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September 13, 2021
For the Swiss artist Zimoun, what you see is what you hear, and vice versa. His artistic practice explores sound, material, and motion, looking at the ways in which all elements can come together to inhabit a space.
This fall, “The Sound Maker Exhibition” will travel to New York City, following its recent display in China and South Korea. The work is part of the fine watchmaker’s exhibition celebrating the art of sound, highlighting the work of master artisans creating chiming movements throughout Jaeger-LeCoultre’s history.
Zimoun was given freedom of creation for the project, which resulted in two thousand metal discs covering a dark slab of MDF. Spinning at various angles, connected to motors by wires, the watchmaking components create a dense soundscape, and shimmering horizon—calling to mind the glistening surface of the lake of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s home, the Vallée de Joux.
Whitewall spoke with the artist, who will have a solo exhibition next summer at Museum Haus Konstruktiv in Zurich, about his interest in systems and unconventional timekeeping.
WHITEWALL: How did the natural environment of the Vallée de Joux serve as inspiration?
ZIMOUN: For me, almost everything is inspiring in a way or another somehow. Nature, architecture, society, science, philosophies, engineering, technology, behaviors, mind, systems, and organism—it’s an endless list.
Jaeger-LeCoultre has mentioned the lake as a possible inspiration from the beginning. I have kept this association in mind, but I do not really work with direct inspirations like this one. I was interested in the system with the discs, their interactions, the resulting sounds, visual illusions, and behavior. The simplicity and simultaneously emerging complexity. Since the light reflections are very similar to those of moving water, the circle has closed again at the end.
WW: What kind of experience do you hope visitors will have with the final installation?
Z: In general, in my installation work what you hear is what you see, and what you see is what you hear. It is not a combination of visual and acoustic elements, as both are having the same source. It is one thing: the physical material you see, as well as the physical material you hear. You also smell it. Therefore, the sound isn’t more important than the visual elements, nor the other way around, as both are the same. I try to pay the most possible attention to all details and to reduce the work to its essence.
I’m interested in sound as an architectonic element to create space, but also in sound which somehow inhabits a room and interacts with it. I work with three-dimensional sound structures, with spatial experiences and the exploration of sound, material, and space. And perception.
Subjectivity is the basis of how we see, understand, and don’t understand the world. In that sense, while exploring the works, the viewer starts to play an important and creative part as well somehow. Interesting thoughts about a piece usually show an engagement of a somehow “activated” person.
WW: What role does material choice play in your practice? How did you choose the materials for this particular installation?
Z: I never worked with exactly these materials in combination before. But I worked with MDF, and I worked with discs. I never worked with this specific type of metal the discs are made of, as we found this material at the Jaeger-LeCoultre manufacture.
On one hand, the choice of materials relates to a general interest in simplicity and Minimalism. I’m interested in simple, raw, unspectacular, and pure materials. I would even call them honest materials. These are often everyday or industrial materials that are not specially designed to look nice; however, in my opinion, they are often even more beautiful than material created specifically to look nice.
On the other hand, my choice of materials strongly relates to the dynamics and behavior of the materials and their resonance properties. The choices are based on visual, haptic, functional, and auditive criteria.
WW: “The Sound Maker Exhibition” celebrates the chiming mechanical movements Jaeger-LeCoultre has been making for over 150 years. As an artist creating sound works, what is your impression of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s chiming timepieces?
Z: I appreciate that Jaeger-LeCoultre pays explicit attention to the sound of their watches. This is a beautiful detail.
WW: Each wire in the sound sculpture is bent by hand. Do you see that handmade approach as similar to the work of the master watchmakers and artisans of Jaeger-LeCoultre?
Z: I always found watchmaking fascinating. Especially these incredibly small mechanical systems and their precision. At the beginning of our collaboration with Jaeger-LeCoultre, we were able to visit the production facility and gain an insight into the various stages of production, which we found very interesting and fascinating. It’s actually pretty crazy to realize such pieces in that small scale.
I’m intrigued by systems. In my work, I also develop systems, although on a completely different level. Precision often plays a role in my works, but their liveliness often arises precisely from the fine deviations, variations, and inaccuracies caused by the handmade work. Here is a big difference to watches, which allow absolutely no imperfection or irregularity. Chance and chaos have no place in a clock, while my art is nourished by these elements. So there are both similarities and fundamental differences between my work and fine watchmaking. This also seems to me to be particularly attractive for a cooperation of this kind.
Also, in my systems, the interaction of many individual parts is in the foreground. Many parts are put together to form a large whole. In my case, this often takes place on a large scale in space, whereas in Jaeger-LeCoultre it takes place in the smallest possible spot. There are many such similarities and at the same time many such differences. This makes this collaboration multifaceted and appealing.
WW: What role does time play in your practice?
Z: If my work were a clock, it could be read there: It’s now. This clock would not measure time like a conventional clock but would only point to the moment that is just happening. In this sense, there is no narrative element in my work, nor is there a controlled development over certain periods of time. There is no beginning and no end. It’s just there and we can observe it, if we like to. I construct systems that resemble a state or a moment rather than a time course.
Also, I do not program my works and do not, for example, influence a possible change in the speed of the rotations or other modifications. It is the materials themselves that bring about changes, deviations, and developments. I try to interfere in these processes as little as possible and create the systems to be able to observe them afterward.