Miami Art Week 2016: Sun Xun’s “Reconstruction of the Universe” for Audemars Piguet

An immersive installation of epic proportions for Art Basel

There’s no denying the substantial perks of hosting Art Basel in the city of Miami during the month of December. Some of the most powerful works during the entire week can be found outdoors, but one such piece does more than bask in the Magic City’s glow; it contributes to the surrounding landscape. Commissioned by Swiss luxury watchmaker Audemars Piguet for Art Basel, Chinese artist Sun Xun‘s “Reconstruction of the Universe” draws inspiration from the elements and stands as a pavilion, exhibition space and work of art all-in-one. The stunning wave-like structure employs metal and bamboo to great affect, feeling at once gentle and powerful. From its vast scale to the careful attention to detail, it’s an important work in a week of ephemeral moments.

When Audemars’ guest curator Ruijun Shen approached Xun with the commission, the brief was to explore the idea of execution and precision. More than a year and a half ago, the team and Xun stood at the future site of “Reconstruction of the Universe” in the rain. Xun explains, “I spent a whole day on the beach, in the area, to see the nature here.” On site, Xun produced a drawing that would become the architectural wonder resting there now: a beachfront pavilion sprawling almost the size of a city block, composed of metal and bamboo. Inside, there are further iterations of Xun’s work dotting the walls and within shifting spherical screens.

The Beijing-based artist has a prolific studio in his home country, and also has many works on display at the fair itself. But it was a trip to Audermars’ watchmaking facility in Le Brassus, Switzerland that would inform the complexity he would instill in the large-scale work. There, he observed the watchmaking process and learned the stories behind the watches—and the brand’s approach to the overall concept of time. Xun observed a slowing down of time, feeling the minutes and seconds, when witnessing a meticulous craft like watchmaking—and it mirrored his own experiences with woodcutting. A deeper concept formed.

The structure is as much an exhibition space as it is a piece of art itself. “There are two parts of this project,” Xun tells us. The second happens to be a 10-minute-long 3D-animated film known as “Time Spy.” It’s projected on a large outdoor screen, but also portions appear in the aforementioned spheres. Perhaps most fascinating—and daunting—about the film’s creation happens to be that every single frame is a woodcut, translating to roughly 10K. Whereas the large structure represents systems of the world, the film asks, according to Xun, “What is the world and what was the beginning of the world?” He chose to seek answers for this from the perspective of one sole perspective.

There are frequent uses of Xun’s signature motifs and Chinese iconography involved in the work: birds, horses and the five elements. Xun calls specific attention to his use of a magician. He says that a magician is “the only person who can legally tell you a lie,” and that these are lies we seek out to enjoy, or to encourage thought. When asked what thoughts he hopes to stimulate, Xun concludes, “The answer to my project is through the questions. Like, what is time? What is forever? What is history? What is future? What is now?” Visitors can seek those answers, of course, but the creation’s greatest strength may lie in the fact that one needn’t go deep if they don’t desire to; it’s aesthetically pleasing first and foremost.

We are making things that talk much more to the heart than the brain

Brands play a substantial role in Art Basel (whether art enthusiasts like it or not) but Audemars’ efforts extend beyond the fair sponsorship and a booth in the Collector’s Lounge, as evidenced by their work with Xun. “Reconstruction of the Universe” was a massive undertaking and a follow-up to their mesmerizing 2014 contribution, Theo Jansen’s “Strandbeest.” Olivier Audemars, Vice Chairman of the Board of Audemars Piguet, was present to unveil Xun’s piece and the sentiments he shared touch upon the value of considered artistic affiliations. “The difference between artisan and artist was not so important,” he notes. “You don’t need a painting to cover a wall; wallpaper will do the same thing. You don’t need a mechanical watch to tell the time; a smartwatch would do it.” As for the watch brand working with an artist such as Xun, he continues, “Basically, we are both making things—objects, or paintings or sculptures or movies—that talk much more to the heart than the brain. That’s why we thought it would make a lot of sense to communicate through this network.”

“Reconstruction of the Universe” is visible on the sand at Miami Beach Drive between 21st and 22nd Street in Miami.

Second and third images by David Graver, all other images courtesy of Audemars Piguet