TETRO orchestrated for Jaeger-LeCoultre the creation and production of a sound sculpture by Zimoun, a Swiss artist whose work explores and pays homage to the nature of sound. Zimoun has agreed to answer our questions to present his vision of his art and this project, which is embarking on a world tour.
Q1 _ Tell us about Zimoun? (Who is Zimoun? what does the word “Zimoun” mean?)
When I was a teenager, a friend of mine named me and called me Zimoun. Then other friends started to use this name too and it became my nickname, which I later kept as my artist name. I work as an artist in the fields between music and fine arts. Best-known are my mostly installative and space-related works, in which materials are activated by mechanical systems to generate sounds. My works are often described with terms such as 'sound sculptures' or 'sound architectures' and include spatial, acoustic and visual aspects. In my studio I work together with a small and great team of assistants who support me in the development and realization of my work. I live and work in Bern, Switzerland.
Q2 _ What fascinates you in sound?
Actually everything. Since an early age I was playing various instruments, created small compositions, was playing in bands, next to exploring visual textures and activities while experimenting with old Xerrox machines, paint or analog photography. Just before I started to work with mechanical systems in my early twenties, I was experimenting with multi-channel sound systems and I did compositions for a number of speakers spread in the space. At the time, I was mainly working with pre-recorded sounds of physical materials such as for instance sounds of paper. Driven by a minimalistic approach and thinking, I then started to wonder how I could get the work even more direct and create sounds in real-time on site in the most immediate way, as opposed to recording them first and playing them later over speakers after some digital or analog processes. At that moment in time, the experimentation with mechanical systems began and the visual intensions merged together with sound and space into the installation work I am currently doing.
Q3 _ About “1944 prepared dc-motors, mdf panels 72 x 72 cm, metal discs Ø 8cm, 2020” installation: Tell us about the sound and mechanical installation
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 is 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 is 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. I keep my works very reduced and raw. That way they function more like a code behind things, rather than just creating one connection to one thing. In this way, the works can ideally activate the visitors somehow and allow them to make their own connections, associations and discoveries on different, individual levels. I hope they might open fields for observing and allow the visitor to reflect and wonder, to think and question about our surroundings and ourselves. For that reason, to give this freedom to the viewers, I also keep the titles very technical, only describing the materials used. In that sense the titles tell you what you anyway already see. I create those works based on many different interests coming together and I see them in many different ways and layers myself. Subjectivity is the base 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.
Q4 _ What is the material and how did you source them?
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 which are not especially designed to look nice; however, in my opinion, they are often even more beautiful than material created specifically to look nice. Dieter Rams once said: Good design is the least design possible. I totally share this thinking. 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. This specific work I created for Jaeger-LeCoultre is based on small dc-motors, hand-bended wires, mdf panels and very thin metal discs. The motors are located on the bottom of the MDF panels. The manually prepared wires are in turn connected to the rotating axis of the motors. Very thin metal disks lie on these wires and move similar to a coin falling to the ground. In this way, almost 2000 of these metal discs are set in motion and, next to the visual aspect, also produce sounds and noises through their friction with the MDF panels. All motors are supplied with the same current. This would theoretically cause all motors to rotate at the same speed. However, since all the wires on which the metal discs are placed on are manual and handmade, each of these wires is slightly different. These differences lead to the fact that the rotations of the metal discs also differ from each other. Due to the slight variations of the wires, the discs also move individually. Some lie flatter on the panel, others rotate faster etc. This creates a complex individuality and each element develops its own characteristics. This individuality affects both the visual and acoustic properties of this work. The sound becomes very complex and is in constant change in its microstructures. Similar to the sound of a river, which never ever sounds exactly the same again. Visually, a similar complexity arises. The discs, all moving at different speeds, reflect the light in certain positions. This results in a kind of flickering, similar to the effect we know from water surfaces. The discs seem to appear and dissolve again and it feels as if movements spread over the whole surface of the work and interact with each other. Here it is very interesting to see how we construct our alleged reality ourselves. We begin to relate things to each other and can recognize apparent interactions. In fact, these relationships and complex processes only occur in our minds. In this way, an apparently highly complex organism is created by an actually very simple technical system. I am particularly interested in this simplicity and simultaneous complexity which are both existing at the same time.
Q5 _ Tell us more about the behind-scene making process, what are the challenges and difficulties?
The biggest challenges in this project were caused by the period of time that fell exactly on the Covid-19 crisis. In a large and ambitious project like this one, involving different people from different areas, joint coordination and communication is of great importance. The crisis has generated additional challenges for all those involved. Especially in the cultural sector, practically all projects had to be cancelled at short notice, which fortunately was not the case in the cooperation with Jaeger-LeCoultre. I am very grateful Jaeger-LeCoultre held on to this project and kept calm during this crisis. This is a quality that not everyone seems to have succeeded in these days. In the end, a work was created that surprised and fascinated everyone involved. I'm truly very happy about the collaboration and its result.
Q6 _ What has inspired you?
For me almost everything is inspiring in a way or another somehow. Nature, architecture, society, science, philosophies, engineering, technology, behaviors, mind, systems and organisms... it's an endless list. For instance, I am always fascinated by any kind of experts who are obsessed with what they do and therefore know a lot about their specific field. It inspires me to be in exchange with such people. One example: For a while I was regularly in touch with Danielle Mersch, a scientist who was working at the Ants Laboratory at the University of Lausanne at that time. She is specialized in the research of the social behavior of ants. She showed me the ants lab and all the research they are doing and its current state, passed me current papers and demonstrated how they work and the methods they use. It was very fascinating and inspiring on various levels. Since my teenage age I also feel a strong connection to all kind of Minimalism. In music, in arts, in architecture, in construction, in living, ... The artist I was studying the most during this time was John Cage. I was not mainly fascinated by the works he created, but by his personality, his understanding of all kind of noises and silence in a musical context, as well by his thinking about sound, society, the world and universe, and all the methods and principles he developed to create his works.
Q7 _ Coop with JLC: Switzerland is home of various watchmaking houses. Being a Swiss native, have you been passionate about fine watchmaking?
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 scales...
Q8 _ Why did you choose to work with Jaeger-LeCoultre?
The collaboration with Jaeger-LeCoultre seemed very interesting to me from the very beginning, as there was a good understanding of art and the necessary freedom of creation. This is not always the case at all when companies are interested in working with artists. Also, Tetro, who took part of one part of the administrative production, did support this understanding very well too. Jaeger-LeCoultre created a starting point within which I was able to develop and realize a new work. I also had the complete freedom about all aesthetic decisions, what's very important and essential.
Q9 _ What do you find most impressive in the world of fine watchmaking? Where does your interest in the relationship between sound sculpture and chiming watch come from?
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 the 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 multi-faceted and appealing. I’m interested in sound as an architectonic element. In sound to create space, but also in sound which somehow is inhabiting a room and interacting with it. In three-dimensional sound structures as well as in a spatial experience and exploration of sound. Sound to create somehow static sound architectures that can be entered and explored acoustically, similar to walking around in a building. Elements like patterns, repetition and spatial structures in general are taking part in this process. For instance, I often work with a large number of the same mechanical systems. Here the repetition interests me from different points of view: on one hand, I’m looking for individual dynamics growing out of the systems. In that sense, each multiplied module is often behaving in its own individual way. Having many elements based on the same materials and systems next to each other shows all these individual behaviors and differences. On the other hand, multiplication interests me in relation to the three-dimensionality of the work. For instance, if many mechanical systems generating sounds are spread all over the space, this creates a three- dimensional space of sound. In that sense, a sound structure can get very complex even if it’s based on many very simple and sometimes even primitive little mechanical systems or elements.
Q10 _ The sound sculpture consists of raw materials set in perpetual motion (without intervention) to generate sound, how is “Time” interpreted in your work?
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 ending. 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 afterwards.
Q11 _ This installation will travel around the world, from Europe to Asia, has any type of Asian culture ever influenced your work?
I cannot trace my works back to a single direct inspiration or influence. Rather, it is a wealth of very different interests and inspirations that come together. In this sense this question is tricky to answer.