Swiss artist Zimoun has made a name for himself in recent years by creating sophisticated installations using simple materials in architecturally inspired layouts. It’s rather the perfect fusion of mechanization, modern design and standardization, ultimately producing something that feels and sounds more natural. Modular, compartmental forms like cardboard boxes and silos can be symbols of alienation and compartmentalization, but in Zimoun’s arrangements their soothing movements and sounds instead give rise to meditations on the cellular nature of life.
I thought of Zimoun in particular today because the soothing sound of rain has returned full force this last week, and walking along piers one hears the soft creaking of moored boats. It’s a sound that I thought was beautifully recaptured using cardboard boxes in Zimoun’s collaboration with architect Hannes Zweifel this summer, 20 prepared dc-motors, 81 cardboard boxes 70x70x70cm. A nine-by-nine grid of boxes undulates suspended by thin nylon cords in the space between a balcony overlooking the main floor of the Mannheimer Kunstverein. The varying intensity and direction of the boxes is further influenced as they bounce softly against each other, creating a dynamic system whose sounds change relative to one’s position in the space. You can get a more static perspective of the work in the video below.
Zimoun’s permanent installation uses 329 motors attached to the inetrior of a decommissioned toluene tank in Dottikon, Switzerland. What once contained massive amounts of a highly toxic chemical now becomes an acoustic chamber for cotton balls bounding lightly. Black dots, white walls, grey noise. The short film below beautifully shows the interior and exterior—a visual rhyme of of black white and grey inside and out, with black trees against white snow around the steel grey tank, holding a sort of atomic vision.
Modularity may be practical, but its uniform shapes have become symbols of alienation, loss of individuality and rapid obsolescence. Cardboard boxes are even more phenomenologically interesting, as their basic, geometric shape can conjure images of modern, classical and monumental architecture alike while remaining a disposable form expressly made to contain mass produced goods. (I can’t be the only person who gets a tingle just imagining the potential contents of the box.) Such boxes are symbols of transition; we want to see them arranged neatly in warehouses and not strewn about in our every day lives, which implies transition arrested, an unsettled and disordered state.
It’s so lovely to see (and hear!) these forms get a new life of their own in the work of Zimoun. He doesn’t cure the existential ills of modernity and uniformity, but like all good artists he finds pathos and beauty in the simplest of objects. And because the medium is so versatile and unique to the spaces he adapts, the possibilities are vast. The quivering grid of light cast beneath a grid of suspended boxes has a completely different effect than that of the Mannheimer Kunstverein. Its mystery comes not just from the darkness, but the hazy lattice and horizon it presents, evoking new visions of space itself, which is more strange and fluid than the emptiness posed by classical physics.
Above all, the incorporation of all these elements gives emotional depth to both uniform objects and abstract concepts. It’s a beautiful trick, and I am quite sure Zimoun has many more up his sleeve.
See more of his work on his website.