Hubert Burda Media

Where haute horology flirts with art and the Great Outdoors

The Audemars Piguet Art Commission engages the splendour of nature with edgy labyrinths of art by emerging artists Lars Jan, Sun Xun and Robin Meier.

LARS JAN

No picture could possibly recreate the majesty of Yosemite National Park, and it was during Lars Jan’s family vacation to the iconic mountains when he fell in love with the great outdoors. “From that moment, I got more into spending time in mountains, deserts, lakes and rivers,” the Los Angeles-based artist tells Prestige. “Those experiences shaped my eye as I carried my camera with me all the time.”

It would make sense that Jan carries his love for nature throughout his life, and more so in his work. Chosen to create the third Audemars Piguet Art Commission, the artist will be showcasing his large-scale project in Art Basel Miami Beach this December. A sprawling labyrinth of mostly plants will make up a two-tiered structure where guests can move around, considering the artist’s take on complexity and precision. Contemporary architecture juxtaposes against natural materials in startling conversation. The piece, titled Slow-Moving Luminaries, will continue exploring Jan’s deep convictions about nature and climate change in an immersive public installation, against the scintillating backdrop of Miami Beach.

“The work focuses on the idea of shuttling between a sense of crisis, contemplation and meditation, in order to find stillness,” he explains. “The piece is a building scale pavilion which is itself a kinetic installation. It highlights the motion of the sun through shadows and semi-transparent screens and materials.”

The epiphany happened when Lars arrived at the beautiful Valley de Joux in Le Brassus, the birthplace and headquarters of Audemars Piguet. When he visited the master craftsmen and watchmakers of Audemars Piguet, Jan began to view watches as philosophical objects instead of utilitarian objects.

SEE ALSO: Kurt Hentschlager’s Neo-Natural Contemplation

“I thought of how we move in patterns of waves, swinging like pendulums,” he elaborates. The notion of unstoppable motion lies at the core of Slow-Moving Luminaries, which also addresses its literal meanings, whether in its reference to our solar system and or in a social sense. The duality of ideas extends beyond the upcoming installation, of course. Lars muses that the work he does and what Audemars Piguet creates share a common thread, where both work on long timelines of development, crafting objects of complexity that are years in the making.

“I take 2 to 4 years to develop my own projects, which resonates strongly with the rhythm of the watchmakers of the Vallée de Joux,” he shares. “When I started looking the interior of [Audemars Piguet’s] watches, I never imagined they were so aesthetically considered. I realised the pride of the watchmaker was as much on the interior.”

Like in the art of watchmaking, Jan admits that one of the most significant parts of his work is something the end user will never witness: “Like my practice, [the watchmakers] make these incredibly beautiful interiors which would never be seen by the viewer.”

SUN XUN

When Beijing-based artist Sun Xun was chosen to create the second Audemars Piguet Art Commission in 2016, he let himself loose from the constraints of language. “Language is a sort of prison,” he contemplates. “But without the limitation of its pre-set categories, we can find new ways to see. I learned that nothing is impossible. I stepped into this unknown world and told myself to distrust my language so that I could be truly inventive.”

In Reconstruction of the Universe, Xun revisits the recurring themes in many of his works, including the investigation of time, yet he admits that the magnitude of this project is one he has never embarked on before. He considers the 2016 installation his most elaborate yet, using techniques he never previously tried. He muses about an uncanny similarity: “Asking me to make an art installation is like asking the Audemars Piguet watchmakers to make watches. They will try and make something that is more than a watch, and that is what I tried to do for the commission.”

The large-scale immersive artwork was unveiled in November 2016 on the blissful oceanfront of Miami Beach, exploring the depth of time, memory and nature. Against a blue evening sky, a pavilion designed by Xun himself flourishes like a lush, pendulum wave. Near an entrance lies a glowing blue orb. On the roof, a row of linked bamboos contort in a permanent bend, inviting the viewer to enter the contemplative space, where time is reconstructed – like the universe. The past, future and present combine in the elegant production, decorated with traditional scroll paintings, ink drawings and a myriad of architectural and design elements. Animated films project onto two and three-dimensions, alongside original woodcuts. It becomes apparent that Time is the central motif, though Xun is quick to point out its elusive quality: “We can never see, feel or touch time. You can only have memory, which is deceptive. The future is always out of reach, and we are always between a lie and a dream.”

Visiting Audemars Piguet’s headquarters in the Vallée de Joux was another kind of epiphany for the artist, who was taken by the pureness of the valley; its clean air and clear stars. He found that the elevation from the mountains was not just a physical experience, but also a spiritual one. He ponders, “I think it is what allows the watchmakers to achieve something God-like. They work in a meditative state, and seem to understand that connecting the spirit means emptying the body and mind so they can be deep enough in the present to catch time, and make it slow down. All of this was in my head as I approached the installation.”

ROBIN MEIER

Paris-based multimedia artist Robin Meier has always been fascinated with the way complex systems self-organize.  He ponders about how each system emerges with spontaneous organization, not from a leader but from uncountable interactions with each other. He says, “There are many examples of this in nature: beehives, bird swarms and fireflies, but also pedestrian flow, stock markets and transportation networks.”

For the inaugural Audemars Piguet Art Commission, Meier showcased Synchronicity at Art Basel 2015. Like a city of fireflies, the large installation illuminates rhythmically from within. Call it an experiment, but Synchronicity was a result of careful research after Meier collaborated with entomological laboratories in Japan, Thailand, France, and the UK to understand the way fireflies light up in unison. “It’s not exactly scientific research, because the conditions are not controlled,” Meier explains. “For me, it was an artistic experiment.”

The idea is to enter an entirely different planet, and watch how nature and artificial intelligence mirror each other in stunning synchrony. Synchronicity feels like a sort of biosphere within a field tent, with an assemblage of LEDs and fireflies, water and plants, equipment and instrument. A few moments in, and one struggles to tell the difference between an insect and an oscilloscope. Perhaps, nature and machine is not that different. Lights blink alongside ticking metronomes in a visceral space, self-regulating around each other like the gears of a watch; ticking, beating and flashing in phenomenal harmony.

The work was so well-received in the art world that Meier recently wrapped up another version of the piece at Broad Museum in East Lansing this year. Says Meier of the work, “My aim was to highlight the fact that complexity can emerge on its own without an outside influence. It’s not a new concept. It just hasn’t really hit the mainstream.”