There are many ways one can perceive nature. As a scenic reprieve, a challenge to conquer, a rich source of sustenance, or as pure as the place we call home. Functioning as a faithful reminder of the diversity of God's creation is Hermès; the esteemed crafthouse whose work took seed right in the heart of nature.
For 2016, the French maison's theme — Nature at Full Gallop — looks in opposing directions: Back to the house origins, and far into its promising future. Part of which is the momentous reopening of the Hermès Liat Towers store in Singapore; where contemporary artist Jinnie Seo has been invited to create the inaugural window installation — Anatomy of Gallop, Nature in Action — that pays homage to the house, and the intricate web that is the nature of life. Trained in biology as an undergraduate, and known for her pared-back installations and evocative use of colours and shapes, Seo is no stranger to the House — she was commissioned for the 'Wander/Wonder' exhibit back in 2007 and has created pieces for other Hermès stores around the region.
In light of the recent reopening of the Hermès Liat Towers store, we speak to Seo about her window display, as well as the symbiotic relationship between art and science, canvas and creativity, and Hermès and craftsmanship.
How and when did you realise your calling as an artist?
During my graduate studies, on residency at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, the summer of 1990. With no class assignments due, I faced an empty canvas looking back at me. For the first time, I felt nervous, anxious and frightened, and I avoided my studio. I'd walk in the woods and along the lake for hours on end each day, in search of signs on how to begin my paintings. Finally achieving clarity, the conversation with my white canvas began. I discovered my visual language and started to develop vocabularies that have become the core foundations of my creative expression. At the end of my residency, I vividly recall feeling a sense of release and freedom as I was taking the last walk in the woods before my departure. It was there that I realised that I felt most alive — living and working through my creative practice.
In addition to your Master of Fine Arts, you also have a bachelor degree in biology. Do you apply this knowledge or experience in your work, intentionally or otherwise?
There are two major lessons that I learnt from my undergraduate training in biology. Firstly, to see the world from a bird's eye view to a worm's eye view, and the interconnectedness of it all. Secondly, it's to always apply a problem solving method in all aspects of life. The key is to find the optimum solution to a given situation, and to do so with an open-mind and without prejudice. Through this way of thinking, it has led me to often uncover the unexpected and yet intimate relationship between problem and solution. I think the eye of a scientist and artist do resemble each other.
Tell us about your window display for Hermès. What does Anatomy of Gallop, Nature in Action mean to you?
The Hermès theme for 2016 made me think about the essence of movement, and its integral relationship to the anatomy of the body.
How have you ensured that the final piece will evoke a sense of movement to the viewer?
As I've used the motif of the scarf, I thought about the process of making these scarves from the beginning till the end; from the mulberry moth cocoons to the silk screen-printing and hand-stitching. It is a true collaboration between nature and human.
My choice for using stainless steel in the display also speaks of the same collaboration. The raw materials of steel — iron ore, chromium, silicon, nickel, carbon, nitrogen, and manganese — are all found in the earth. I also think about how the wind carries the movement of scarves flouncing around the customers' bodies as they make certain gestures.
You've used paper and acrylic extensively in your past work. Why these two materials, specifically?
The choice of the medium for my work varies in close relationship to the idea. The idea usually comes first, before I search for the materials that would best represent my concept.
The display is quite abstract — what do you hope to convey to customers and the average passerby?
In the world of nature, I personally think that there are no distinction between what is abstraction and what is representation. Human beings like to categorise things. Instead, we can perceptually speak in the language of colours and forms. I would like to express a sense of awareness that the world of natural forces can spark a life.
Hermès prides itself in its meticulous craftsmanship. Tell us about what went into the physical creation of your window display and the intricacies involved.
Choosing the right material and forming a harmonious relationship between the medium and the idea is an important creative process. For this project, we decided to work with stainless steel and Hermès scarves as nature is part of their element.
For production, we have been working closely with the metal fabricator and the painting studio. But before the actual production begins, we thoroughly consult with the fabricator in terms of the construction drawing, laser cutting, and painting. We make one-to-one scale samples of the work for the purpose of the detailing. In addition, the colour samples are a prerequisite prior to the final production. My studio thoroughly oversees and supervises the production and communicates closely with the fabricator, as well as Hermès' communication department in Singapore.
The window carries a lot of weight in telling a story in a quick four second glance.Window displays are traditionally meant to draw foot traffic. How do you see Anatomy of Gallop, Nature in Action fulfilling this purpose? Does the objective differ in any way in this case?
To catch a passerby's attention that might span, say four seconds, and to have it last in one's memory is an ultimate challenge, something that my creative endeavours welcome. We attempt to create spatial movements of Hermès scarves visually moving around blue frames, and the flying motions of the scarves express the forces and traces of nature.
What were the challenges you faced while working on the display, and how did you overcome it?
In collaborating with Hermès' products, our aim is to have the display in harmony with them, while showing different sides to it through storytelling. That said, it's having limited space, a full exposure to the outside, and being a part of the façade of the store and the building. The window carries a lot of weight in telling a story in a quick four second glance.
How do you personally identify with Hermès' values and heritage, and how has that translated to your work for the maison?
As an artist who values and adheres to the dexterity of craftsmanship, I appreciate and honour the visionary spirit of Hermès whose style and taste belongs to a realm that transcends time and borders.
Lastly, how has your practice developed over the years?
God has instilled curiosity, positive attitude, and trust in me. The simple gesture of seeking the truth has continuously guided me to evolve as an artist.
The Hermès store is located at 541 Orchard Road, Liat Towers.
Want to discover the new Hermès Liat Towers store?
Learn more about Aloft at Hermès here, and follow Buro The Horse on a digital journey of the store.
Want to discover the new Hermès Liat Towers store?
Follow Buro The Horse on a digital journey of the store here.