Second Nature: Horology Meets Contemporary Art in Audemars Piguet's Latest Presentation at Art Basel

BY Rebecca Anne Proctor / Jul 18 2017 / 13:54 PM

Over the last four years the luxury watch brand has supported an impressive roster of contemporary artists. In Basel we learn what connects Audemars Piguet’s timepieces with the world of art

Second Nature: Horology Meets Contemporary Art in Audemars Piguet's Latest Presentation at Art Basel
Marc Ducrest
New York based Sebastian Errazuriz with his installation “Second Nature”

If you spent time in the Collector’s Lounge during Art Basel’s latest iteration in Switzerland, then no doubt you would have come across Chilean Sebastian Errazuriz’s Second Nature installation. In stark contrast with the rest of the renowned watchmaker’s impressive timepieces, beautifully presented in a sleek corner, Errazuriz’s artwork comes in the form of a life-size wooden tree sculpture inspired by Swiss spruce trees from the Jura mountains, where Piguet has been headquartered since its founding in 1875. The work is thus apt for a Swiss context, although collectors who had been in Hong Kong in March would have already gotten a glimpse of it.

The work, made by robotic-armed machinery from detailed sketches and CAD drawings, involved what the artist terms as the “insane” process of deconstructing a real tree in order to reproduce one in its exact likeness using modern-day craftsmanship and technology. “We got the highest level of technology and robots and carved this thing down and then removed all of the material – the complete waste of material – in order to get back down to the essence – to the pure minimum – to the maximum fragility,” explains Errazuriz. “Again, this was insane.” And the insanity of it was marked by the cost itself – one that the artist notes only a company like Audemars Piguet could afford. Moreover, the watch brand wasn’t on board in the beginning with Errazuriz’s concept. “When I first proposed the piece the owners weren’t so sure. I was telling a company that makes watches that this tree was going to represent them and at the beginning, naturally, you think, ‘why? What does that say about us?’”

Sebastian Errazuriz’s “Second Nature”

We live in an era today that is overwhelmed by the digital. And within this realm there isn’t much use for the meticulously crafted timepiece. “The notion of the watch today is almost useless; it now has a symbolic character that is more important than ever and that makes it closer to art,” adds Errazuriz. Owning a watch now is like having a collectible; it’s about status, prestige and heritage. “So it [the timepiece] is suddenly much more than just horology and that makes it closer to the world of art,” he adds.

The fragility of time is one that Errazuriz has constantly reckoned with. “My work is very existential in a way. I was always aware that life is short since I was a kid,” he says. “It’s always been one of my running anxieties. Therefore, you need to do as much work as possible in order to contribute and make your life worthwhile so this idea of working against time as a common theme for me via work with a watch company is amazing.”

The strong but delicately shaped branches of Second Nature reach out across the sleekly designed booth – also created by Errazuriz – reminding visitors of Audemars Piguet’s origins.

As the artist explains, “The shape of the tree is not the straightforward shape – it’s more like what you would find on the top of a cliff or a hill with the wind hitting it as it has been growing and it has been forced to dialogue with its DNA and its circumstances and arrive at a final shape.” It's the ideal present-day visual metaphor for Audemars Piguet.

Dan Holdsworth. La Vallée de Joux. 2013.

Second Nature marks Errazuriz’s second commission for Audemars Piguet. It also symbolizes the brand’s four years of work with contemporary artists. It all began in 2013, when the company launched a series of initiatives with contemporary artists. In 2016 the second annual Audemars Piguet Art Commission – a work by Chinese multimedia artist Sun Xun – was presented during Art Basel Miami Beach. One of the most exciting artists to emerge from China, in Reconstruction of the Universe, a piece fully financed by Audemars Piguet, he created an elaborate architectural set in the form of an ocean-side bamboo pavilion consisting of animated films alongside work made in traditional mediums.

Since 2013, Audemars Piguet has partnered with Art Basel. “It is a highly credible visual arts entity that also shares some common Swiss roots with us,” says Olivier Audemars who also underlines his appreciation for Art Basel’s internationalism. “You learn about the artist and his or her environment at each Art Basel fair. For us, a tiny company located in a small valley in Switzerland, that’s a great way to get a deeper understanding of places in the world where we are involved.”

Three years ago, the company also set up the Audemars Piguet Art Commission, which starts off with an annual invitation of a guest curator tasked with scouting artists whose work revolves around themes of precision and complexity – themes that share natural affinity with the watchmaker. The shortlisted artists are then invited to the Vallée de Joux to learn about the company and propose a concept. One is selected and Audemars Piguet uses its resources to realise the work of art. “As a company our aim is not to collect art but to be transformed by art,” says Olivier.

Lars Jan

The fortunate artist to receive this year’s Audemars Piguet’s art commission is Los Angeles-based artist Lars Jan. In early June Jan’s Holoscenes installation made a stir in New York’s Time Square for its sheer banality. It comprised a twelve-ton tank of water that was filled with somersaulting performers in order to highlight issues surrounding climate change. “Perception is the most interesting material the artist has to work with,” says Jan. “One of the central facets of my work is performance and I am very interested in live gatherings of people and the ineffable and palpable energy that is transmitted through groups of individuals.” Jan’s commission will be unveiled at Art Basel Miami Beach in December.

“We think that the kind of watches we make are art,” says Audemars Piguet President Jasmin Audemars. “Working with the artists is also a source of inspiration for us because they come to Le Brassus and they stay for a few days and they see both the art of watchmaking and the landscape and they see the link between the two and it gives them ideas and creativity.” Jasmine notes the work of British photographer Dan Holdsworth, who has been commissioned by the brand since 2011 to create several series of photographs of the area in Switzerland’s Jura region. Haunting portrayals of the natural landscape, Audemars Piguet uses his photographs for countless purposes. “We use him for all of our visuals – even our advertisements,” adds Jasmine. “It has given us a new identity even. He was really able to capture the soul of our place – where we have our roots and it has given a new dimension to the company thanks to his artistry and creativity.” It’s nearly impossible to forget the breadth of a Holdsworth photograph just as it is the impressive creation of Errazuriz’s tree sculpture or Sun Xun’s fantastical multimedia pavilion. Let’s see what Lars Jan brings us in December.