In our upcoming course, Creative Audio Programming on the Raspberry Pi, Ollie Bown and Sam Ferguson discuss sound and installation artist Zimoun. He brings out sublime experiences from the simplest mechanical gestures that stimulate the viewers in the space. What is truly impressive about his art is that the individual parts that are repeatedly put together create such a tremendous architectural space that is beyond the physical sites of his installations.

“Using simple and functional components, Zimoun builds architecturally-minded platforms of sound. Exploring mechanical rhythm and flow in prepared systems, his installations incorporate commonplace industrial objects. In an obsessive display of simple and functional materials, these works articulate a tension between the orderly patterns of Modernism and the chaotic forces of life. Carrying an emotional depth, the acoustic hum of natural phenomena in Zimoun’s minimalist constructions effortlessly reverberates.” – Laura Blereau

 

 

When I first encountered your work I saw pattern, repetition and grid; what do they mean to you?

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.

Your practice is often associated with the kinetic arts. What kind of technology do you engage the most when creating a piece? How much weight do you put on the mechanical and engineering side of your work?

I actually don’t feel connected to Kinetic Arts and I see in my work a much stronger relation and connection to Minimal Art, Minimal Music and Minimalism in general. The technologies and systems I use and build are very simple and I try to use as little technology as possible. Mostly there are not even any computers, micro-controllers algorithms or software etc. involved. I’m interested in a beauty of simplicity. In simple systems which allow and support complex behaviors in sound and motion. In simple artificial systems, which somehow develop and unfold a complex behavior growing out of the dynamics of the materials themselves and/or out of the space-related situations. It’s a simple use of mechanics rather than a technological one. Related to my artwork I’m not much interested in technology and to be honest I am also tired of artwork in which the technology seems to be more important than the artwork itself. Of course, depending on the work and interest, technology can be an interesting tool to involve. But in the end, it should be about the art that is getting created, and if so it doesn’t really matter what technology is behind it.

 

Zimoun, 150 prepared dc-motors, 270kg wood, 210m string wire
Photography by Zimoun ©

Your architectural interpretation of sound is extraordinary. It seems like you are approaching sound as something tangible and more physical. And your choice of simple and raw materials somehow enhances the presence of the sound in the space. Could you elaborate more on the relationship between the visible and physical elements in your pieces (simple materials, gears, etc.) and the sound they are creating? Are the visual components equally important as part of the whole “art” or are they the generators of the sound architecture?

I can’t say one element is more important than another. I think as soon as something is there, it is getting as important as all the other ‘things’ which are there too. Otherwise, there should be a way to get rid of that element and to reduce it. In that sense, the sound is one element of many in my work: you see what you hear and you also hear what you see. Often you can even smell it.

Could you talk about your choice of materials? Why cardboard boxes or brown paper bags?

Here too, the choice of materials relates to a general interest in simplicity. I’m interested in simple and raw materials, in unspectacular and pure materials. These are often materials from industrial uses or the everyday. At the same time, the choice of materials relates a lot to the dynamics and behavior of the materials and their resonance properties – in connection with the artistic concept.

 

Zimoun, 425 prepared dc-motors, hemp cords, cardboard boxes
Photography Christophe Beauregard / Centquatre ©

What is your relationship with the viewers? How do you approach the audience when making your works?

I keep my works very reduced, abstract 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. For that reason, I also keep the titles very abstract, only describing the materials used. 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. Great thoughts about a piece usually show an engagement of an interesting person.

You have said you are interested in simplicity and reduction. How do these approaches work in relation to the massiveness of the space or number of the objects? Do you see it as a contradiction that generates sublime experience, or do you see a common place in the simplicity and the repetition?

I do not see simplicity and reduction necessarily leading to multiplication. But I do not see multiplication as something that could not grow out of a general interest in simplicity and reduction either. We could compare this to repetitive minimal music by Steve Reich, for instance. There is a great interest in minimalism and reduction in his work, but the compositions are not based on one single tone, they are based on dense textures, complex rhythms and polymeric structures: a massive amount of single tones is used within the composition.

Where is the ideal place for your art to exist? In particular physical spaces, or somewhere else?

There is not one ideal place in that sense, but many very interesting places. Of course it is about the physical space as my work deals with real materials, spaces and sound properties. Each space is somehow finishing the work in its own way, as this “finish” is based on the sound properties of the space itself. And the sound properties of each space are different. In that way, the space itself is influencing the final result a lot: visually but also sound wise. As my work is not reproducing a sound but producing it in real time, even extreme spaces (related to their resonance properties) are very interesting to work with.

 

 

How do you feel about the documentations of your works and installations? Do you think it is a must to experience your work in the site?

Well, I think good documentation of works somehow makes sense. But of course a documentation is never ever the same as experiencing an installation in person. Within the documentation, only a few elements can be shown and transported, but never the full dimension of a physical work with all its layers.

What is the direction of your works and practice currently?

Here in the studio me and my team are always working on various new ideas and directions—on basic research and experiments as well as on upcoming exhibitions. Usually we first try to build stuff and to work it out, before we talk about it… The next exhibitions are taking place at the Contemporary Art Museum in Le Locle, the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Santiago de Chile, in Aarhus, Denmark (the European Capital of Culture this year), and at Le Centquatre in Paris.


Zimoun in studio
Photography by Rolf Siegenthaler ©

Zimoun lives and works in Bern, Switzerland. Recent displays of his work include exhibitions at the Nam June Paik Art Museum in Korea; Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei; Ringling Museum of Art, Florida; Harnett Museum of Art, Richmond; bitforms gallery New York; Kunsthalle Bern; Seoul Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art Liechtenstein; Fine Arts Museum Rennes; Art Basel; Central for Contemporary Art Brussels; Galerie Denise René Paris; Museum Les Champs Libres, Rennes; Contemporary Art Museum MNAC Bucharest; Beall Art Center, Los Angeles; Museum of Fine Arts Bern; Museum of Contemporary Art MSUM, Ljubljana; National Art Museum, Beijing; Museum of Fine Arts Lugano; among others. Learn more at www.zimoun.net.