Frame 61

Nicolas Vionnet

Frame 61
Nicolas Vionnet

Background/education: I grew up in the region of Basel, Switzerland, and when I was a child I spent a lot of time in the studio of my grandmother. She had dropped out from school in the 1950s and had studied painting in Paris. Spending time with her was one of the principal reasons why I became an artist. At the age of seventeen, I got seriously involved in Graffiti. I worked late into the night and travelled through the country with the only aim to paint as much as possible. From this point on it was clear to me that I would always want to be involved in the arts.

I eventually completed my studies at the Academy of Art and Design in Basel and graduated soon after from the Bauhaus University in Weimar with a Master’s degree in Public Art and New Artistic Strategies. My first exhibition was in 2001 and while in the early years I mainly focused on painting I nowadays work almost exclusively on objects, installations and site-specific interventions. The chosen medium itself is now no longer in the foreground. I try to track topics and issues that interest me and are important to me.

Household objects: I have to say, that for my installations I never know which medium and material eventually I will end up working with. The history and the conditions of a place inspire me and lead me. Every object has its own story behind it. There was a time when I often was the only artist in a gallery group show showing in the outdoor space. I was often overlooked as a participant of the exhibition and people did not realize that somewhere out there one of the artists had created an additional work. I must admit that I was not really happy with this situation.

So I started to create a small corresponding object, which could be also shown in the gallery space. You can compare it with the idea of an edition. This is how I started to occupy myself intensively with objects and sculptures, which are now an important part of my work. In my objects I pursue a similar strategy as in my interventions: irritation and integration. I try to find everyday objects that are able to merge together in order to provoke and irritate. In one of my recent works I have combined a vintage scale with a fakirs bed of nails – as simply as possible, the rest happens automatically in the observer’s mind.

Public art, telescope in Zurich: For the mentioned art-work “Aus Versehen” I installed a coin operated telescope on a beautiful square in front of an old lime tree in the heart of the old town in Zurich. Of course one does not find telescopes in the middle of a city and also not so close to an object that you no longer can observe. However, passers-by were confused and did not know whether this is a joke or not. Actually, most of them used the telescope and examined the lime tree as if it was under a microscope.

My public works often focus on topics of integration and irritation, meaning I try to integrate something new into an existing environment and to irritate at the same time. However, the confusion is always subtle. I like to challenge the viewer and to trigger curiosity. I am not interested in works that are necessarily large scaled, over-stylized, super-coloured and scream for attention. I am interested in reduced works that include the environment and integrate themselves into an existing scenery, I am looking for a fair balance.

The viewer: My work tries to sensitize the people for their immediate environment. My works are often restrained, unobtrusive and directly embedded in a landscape – the interventions would not be readable without a specific surrounding. So it is always about dialogue, the positioning, interaction and what could possibly come out of these situations. This forces the viewer to perceive the environment from a new perspective. Generally I would like to underline that I am interested in astonishment and amazement. For a few seconds the viewer has to step out of his daily routine, he has to forget what is happening around him…this is one valuable service art can do!

Studio/routine/swing a cat: Generally, I do not have a clear sequence when I am entering my studio. There are days where I just clean up, archive my works, organize photos or just care about my tools and materials. If I am working on a new piece I’m always trying to focus on this one work or series. You guessed correctly, I could swing a cat in my studio! Actually I work in a small factory building where earlier a car workshop was located. It is a steel hall, a large, to a great extent empty and reduced space, approximately 5 meters high.

Titles: This is something which is still very difficult to me. The best ideas emerge at the beginning of a working process when titles occur spontaneously. This is usually the ideal situation to make a decision. The situation is more difficult if I have to choose a title for an already finished work. That often doesn't stick.

Influences: Of course, there are many artists that I admire and that impressed and influenced me in my research and my work. It is difficult to enumerate the most important ones, because I will surely forget some. However, if we go a little bit back in time it is the American post-war painting which has strongly impressing me: Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman or especially Franz Kline who was an incredible strong painter. I also like trends that came out from this period, for example Robert Ryman or Ellsworth Kelly. If we put the focus on contemporary art I would like to mention Swiss artist Roman Signer. I love his humour and charm coupled with a pinch of seriousness. He always manages to raise a smile – an important quality that I miss from other artists. There are, of course, many others that I really like: Elmgreen & Dragset, Ahmet Ögüt or Harmen de Hoop, just to name a few.

Future/shows: In the context of a finalist art prize exhibition, I have just shown an object at Galleria Poggiali e Forconi in Florence. On May 21 a solo project entitled Silence will be opened in the Park of widmertheodoridis gallery in Eschlikon, Switzerland. On this occasion I will show an intervention with a fountain, which can be visited until October 2016. Furthermore there is a group show, currently in planning, at Griesbadgalerie in Ulm, Germany. This exhibit is expected to start end of the year.

Artist website

Publishing date of this interview 29/04/16