Sebastian Errazuriz has an easy-to-understand love for Vallée de Joux, Switzerland. For its deep-seated valleys; for its vast stretches of lake; and for its uninhabited wilderness that has inspired his latest sculpture, Second Nature, which was devised at the request of Audemars Piguet. Since 1875, the luxury Swiss watchmaker has continually explored the often obscure relationship between the worlds of art and horology, from its cutting-edge factory that’s sleepily sat in the small village of Le Brassus, nestled deep within Vallée de Joux.
“First and foremost, the effort is to make a meaningful and significant contribution to the art worlds, and also for us to be transformed by the art world at the same time,” says Michael Freeman, a historian speaking on behalf of Audemars Piguet. “We begin with the premise that watches themselves are cultural objects that were created by artists,” he tells MOJEH. “Where does art, where does technology, where does artisanship all come together? These are the types of themes we like to explore.”
For the second consecutive year, Audemars Piguet have collaborated with Errazuriz, a Chilean-born artist and sculptor, who designed a sumptuous lounge celebrating the brand’s heritage at this year’s edition of Art Basel. The folkloric space reflected the handsome forests that dominate the watchmaker’s storied hometown, and showcased Errazuriz’s Second Nature – an extravagant wooden sculpture of a crooked tree. “I wanted to create a tree that could act as a homage to the watchmakers,” the New York-based artist divulges to MOJEH, his eyes thoughtfully flickering to the grandiose piece.
The atmospheric and dimly lit showcase is strangely dramatic, with heavy charcoal-coloured surfaces interrupted by numerous spotlights that illuminate a carefully selected collection of Audemars Piguet’s extraordinary timepieces. Second Nature takes centre stage; the tree’s twisted branches coil sideways, like squirming tentacles grabbling with some unknown treasure. Designed to evolve with the seasons, the artwork depicts the watchmaker’s growth and innovation while its roots represent tradition; Audemars Piguet is the oldest Haute Horlogerie manufacturer still in the hands of its founding families.
“The tree isn’t a traditional straight tree, but instead the kind you’d see on the top of a hillside, where the wind has been hitting it constantly over the years. There’s a mix – its DNA has wanted it to grow upwards, but its circumstances have pushed it down into its final shape.” Carving the physical model was time-consuming and included an element of technical complexity that mirrors the craftsmanship and advanced mechanics inherent to watchmaking. “If you look at the mechanism of a watch,” explains Errazuriz, glancing down at his own wrist, “all those little bits and pieces that move and connect to make it work weren’t designed by one single person.” Art and timepieces are also similar, he adds, because they’ve both become a self-indulgent luxury. “We no longer need watches,” he insists. “The function of a watch has lost its protagonism. They’re now objects of status, melancholic reminders of other eras – they’re exhibitors of ingenuity.”
“It is always a great inspiration to work with artists who understand our core values and who are able to creatively translate them through their own point of view,” says Olivier Audemars, vice president of the board of directors at Audemars Piguet. Multidisciplinary artist Lars Jan has been selected to create the brand’s next art commission at Art Basel Miami 2017. “The watch practice to me is quite an artistic one,” he contemplates. “A great deal of aesthetic consideration goes into the interior of a watch, which will, in fact, never be seen by the user. That’s something that resonates with me very strongly, because 90 per cent of what I do as an artist will not be perceived.”
For Jan and Errazuriz, who at the age of 28 became the second living artist to have a work auctioned at Sotheby’s, this creative excellence and technical mastery can only be achieved with unwavering commitment. Errazuriz travelled numerous times to Vallée de Joux to ensure his sculpture accurately captures the essence of both the brand and region. “Why the hell would you want to be making watches by hand in a little valley in Switzerland?” Errazuriz asks, in total disbelief. “It’s insane,” he chuckles, “nonetheless it’s done. It’s done out of love, and out of passion.”