Meet the Artist: Clément Vieille on His Elaborate Installation Inspired by Hermès’ New H08 Models
Called “The Finesse of Time,” this interactive sculpture was more than a vehicle for Hermès to display its Watches & Wonders 2023 novelties; it explored the essence of watchmaking materials.
In the past, Watchonista has profiled artists that work with the language of watchmaking. Whether realistic or abstract, there have always been recognizable signatures, such as gears, dials, or even minifigs, to help artists communicate their thoughts on time.
However, today we’re embracing the abstract and looking at artist Clément Vieille and his interactive installation “The Finesse of Time.”
Created for the Hermès pavilion at Watches & Wonders, this multimedia presentation celebrates the materials used to create a timepiece – specifically, the innovative elements employed by the newest models in the H08 collection.
Clément Vieille is a French artist who has led many lives. For instance, while studying art in Lyon and Annecy, he also worked as a mountain guide. And his post-graduate practice has proven to be equally fluid.
After graduating from Le Fresnoy National Studio for Contemporary Arts in 2015, he collaborated with talented people like Swiss architect Filippo Broggini and Colombian photographer Daniel Peñaranda. Unsurprisingly, Vieille’s explorations quickly caught the notice of the French luxury house Hermès. Then, in 2021, the maison commissioned Vieille and his classmate Pierre Pauze to create a display at Geneva’s Bâtiment des Forces Motrices.
The duo transformed one of the building’s large halls with an immersive “scenography” using sculpture and video. Unfortunately, because the world was still in lockdown at the time, most people experienced the presentation online. Yet, despite the fact Vieille’s work is designed to convey a spatial experience, this piece had enough resonance to it that it managed to tell a linear story, even to those of us confined to experiencing it through a computer screen.
At the heart of the piece was Vieille’s fluid, almost fabric-like structure that depicted the genesis of the H08. Vieille’s work often incorporates “tensegrity” – a structural principle based on a system of elements compressed together to carry a load. And in this installation, these elements underscored the unity between scientific theory and artistic creation. There was also tension between the two, suggested by thousands of lit translucent structures that mirrored Pauze’s interest in quantum physics.
For the 2023 edition of Watches & Wonders, Creative Director of Hermès Horloger Philippe Delhotal invited Vieille to, once again, create an artwork to animate its new H08 models, but this time as a solo commission.
Given Vieille’s interest in the great outdoors (remember, his side hustle is working as a mountain guide), Delhotal feels this partnership is a natural fit. “Ever since its launch, we have talked about ‘the texture of time’ when it comes to Hermès H08; because with Hermès H08, we play with materials,” Delhotal explained. “This year, we wanted to explore the finesse of materials through our novelties and also within our Watches & Wonders Geneva pavilion, which reflects this approach to time in an immersive scenography exploring ‘The Finesse of Time.’ ”
This time, Vieille made an animated landscape with a family of shapes, movements, and materials. And continuing to explore the idea of tensegrity, Vieille delivered an ethereal array of suspended sculptures that mimicked the mechanical heart of a watch using the parametric modeling tool called Grasshopper. As a result, suspended, branch-like hangings performed double duty as kinetic sculptures and dynamic displays for the watches.
While all of these bits bobbed around in the air, layered wood compositions mirrored these flower-like forms on the ground. More than a few attendees walked on the floor pieces because they were so entranced by the moving pieces surrounding them. The effect was not unlike unexpectedly traipsing into a magical forest.
While not a literal translation of the new Hermès H08 models, Vieille’s installation led visitors to ponder the timepiece’s innovative form and materials.
The cushion-shaped case of the Hermès H08 Chronograph is sculpted from a block of multilayered composite. Carbon fiber and graphene powder provide a glossy finish. Thus, to pay tribute to these components, Vieille used a white “paper” made from a blend of cellulose and glass fiber to create the pulsating forms seen at Palexpo.
“At first, the installation was meant to be colorful,” Vieille explained. “Independently, each sculpture was really interesting. But together, it just came off as too much information. So, we decided to just use color in the lighting.”
While Vieille’s installation evoked the beauty of nature, he used cutting-edge technology to create an Eden. Like the designers and artisans of Hermès, his work explores materials by manipulating them into innovative forms. And tension is created via the use of woven carbon fiber plates and mass-dyed materials.
The effect is like that of a fine watch, a mechanism both precise and fantastic. And like time, Vieille also recognized the work itself was ephemeral and a moment to experience a break from the bustle of the fair.
(Images © Hermès)