Zimoun: analog sound platforms. / In conversation with Angel Moya Garcia

Zimoun is interviewed by Angel Moya Garcia
Zimoun (Bern, Switzerland, 1972) uses simple and functional components to create sound platforms from an architectural point of view that combine raw and industrial materials such as cardboard boxes, plastic bags or old furniture with mechanical elements such as direct current motors, wires, microphones, speakers and fans. His work has been presented internationally in major museums such as the Museum of Contemporary Art MAC Santiago de Chile; Nam June Paik Art Museum Seoul; Kuandu Museum Taipei; Ringling Museum of Art Florida; Mumbai City Museum; Beijing National Museum of Art; LAC Lugano Museum; Seoul Museum of Art; MIS São Paulo Museum; Kunsthalle Bern; Taipei Fine Arts Museum; The Centquatre Paris; Busan Museum of Contemporary Art; MBAL Museum of Fine Arts; Kunstmuseum Bern; among others.

317 prepared dc-motors, paper bags, shipping container Zimoun 2016 Motors, wood, paper, metal, cotton, power supplies.
Dimensions: 6m x 2.4m x 3.5m. Installation view: Le Centquatre Paris, France. Photography by Zimoun ©

AMGYour research explores the mechanical rhythm, the tension between modernized models of modernity and the chaotic power of life, transmitting an instinctive depth through the acoustic buzz of natural phenomena. What was your education and what attracted you and led you to do this type of work?

Z: I didn’t study art nor music, but I was somehow active in this fields since I can remember as a little kid. Before I started to work with mechanical systems to generate real-time sound through motion I was often experimenting with multi channel sound systems (compositions for a number of speakers scattered in the space), as well as with reductive systems exploring visual structures and textures. I was mainly working with pre-recorded sounds of physical materials, for instance with the sounds of paper. Then at some point I started to wonder how I could get the work more direct, I didn’t want to record sounds first to play them later back in the space, but I wanted to create the sounds in real-time. This is when the experimentation with mechanical systems started and the visual intensities merged with sound and space.

117 prepared dc-motors, 210 kg wood, 170m rope Zimoun 2016 Motors, wood, metal, power supplies. Dimensions: variable. Installation view: Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei, Taiwan. Photography by Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei ©

AMG: Your work is internationally known for your incredible sound sculptures: architecture and objects such as cardboard boxes, wooden logs, plastic bags, electric motors or fans. Industrial or everyday objects that lose their functionality and become sounding boxes of mechanical devices. How do you exploit the expressive potential of analog sound and its relationship with space?

Z: The choice of materials relates to a general interest in simplicity. I’m interested in simple and raw, 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. I’m also interested in sound as an architectonic element that creates space, but also in sound which somehow is inhabiting a room and interacting with it. In tridimensional sound structures, in spatial experiences and explorations of sound. The use of sound in order to create somehow static sound architectures that can be entered and explored acoustically, similarly to walking around 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: I’m looking for individual dynamics growing out of the systems. In that sense, each multiplied module is 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, differences and individualities. But multiplication also interests me in relation to the tridimensionality of the work. For instance, if many mechanical systems generating sounds are scattered all over the space, this creates a tridimensional space of sound. In that sense, a sound structure and how it unfolds within the architecture, can get very complex even if it’s based on many very simple, and sometimes even primitive, small mechanical systems.

198 prepared dc-motors, wire isolated, cardboard boxes 30x30x8cm Zimoun 2012 DC-motors, wire islolated, cardboard boxes, laboratory power supply. Dimensions: 4.75 x 8.5 x 14m / 15.6 x 28 x 46 ft. Installation view: CAN, Neuchatel, Switzerland. Photography by Zimoun ©

AMG: In the last decades we are witnessing an increasingly rapid technological revolution, which in the art world has led to increasingly experimental, hybrid, interdisciplinary and complex research. The search for new software for the production and manipulation of sounds, hardware implementation, multi-channel and multimedia installations or the availability of new technological devices have multiplied the possibilities of installations that work with audio. How could we place your work, definitely analog, with respect to research using media and more complex technological systems?

Z: The research I am doing within my mechanical sound work is focused on the physical material and the physical space and on the creation of somehow complex organisms or systems which are based on very simple elements. But it is less about controlling such systems in a sense of telling them what to do. My installations have two states. Either they are turned on, or off. I do not program the behavior of the mechanical elements on a computer, for example changing the speed of a motor over time, or turning motors on and off etc. I look for material based behaviors which unfold a complexity without me defining what they should do. I see my job here more like helping them to come alive rather than defining their micro-structural behavior. In that sense what I do could have been done already 50 years ago and it isn’t directly influenced by today’s technology and its new possibilities.

49 prepared concrete mixers Zimoun 2017 Motors, metal, pvc, lead. Dimensions: variable. Installation view: Le Centquatre, Paris, France.
Photography by Zimoun ©

AMG: The voluntary use of titles that describe your works simply as a list of used mechanical materials and components require the observer a further imaginative effort, making him actively participate in the completion of the work. What role do you think the individual can have in the construction, especially conceptually speaking, in your installations?

Z: I keep my works reduced, abstract and raw. That way they function more like an abstract code behind something, rather than creating just one connection to one specific theme or topic. In this way, the works can ideally activate the visitors somehow allowing 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. Great thoughts about a piece usually show the engagement of an interesting person.

36 ventilators, 4.7m³ packing chips Zimoun 2014 Motors, metal, styrofoam, nylon, wood, controlling system. Dimensions: variable. Installation view: Art Museum Lugano, Switzerland. Photography by Zimoun ©

Zimoun | Photography by Rolf Siegenthaler ©