At the occasion of the Innovation Exhibition taking place in December 2013 on Haixinsha Island in the heart of Guangzhou (China), German car manufacturer Audi A.G. and Marc Hungerbuhler from the Artist Network commissioned Sebastien Leon to create an installation celebrating the relentless innovations of Audi in particular relating to the extra-light weight technology.
Sebastien Leon filled a spherical room fifteen meters in diameter with over a thousand silver foil balloons, some filled with air and others with helium, all reflecting a hypnotic image of the car, the room and its visitors. Floating on the ceiling, fifteen wireless speakers play an electronic symphonic dialogue of filtered industrial sounds mixed with the songs of thirty different birds.
The installation is based on Sufi poet Farid ud-Din Attar’s series of poems called “The Conference of the Birds.” Written in 1177, these poems tell the tale of thirty birds who embark on a long journey in order to elect a King. Their perilous flight takes them from Persia to China with the goal of finding the Simorgh - the Chinese Phoenix - supposed to embody the most accomplished of the birds. After painfully crossing the seven initiatic valleys of yearning, love, gnosis, detachment, unity of God, bewilderment and selflessness, they finally reach the land of the Simorgh. Upon arrival, they find only a quiet lake with no sign of the mythical bird. Approaching the lake and looking down, they see their own reflections and come to realize that God is simply within them, that they hold their own destinies in their hands.
The poems of Farid ud-Din Attar embody Audi’s constant drive for fine-tuning existing technologies and introducing radical innovations. The concept is also directed towards the Chinese audience of Guangzhou itself, which, as a manufacturing center of the world, has a strong impact on the balance between the earth and the industry.
Sebastien Leon’s installation hence acts as a meditative dialogue between Audi A.G. and its Chinese clientele, provoking a reflection on the balance between industrial development and the environment, as well as the role we play as individuals in this fine symbiosis.
Production Team: Chris Hoover, Zafrin Hossain, Matthias Kispert, Lee Weinberg, Miley Lu
The Conference of the Birds, by Sebastien Leon
Born from the encounter of op art and glam rock, The Leontophone is a 32-foot long musical sculpture composed of 178 mirrored aluminum keys reflecting distorted images of reality, commissioned by Brian Atwood. Named after a Medieval mythological poisonous snake, the Leontophone intends to poetically hypnotize its audience through its three-dimensional geometric tessellation and psychedelic sonic landscape.
One could get lost in the repetition of simple shapes, in the deformed reflections of the angled keys, or in the loops of acoustic music subtly altered by both electronic pedals and digital effects.
Production Team: Situ Studio, Edwin Liu, Lee Weinberg
Between Now and Then
The multi-channel sound installation piece “Between Now and Then”, played through nearly one thousand aluminum pipes, proposes a new experience of time by infiltrating the intrinsic sounds of timepieces and by rearranging ambient recordings from the Vallée de Joux, the craddle of fine watchmaking located in Switzerland. Watch ticking becomes beats, cow bells turn into zen gongs, and stretched church organ samples mutate into meditative sound waves, all giving a glimpse into the elastic dimension of time.
Production Team: Chris Hoover, Edwin Liu, Matthias Kispert
The Golden Horns are a permanent large-scale sound sculpture located in an Istanbul high-rise tower. Composed of intertwined brass pipes inspired by a French Horn, the installation runs vertically through the building, piercing the infra-structure to carry its intrinsic sounds coming from the the ground floor bazaar, the parking garage, the water pipes, the cinema, the lobby etc.
Navigating through the pipes, visitors can either isolate specific sounds or listen to the multi-channel soundscape. Sonic filters and digital harmonizers alter the sound waves in real time, offering a unique experience at every single listen. All the pipes, electronically tuned in the E minor scale, turn random noises into the soundscapes of a continuously improvised symphony.
The Golden Horns culminate with a site-specific installation on the observatory of the building located on its thirty-fifth floor, allowing visitors to listen to the life of the tower while admiring the cityscape of Istanbul in a room composed of windows and a a tessellation of angled mirrors.
Production Team: Alper Boler, Theresa Himmer, Kristján Eggertsson, Edwin Liu, Lee Weinberg
The Ties That Bind My Endless Sky
Guided by Invoices, June 2013
The Ties That Bind My Endless Sky is a series of drawings showing a web of limits imposed on an infinite starry night. In the words of Sebastien, "they simultaneously connect me to what I wish to touch and express the trappings that I long to surpass".
8 1/2 x 11" Canson paper, acrylic pen and acrylic spray paint
Crystal Caves, a commission by Turkish real estate developer NEF, is a series of four new screening rooms located in Istanbul. All varying in shapes and colors, the rooms allow the viewers to watch movies while lounging on triangulated pillows composing a cave-like landscape.
Back in the dawn of mankind, caves were a place of shelter, gathering, spiritual retreat and artistic expression. It is through cave art that early humans told their stories, feelings, thoughts and addressed spiritual questioning. The triangulated environment of Sebastien Leon Agneessens is a contemporary version of a cave, a comfortable place for shelter and social interaction, and a cultural epicenter for cinematic story-telling.
Production Team: Theresa Himmer, Kristjian Eggertsson and Alper Boler
A numerical play on the year in which the project was created, MMIX redeploys the concept of the remix to highlight the value of ethno-diversity in a modern world defined by rapid globalization. Composed of six totemic speakers made of zebrawood adorned with circular brand marks, the multi-channel installation establishes a dialogue between contemporary music and archival field recordings of vanishing cultures from around the globe.
The field recordings used for MMIX are provided by the Association for Cultural Equity (ACE), founded by renowned musicologist Alan Lomax (1915-2002) who traveled the world recording the sounds and songs of indigenous cultures, ranging from descendants of slaves in the Mississippi Delta, to Scottish tweed workers and the residents of Italian fishing villages.
For MMIX, we integrated the ACE samples with newly composed tracks created in collaboration with various artists such as Andrew Vladeck and Caithlin De Marrais, Bob Hoffnar, Konrad Meissner, Kevin Ley and Josh Kaufman.
In addition to the installation, we invited choreographers Andrea Miller of Gallim and Jodi Melnick to conceive site-specific performances based on the newly created music and on the layout of the totemic speakers.
Production Team: Jason Ivaliotis, Kyle Fischer // Recording artists: Sebastien Leon, Kyle Fischer, Andrew Vladeck, Konrad Meissner, Caithlin DeMarrais, Bob Hoffnar, Josh Kauffman // Alan Lomax Sound Samples from the Association for Cultural Equity
In Australian Aboriginal culture, land is not so much defined by space as it is by a series physical paths conceived by the original ancestors during "dream time", the period when the world was imagined and created. Throughout the country, these paths - referred to as Songlines - are traditionally recorded in songs, stories, performances and painting.
Initiated aboriginals can travel vast inhospitable lands across Australia by singing the lyrics of their Songlines, written to describe the location of waterholes, landmarks and significant natural phenomena. The full collection of these Songlines represents not only the equivalent of our maps but also the collective consciousness of aboriginal culture.
Sebastien Leon Agneessens has been cataloguing through paintings and drawings his own version of Songlines, using a collection of hypnotic repetitive shapes derived from the mineral and vegetal worlds to tell his own internal landscapes. These simple shapes are an integral part of his language, and can be found not only in his drawings but also throughout his sculptural and installation work.
To conceive and develop the Reebok's first concept store located on Bowery Street in New York, Sebastien Leon took inspiration from Vorticsim, an English arts movement from the early 20th century noted for its dynamic interpretation of Cubist and Futurist principles. Combining Vorticism's vibrant aesthetic with an assortment of cultural cues ranging from Purple Rain to Miami Vice, Flash Dance to Thriller, Sebastien sought to capture the pop spirit of the 80s.
"The design of the space plays with the sense of depth and perspective, tricking the eye by extending three dimensional shapes into distorted graphic patterns, a camouflaging technique reminiscent of the Royal Navy's dazzle ship graphics from the First World War. Our intent was to provoke and perhaps confound visitors by making them feel as if they are stepping into a print rather than a store", Sebastien Leon.
Production Team: Chris Hoover, Jeroen de Schrijver, Ellen Depoorter, Jason Ivaliotis, Mai Kato, Jonas Hjertberg, Shinya Nakamura
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Audemars Piguet’s iconic timepiece Royal Oak, the Swiss Manufacture from Le Brassus invited Sebastien Leon to design a series of fragments to showcase its collection and savoir-faire.
Sebastien Leon drew his inspiration from the origins of the brand in Le Brassus to create a fragmented mineral rock typically found in the Vallée de Joux. The angular and multi-faceted exterior of each of the fragments and its dark reflective metal surface inspired by the Royal Oak creates a natural contrast with the wooden interior which reflects Audemars Piguet’s long tradition and humble origins.
Each of these fragmented units is a journey of discovery of the origins of the brand. Apart from 100 iconic timepieces and invaluable memorabilia dating back to the beginning of the 70s, the visitors also have the opportunity to visit a watchmaker’s area including a brocading dial machine where they could closely observe the artistry of Audemars Piguet’s craftsmen.
The exhibition toured to New York (Park Avenue Armory), Milan (Palazzo della Triennale), Paris (Palais de Tokyo), Singapore (Tanjong Pagar Station), Beijing (UCCA). An edited version was also showcased at Art Basel in Hong Kong, Basel and Miami as part of the Audemars Piguet VIP lounge.
Production Team: Chris Hoover, Edwin Liu, Foramvision, MA3, Situ
Audemars Piguet - Royal Oak 40 year-anniversary world tour
Jeux d’Artifices is a collection of original songs written by French artist Sebastien Leon and produced by James Truman. The record, written for the most part in French, presents the semi-autobiographical narrative of an extra-marital love affair that turns into a dangerous obsession, played out within the erotic milieu of Manhattan. The music, alternately melancholic and psychedelic, acoustic and symphonic, draws contemporary parallels between Serge Gainsbourg and Radiohead, Pink Floyd and TV on the Radio.
S. Leon speaks about the record with producer J. Truman:
JT: This record seems to veer between the worldly and otherworldly. SL: It’s a series of songs written by someone who has lost the distinction between fantasy and reality. JT: Shall we assume that the catalyst is love? SL: It describes a time when I tried to save my marriage by bringing a new partner into it. But ideas and reality have this annoying tendency to unfold with a different logic, so it fell apart in the most destructive ways. JT: It’s interesting how music is the most suitable medium to translate heartbreak. SL: It’s true, every medium seems to be appropriate for a specific message, and in most cultures music turns out to be the medium of love. I believe it might be the result of an animal instinct, very much like birds sing to attract females. So far I had mainly used sound as an added dimension to my art installations, but this time through singing my lyrics and melodies, the record presents a deeper, more personal and vulnerable aspect of myself. JT: Why did we choose to make this record in French? SL: It felt more intimate, being my native language, and also more private. Because this is a true story that was happening as I wrote about it, I felt it would be too compromising to write it in English. But then also we recorded English and Japanese female vocals on some of the songs. JT: And the decision to speak rather than sing many of the songs? SL: Spoken French is a beautiful language - at times more beautiful than when it’s sung. And it’s not that when you speak there is no melody to your words - there is real tone and rhythm. I find speaking is often more hypnotic. You really feel surrounded by the words. JT: We began this record by talking about the French pop music of the 60s and 70s that we loved, and especially Serge Gainsbourg. But language aside, we haven’t made a record that is particularly French. SL: I don’t think so either. It’s an emotional record, but not in the tradition of French chanson. The closest reference might be Gainsbourg’s Melody Nelson, with its combination of spoken and sung vocals and lush musical backdrops. But the New York musicians we invited to play had likely never heard Melody Nelson. They brought a whole range of other influences. And then recording at Gee Jam in Jamaica with three wonderful singers brought an entirely different sound texture to the record. JT: I remember we’d share sonic references while discussing the songs. There was Bowie and Eno, TV On The Radio, Grace Jones, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Radiohead... SL: There was Nick Drake, also Pink Floyd, but I don’t think we ended up sounding like any of them. JT: How is making a record of songs different from making music for installations? SL: For me, music is an extension of self; it doesn’t have a beginning or an end. In an installation, you control the physical dimension, and you have an opportunity to shape the listener’s experience. Whereas when you make a record, it is both more abstract and more emotional, you hope to invite listeners into your internal realm and trust that they’ll find something there that they relate to. JT: And if we both had to describe the record in one sentence… SL: Vodka tonic, Tokyo decadence, Boom Boom Room, after midnight... It was just perfect for a sec. JT: The soundtrack to a fatal love affair, melodious, elegiac and supernatural: a New York movie seen through a European lens.
Invited to design the New York showroom for French fashion designers Marithé+François Girbaud, Sebastien Leon photographed an abandoned Parisian interior from the Haussmann era and reproduced it on wallpaper, quite literally bringing Paris to New York. The space was completed with French parquet, musical instruments and second-hand furniture.
Production Team: Chris Hoover, Formavision, MA3, Site