integrate Los Angeles’s cultural essence, characterized by its vibrancy, artificial allure, and urban-inspired design. These distinctive traits find prominent expression in PAO’s inflatable installations, adorned with exaggerated and flashy gold and silver motifs. These installations exude playfulness and spectacle and invite viewers to engage with them, fostering connections along the way. 

Through this innovative reinterpretation of playful pop culture juxtaposed with the historic brand of Breguet, the exhibition embarks on a journey to explore and challenge Breguet’s perception of time. Upon the surface of the inflatable installations in the Breguet lounge, a plethora of reflective images materialized. These images didn’t just capture the essence of the Breguet lounge and the reflections of its visitors, but also encapsulated the reflections of others, offering glimpses of the Breguet Manufacture through video archive. This intricately layered visual experience invited viewers to immerse themselves in the multifaceted dimensions of time that we inhabit.

Somi Sim at Orbital Time - Frieze NYC 2023

Portrait of Somi Sim at “Orbital Time ,” Frieze New York 2023, courtesy of Breguet.

An Evolving Time of Possibility Between Art, Horology, and Humanity with Somi Sim

WW: As this dynamic year of collaboration comes to a close, what might you take with you from this poignant project on the many facets of time with Breguet to future endeavors?

SS: The journey alongside Breguet over the past year was truly remarkable and a profound experience. I was deeply moved by the majestic heritage of horology experienced at Breguet Manufacture and the countless efforts of those who continue to advance this heritage. This past year wasn’t just a temporary event of exhibitions; it was a time that evolved various possibilities between art, horology, and the brand. As I propose “Inhabiting Time” as the culmination of this journey, the concept of dwelling in time is one of the ways I’ve come to define time through my collaboration with Breguet over the past year. 

Time persists as we, who are separated, connect. This collaboration with Breguet showcased possibilities for artistic perspectives and alternative ways we can connect. It’s likely to have a significant impact on my future projects.

SAME AS TODAY

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THE WINTER EXPERIENCE ISSUE
2023

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Inviting the audience to feel, touch, and experience art in its most dynamic state is “When Forms Come Alive” at Hayward Gallery.
Whitewall spoke with Kelly Wearstler about the evolution of her practice, and why her projects are rooted in tension and synchronicity.
Susan Chen's first solo show at Rachel Uffner is on view now through April 20 in New York, including works in clay and ne paintings.

SUBSCRIBE TO NEWSLETTER

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