Zimoun is a Swiss sound and kinetic artist whose installations incorporate hundreds of everyday objects and simple movements to create a foreign experience for the viewer. He asks questions like, “What are the aesthetic and tonal qualities of cardboard in motion?” Traveling recently to see Volume, his first solo show in New York, I was oddly excited to find out.

Bitforms Gallery entrance

The Bitforms Gallery entrance (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

The entrance to the gallery was blocked almost entirely by stacked cardboard boxes, a sight typical of some of Zimoun’s largest installations. Filled with the anticipation of an immersive sound experience, I entered the gallery and was quickly confronted by … silence? Feeling put on, I asked, “Aren’t these supposed to make noise?” As if in response, a sensor was triggered by my impatient movements and the entire space sprang to life.

Zimoun, "294 prepared dc-motors, cork balls, cardboard boxes 41x41x41cm"

Zimoun, “294 prepared dc-motors, cork balls, cardboard boxes 41x41x41cm” (2012), motors, power supply, steel, cork, cardboard

The effect was dramatic. The motion sensor caught me by surprise, and the sound of 294 cork balls bouncing chaotically against cardboard boxes enveloped me. The whole room vibrated with motion and noise. I was reminded of Tara Donovan’s ability to take a material we have long ignored and make it new again. I kept wanting to find patterns or rhythms in the motion but couldn’t; it was at once playful while bordering on overwhelming.

Zimoun, "121 prepared dc-motors, tension springs"

Zimoun, “121 prepared dc-motors, tension springs” (2011), motors, cardboard, power supply, wood

After taking some photographs and exploring the installation inside and out, I moved upstairs to Bitforms’ project room, where the exhibition continued. The room contains two sculptures and two installations. Zimoun’s installations vary in size based on the architecture of the space, and although these works were much smaller than the ones downstairs, they retained their quality — a rare phenomenon among installation artists. The two sculptures are square grids with each point undulating as a result of an embedded motor. Starting with a clear structure, the kinetic works contrast order and chaos using mundane materials that surprise. They are a playful break from the formality and reductive materiality of high modernism, and they’re even reminiscent of work by Argentinean kinetic artist Julio Le Parc.

Zimoun, "50 prepared dc-motors, filler wire 1.0mm"

Zimoun, “50 prepared dc-motors, filler wire 1.0mm” (2009), motors, steel, power supply, aluminum profile

The installation in the project room that excited me the most was “50 prepared dc-motors, filler wire 1.00mm” (2009), which consists of dangling wires spinning to create a subtle noise. The piece has similar kinetic and sound qualities as the others, but with an extra layer: the ends of the dangling wires rub against the gallery wall, creating little scuff marks in the process, which generate a wall drawing near the base of the work. The result looks like an accidental Sol LeWitt, who is known for his conceptual wall drawings.

Zimoun, "50 prepared dc-motors, filler wire 1.0mm" (detail)

Zimoun, “50 prepared dc-motors, filler wire 1.0mm” (2009) (detail)

Although my desire to see Zimoun’s immense installation initially drew me to the show, the curious drawing sculpture is what will bring me back for a second viewing.

Zimoun’s Volume continues at Bitforms Gallery (529 West 20th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) until March 10.

Ben Valentine

Ben Valentine is an independent writer living in Cambodia. Ben has written and spoken on art and culture for SXSW, Salon, SFAQ, the Los Angeles Review of Books, YBCA, ACLU, de Young Museum, and the Museum...