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What happens when art and the traditions of time meet? Using mechanical timepieces for both decorative and anthropological discussion, French artist Quentin Carnaille questions the meaning of time and the relativity of its passage through his sculptural work.

The artistry behind watchmaking has long been debated. Do these intricate machines we attach to our wrists occupy a space in the art world? While horology positions itself as the science of measuring time, with each iteration, mechanical engineers are tasked to grapple with goals of accuracy, but a rising demand of artistic elements.

For a traditional industry tasked to reflect the zeitgeist, the precedence of aesthetic values means that it’s difficult to regard these two disciplines as none other than twins working in unison to create coveted timepieces that not only serve a function but occupy artistic prowess. Fascinated by this intersection, Quentin Carnaille began to document this unique union after graduation with an architecture degree back in 2009. What preceded saw the French artist created sculptures from old timepiece mechanisms. Deflecting these delicate artefacts from their presupposed form and questioning the relativity of time, the graphic language behind his work offered a new meaning behind horology. In conversation with the artist, we uncover the evolution of these two worlds that punctuate our daily lives. Both time and art are authorities that demand to be seen, felt and heard and call upon our senses in order to thrive.

The Next Hour: It’s great to meet you Quentin. Can you start by telling us a little about yourself and how you started your creative journey? Do you remember the first watch you got and how you were challenged, even fascinated by the concept of time? 

Quentin Carnaille: After obtaining a scientific baccalaureate, I decided to study architecture in Belgium. It was a real revelation and liberation. I loved the switch from traditional to creative schooling. My real challenge was the aesthetics of mechanical watchmaking. I find that there is a real beauty when you look at a mechanical watch, and yet the architecture of the movement is not designed to be beautiful, but to respond to the constraint of telling the time. It is a bit like the aesthetics of Beaubourg, considered one of the major buildings of the twentieth century. The aesthetics of this building results from the basic concept of having free floors and therefore the whole technique is found outside the building and gives it this so singular aesthetic. Concerning the notion of time, it is a fascination which touches all men and which is the very basis of existence. For me, time is transformation, because everything is always changing its state. There is no balance or fixed element. Everything is always changing and that’s wonderful. 

 TNH: Of course. In terms of the evolution, let’s talk about the prcoess of bringing an idea to life and turning it into something material.

QC: Ideas come when you don’t expect them and everyone has ideas, lots of ideas. But the big magic is to materialize them. It’s sometimes hard to get started, but the satisfaction of seeing an idea materialize is so great that you have to put as much effort into it as possible. I have many more ideas than I have time to realize and the challenge for me is to sort through these ideas to select the most relevant ones, in order to materialize them as a priority. 

TNH: What are you currently working on?

QC: At the moment, I am working on an immersive work with an international architectural firm (CAAU). It is a cubic pavilion of 5m on each side in which we enter to live a double experience of our relationship to infinity. 

TNH: There’s a great sense of spontaneity in your ideation process then. Could you describe a project that has marked your career and of which you are particularly proud?

QC: The Apesanteur works. These are works that are both playful and conceptual. It is a multitude of century-old timepieces that together float in the air through an electromagnetic system. For me it was a real challenge to go from the idea to the object and I am both proud of this work and of its international success.   

TNH: In your work, you often explore the relationship between time and man. What about this union in the modern world?

QC: As mentioned earlier, for me, man is a catalyst of transformation and therefore in a way a gas pedal of time for his environment. Perhaps it is the fact that we have intellectualized the notion of time that pushes us to try to master it or to have an influence on it. What is certain is that our life expectancy has doubled in a very short time and that our environment (evolution of cities) has never changed so quickly. Our relationship to time is therefore very different from the relationship our ancestors had with time.

TNH: What does time mean to you then?

QC: Time for me means change. In nature, everything changes all the time in the form of arrangement or organization of color of behavior. And man on earth, rightly or wrongly, is a catalyst of time. A catalyst of change. We accelerate transformations through our daily activities as if we were accelerating time.  

TNH: How would you describe the graphic language that underlies your work?

QC: I use different languages depending on the period of creation, but I am always careful to be sober and try to be refined. 

TNH: Watchmaking was the object of your first foray into the art scene. To what extent has your perception of time, and therefore the work you produce, evolved over time?

QC: The older you get, the faster time goes by. It’s mechanical, and so my work has evolved to give me the richest life possible. I do not refrain from exploring different plastic mediums and various means of expression.  

TNH: Malraux theorized the idea of making art available to all. This seems to resonate with your work. To what extent do you think that visual representations of time can help us understand and feel it?

QC: The fact that I divert timepieces from their initial intended use allows me to propose a different vision of time.  What I like most is the (very small) probability that these works exist. Indeed, who would want to produce a watch that does not tell the time? My greatest pride is therefore the fact that I am doing something that no one else is doing and thus bringing new arrangements of matter into our world. The curiosity of the observer is first attracted by this work that he has never seen before, then comes the time of analysis and reflection that is specific to each one and that I am careful not to dictate. A beautiful work of art, or should I say a good work of art, is a work that offers several possible interpretations and that the observer can then appropriate.  


All images courtesy of Quentin Carnaille.

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Scarlett is a writer, editor, and creative consultant specializing in art, fashion, culture and digital strategy. Drawing on her work from previous titles including Dazed, LOVE Magazine, The Perfect Magazine, AnOther and 1 Granary, as the Editor-in-Chief of The Next Hour, Scarlett is leading the editorial vision toward new territories providing an alternative lens of social commentary to recontextualize the world of watchmaking for the next generation.