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Ex­clu­sive in­ter­views with Olivier Audemars and Se­bas­tian Er­razuriz on the Audemars Piguet Art Comis­sion at Art Basel

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If time is an il­lu­sion, as the Swiss ge­nius Al­bert Ein­stein once said, imag­ine, then, an un­spoilt coun­try­side from the peak of the sier­ras: the lush green­ery of the sur­round­ings bro­ken on ei­ther side by a strait of blue that meets the sky. This is a mor­tal glimpse of the Val­lée de Joux in the heart of the Jura moun­tains, an ethe­real slade of nat­u­ral hues an hour’s drive from Geneva. It does no jus­tice to the sub­tle majesty of this land­scape, a sub­ject that is the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind the Col­lec­tors Lounge booth of Audemars Piguet at the 48th edi­tion of Art Basel, the world’s most im­por­tant art fair for con­tem­po­rary and mod­ern art.

As a young boy, the Swiss en­ter­prise’s fourth-gen­er­a­tion de­scen­dant, Olivier Audemars, re­counts, “I never un­der­stood why my grand­fa­ther spent so much time there [at Val­lée de Joux].” At that point in the com­pany’s his­tory, Audemars Piguet had only 40 em­ploy­ees. One day, he re­lates, his grand­fa­ther had brought home an as­sem­bled watch mech­a­nism, and prompted the six-year-old Olivier to touch the es­cape­ments. “It came alive!” said the cur­rent vice-chair­man, “Like lit­eral hearts beat­ing, all of a sud­den I saw the sec­ond hand mov­ing.” De­spite ven­tur­ing on his own busi­ness in adult­hood, Olivier went back into the fam­ily busi­ness they still own to carry on the elab­o­rate prac­tice that Jules-louis Audemars and Ed­ward Au­guste Piguet be­gan in 1875, based mostly on the fas­ci­na­tion in this mem­ory.

The small town of Le Bras­sus has taken this craft of horol­ogy to cre­ate a her­itage that is known the world over for its com­plex­ity and precision. It be­gan, es­sen­tially, to pass the time of their long win­ters. From their homes, these early ar­ti­sans moulded iron by their hands as a means to survive, but the 140-year-old tra­di­tion bore a pas­sion that de­fied util­ity and pro­voked a deeper pur­pose.

“A watch used to be nec­es­sary. It used to have a prac­ti­cal func­tion. You didn’t have the time if you didn’t have a watch,” shares Se­bas­tian Er­razuriz, the artist and de­signer of the Audemars Piguet lounge. “To make a watch by hand to­day makes no sense, be­cause it takes months and months of fab­ri­ca­tion. [When Audemars Piguet granted me the Commission,] I wanted to say that we spend too much time mak­ing the watch, [but with] the idea be­ing to ex­plain it as an act of pas­sion, as an act of love. As some­thing in­sane, but only be­cause of the love that goes be­hind it.”

Er­razuriz has cre­ated Sec­ond Na­ture, a sculp­ture of a tree that the artist tire­lessly sketched to the mi­nut­est de­tail over a course of months since his visit to the Val­lée de Joux. The draw­ings were then carved by ro­botic im­ple­ments us­ing CAD tech­nol­ogy, pre­cise to the mil­lime­tre of the rings of the bark. At the de­but in Art Basel Hong Kong in March this year, the tree was bare with out­stretched branches. By the time Art Basel in Basel, Switzer­land opened last month, the tree sprouted shoots to mimic the change of the sea­sons from spring to sum­mer.

Na­ture and the Val­lée de Joux are so fun­da­men­tal to Audemars Piguet’s craft that it has ef­fected re­silience and in­no­va­tion into the val­ues of the com­pany. “For in­stance,” Olivier shares, “[Dur­ing the quartz cri­sis,] in­stead of just mak­ing sim­ple watches, [the watch­mak­ers] added mech­a­nisms. They took the mo­tion of the moon around the earth and the earth around the sun and turned that into some­thing that is the Per­pet­ual Cal­en­dar.” This mech­a­nism is what al­lows the watch to map time cy­cles of 48 months and au­to­mat­i­cally fac­tor the vari­a­tion in 30 or 31 days within that month, and also the num­ber of days in Fe­bru­ary to in­di­cate when it is a leap year.

In 2016, Er­razuriz had ex­hib­ited with a theme of wa­ter and ice, also in­flu­enced by the Val­lée de Joux. Er­razuriz’s use of wood for Sec­ond Na­ture is then any­thing but wooden, so to speak, re­flect­ing the evo­lu­tion of such tem­po­ral ma­te­rial through in­no­va­tion af­forded by cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy. “As an artist, to be able to fab­ri­cate your vi­sion in ac­cor­dance to the best idea, as op­posed to pros­ti­tut­ing the piece and de­lud­ing the in­ten­tion of it,” says Er­razuriz, in­di­cates the cul­ture of re­spect for art that is in­her­ent in Audemars Piguet.

For Audemars Piguet, art is an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of mak­ing time to ex­plore the pro­found re­la­tion­ship be­tween watch­maker and watch; time­keeper with na­ture; even na­ture with hu­man­ity. The com­pany’s ex­po­sure to art, Olivier says, has al­lowed them to dis­cover their own story. “We use this knowl­edge to ex­plain to our peo­ple first then to the rest of the world what the Val­lée de Joux is, what Audemars Piguet is, and why we are so closely linked to each other.”

As a part of the booth’s visit to Art Basel Hong Kong, Audemars Piguet had also com­mis­sioned the Chi­nese artist, Cheng Ran, whose video installation Cir­ca­dian Rhythm dis­sects the mo­tions in the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment that tick in syn­chronic­ity with the body’s clock. Cir­ca­dian Rhythm also trav­elled to Art Basel, Basel. Audemars Piguet’s next commission falls unto the Amer­i­can ac­tivist, di­rec­tor and vis­ual artist Lars Jan, whose work will be un­veiled at Art Basel Mi­ami in De­cem­ber of this year.

“The commission is very open-ended. I res­onated strongly with the ob­ses­sive work ethic of the watch­mak­ers,” shares Jan. “I see them as artists, not only for their at­ten­tion to de­tail and their ec­cen­tric ob­ses­sion with per­fec­tion, but also the in­vest­ment on the beauty of the in­te­rior that most peo­ple will never see.”

To this end, Olivier re­marks, “We try to max­imise the chance that some­thing un­ex­pected might hap­pen.” Al­to­gether, the three Art Com­mis­sions re­flect mas­tery of beauty and tran­scen­dence of craft from Audemars Piguet. Time, then, will tell what’s next.

na­ture and the Val­lée de Joux are so fun­da­men­tal to audemars Piguet’s craft that it has ef­fected re­silience and in­no­va­tion into the Val­ues of the com­pany

FROM top Demon­strat­ing the art of watch­mak­ing at the Audemars Piguet Lounge in Art Basel; Se­bas­tian Er­razuriz, the Chilean-born, New York­based artist has de­signed the lounge for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year

Olivier Audemars, Vice Chair­man of the Board, Audemars Piguet OP­PO­SITE

the La-based Amer­i­can artist Lars Jan was se­lected for the third Audemars Piguet Art Commission 2017. the mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary artist, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the guest cu­ra­tor Kath­leen Forde, is cur­rently cre­at­ing a ma­jor art installation to be pre­sented...

Born in in­ner Mon­go­lia, China, the artist Cheng ran’s video installation, Cir­ca­dian rhythm, was first pre­sented in Art Basel Hong Kong in March 2017. on view once again at the Audemars Piguet booth in Art Basel, Basel, the film, set in the val­lée de...

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