Los Angeles-based artist Lars Jan deals in complexity and what he calls obstructions. No one can describe his output succinctly because it is so diverse and multi disciplined. He seems to relish the challenge of making complicated ideas come to life through a kaleidoscope of forms. His work can combine dance, film and architecture, among other disciplines. A TED senior fellow, Jan is the son of émigrés from Afghanistan and Poland.
Speaking ahead of his latest commission being assembled in Miami for Art Basel, Jan, 39, described his appetite for the hitches and problems that seem to get in the way of his creativity but almost inevitably end up refining the idea for the better. He relishes the way that creation almost always involves perfection, ‘there’s always a distance between intention and reality’, but that distance has value in itself – it’s what makes his work alive.
Slow-Moving Luminaries is the result of Jan’s selection for the third Audemars Piguet Art Commission and will be shown on the oceanfront during Art Basel Miami this December. Working alongside guest curator Kathleen Forde, he has created a giant, immersive, kinetic pavilion containing a twin-deck labyrinth. Visitors follow pathways into and through the lower floor of the pavilion,which then take them to the open-air upper deck.
The installation reflects Jan’s reaction to the visits he paid to Audemars Piguet’s Manufacture in Le Brassus, Switzerland. While there was no requirement to pay anything but a courtesy call, Jan found plenty to react to in the Manufacture’s remote location and the intense dedication of Audemars’ master watchmakers. Of them, Jan said that he ‘couldn’t believe some are working on watches that will take a year to complete, it’s a level of immersion and intensity that I recognise in my work. I think there’s a link with their dedication to beauty, too’.
Last year’s Audemars Piguet Art Commission at Art Basel Miami was Sun Xun’s Reconstruction of the Universe
Jan has an appreciation of how analogue systems provide clear answers in a way digital systems cannot, despite their greater precision – just think how watch hands tell the time more intuitively than a digital display. It’s a view that could sum up the appeal of watchmaking and which finds a curious reflection in a pair of windows in the artist’s Miami installation. Inspired by a Zen Buddhist Temple, Jan likens a round ‘window of enlightenment’ to the world of cogs and wheels and a square ‘window of confusion’ to the digital universe.
Despite having no prior knowledge of watchmaking, the strength of Jans’ interest and reaction was obvious, whether to the extreme miniature scale at which watchmakers work orthe deep sense of institutional memory that exists in such industries.That experience had a direct effect on his creative process.
Slow-Moving Luminaries’s lower deck will feature a maze of pathways, as well as mod buildings suspended through the space, disappearing both into the floor and ceiling, intended to reflect an idealised contemporary skyline. The movements derive directly from a conversation Jan had with Giulio Papi, director of Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi,the industry’s go-to research and development atelier. Papi was working on a new mechanism to track the phases of the moon when Jan visited. He explained his mechanical representation of it, so it was only natural that when Jan was thinking about a control mechanism for the buildings, he recalled Papi’s Moonphase concept.
On the upper deck there will be a reflective pool of water, pierced by a series of apertures through which the floating buildings will rise and fall. And, as they move in different, though synced, cycles, there will be moments when they all combine to form a miniature skyline in counterpoint to the Miami Beach shorefront and the ocean to the east. An LED lighting scheme will come into play at night, allowing it to continue to shine.
In opposition to the gently moving buildings are two elements that reflect Jan’s interest in the marine environment,a concern brought into focus over the recent hurricane season. Below the surface of the water, the roof will feature a white pathway spelling out SOS if viewed from above, a call to arms for the state of the marine environment backed up by a pair of SOS maritime flags that will fly from the upper platform.
Most strikingly, the lower deck will show, through a series of porthole windows, super-high-resolution images of waves crashing through a model building, creating a tension with the slow, steady, movement of the buildings in the main installation. It’s that underlying fragility that’s at the heart of Jan’s work. As Olivier Audemars, vice president of the board of directors,says, ‘Our pristine natural surroundings (at Le Brassus) inspired Slow-Moving Luminaries,which can be seen as a starting point for what we can all do to preserve our beautiful environment.’