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Unzipping Sculptural Illusions | Alex Chinneck

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Amidst the hustle and bustle of Milan Design Week 2019, one of the prime design districts witnessed an eye-catching art installation by sculptor Alex Chinneck. With what looked like a giant zipper opening up the façade of an old Milanese building, the artist used his work as a metaphor, peeling back the worn-out exteriors to reveal colorful light within, signifying a new narrative and endless possibilities for the future.

Installation at MDW 19 by Alex Chinneck. Image by Marc Wilmot

After graduating from Chelsea College of Art, Alex wanted to pursue making art through different materials and sculptural possibilities. “For instance, for the installation with IQOS, we bent the stone, the windows, the glass, and I like that. I think it’s a nice sculptural language- that’s satisfying to look at. It’s quite enjoyable and visually pleasing.” said the British sculptor.

With similar curiosity and passion for art, design and architecture, MiND spoke to Alex Chinneck at the Milan Design Week 2019 where he presented his surreal art installation in collaboration with IQOS.

Work in progress for MDW 19. Image by by Marc Wilmot

What got you started as an artist and a sculptor?

I’ve always made art, but I didn’t become particularly passionate about it until I was 16. As is often the case, it began with a passionate person, who was an art teacher, and he helped me fall in love with art. My practice began as a painter and I just enjoyed it, it offered this wonderful kind of escape and I could get lost in the work and get distracted by it. I went to art school as a painter, but while I was there, I became interested in materials, making processes and broadening my capacity to make new things exist in a three-dimensional sense. So the work became increasingly sculptural. Also, at art school, I began to collaborate with people outside of art school, so I’ve always been excited by this idea of having a concept and working with lots of people to deliver it.

Six years ago, I produced a piece of work where we created the illusion of 312 identically smashed windows, using 1248 pieces of glass. That was my first piece on an architectural scale, and it was very well received and I was very excited by it.

“Telling the truth through false teeth” in London. Image by James Champion

“I started producing art out of materials typically found in the built environment and I would make them for galleries. But I increasingly felt that they would be more convincing introduced into an architectural context, into a real building.”

What inspires you and how do you translate that into your work?

Different things inspire me. One of the things is the location. I like creating public artwork that is seen and hopefully enjoyed by as many people as possible. And then as a sculptor, there are certain elements that I like such as playfulness and fun, moreover I like this illusion of  flexibility in materials that aren’t typically flexible.

“Pick yourself up and pull yourself together” in Sheffield. Image by Marc Wilmott

“I let the location inform the idea, and if it doesn’t inform the idea, it informs the visual language and finish of the work.”

Can you describe the Installation at MDW 19 ’? How would you describe your collaboration with IQOS?

IQOS approached my team about 11 weeks ago to create an experience, at Milan Design Week. Since we’re in Milan, the building is designed to Milanese architecture. Initially, we walked from this particular location where the artwork stands, within about 5 minutes and photographed lots of buildings, and this is an exact replica of pieces of those buildings. It’s contextually responsive and informed. I thought it would be interesting to create a series of sculptures – one on the facade and others inside the building – all offering different experiences but speaking the same visual language in terms of bending and illuminating and unzipping.

Installation at MDW 19 by Alex Chinneck. Image by Marc Wilmot

The invitation from IQOS came with a lot of creative freedom. We weren’t working for them, we were working with them. They have essentially facilitated a series of artworks that otherwise wouldn’t exist. That’s great for me as a creative practitioner. We incorporated technology and futuristic aesthetics. So, we took this old façade, an old floor and an old wall and then kind of unpeeled them to reveal an infinite, bright and positive light. It’s a combination of old and new.

Work in progress for MDW 19. Image by by Marc Wilmot

Do you hope the audience looks at your work in a certain way?

When I create a public artwork, I put it into the public and it’s for them to decide how to interpret it, I don’t try to tell people what to think. The work is quite simple conceptually; it’s not trying to say too much. What we do is create these simple concepts but it’s very complex to produce them. I leave it open to interpretation. I like the idea that a child could enjoy my installations as much as an adult and I think public art should try and speak to as many people as possible.

“Take my lightning but don’t steal my thunder” in London . Image by Chris Tubbs

How do you think your work has progressed over time?

It has certainly grown in ambition, complexity and size. Aside from that, I think we’ve developed a better understanding of how to respond to a place, situation or opportunity. I think in that sense we’ve become more sensitive to wider considerations – it’s not just about making a sculpture, it’s about creating an experience and introducing the work at the right time and in the right place. Every location brings new challenges and every location deserves a unique response, which I like because it allows the work to keep changing and moving forwards. But at the same time, we are familiar with the processes and collaborators so we’ve got better at that.

“From the knees of my nose to the belly of my toes” in Margate. Image by Stephen O’Flaherty

How do you think art is evolving in society?

I’m not sure it is evolving, I think at times it’s struggling. I think that, increasingly, our visual experiences are becoming screen-based. While social media, and platforms such as that, allow the work to be discovered by far more people and create a much wider reach, I think that it still remains important that people experience the work in person, and that’s not always possible of course, but if they can, they should. It’s one thing to see photographs of the work, but it’s not until you’re with it and underneath it and touching it that you really experience the physicality and the impact. I think that through immersion and interaction, people will be encouraged to visit the work and know that the experience transcends what you would just experience on a screen. I think art is moving in that direction.

I think that the most famous artists in the world are essentially the product of hype. It’s not really about how good you are at making art any more, it’s how good you are at making people think you’re good at making art. It’s about Instagram celebrities rather than about what it used to be.

“I think that we’re in a new movement. We’ve had all these different movements like surrealism, abstract expressionism and minimalism. I think the movement we’re in now is the hype movement.”

Installation at MDW 19 by Alex Chinneck. Image by Marc Wilmot

Can you tell us about some future projects?

We’re working on a lot of projects simultaneously and slowly starting to do more international projects which is exciting for us. We’re working on a very big project for Mumbai in the business district called Maker Maxity, and that’s really exciting. There are new opportunities, new challenges, new territory, new people, new collaborators, so that’s one of note. It’s the project that feels the newest to me in terms of learning and experience. And we’re also working on a lot of projects across the UK, temporary and permanent.

Do you have any advice you would give to an artist just starting out?

To be ambitious. Also try and develop a way of working that distinguishes your work from others, even if it feels contradictory to the flow and fashion of the art world. I think that sometimes the best way to create new art is to look at ways of creating it outside of the typical artistic territory and collaborating with people you wouldn’t typically associate with the art world.

“Embrace the notion of collaboration, experimentation and without a doubt, ambition.”

By Akanksha Salunke