Culture / Art Republik

Hermès presents Olaf Breuning’s ‘The Sleeping Giant’

Olaf Breuning and Hermès reimagine playfulness with miniature worlds

Apr 16, 2018 | By Mary Ann Lim

“What if you woke up and were surrounded by an army of small people?” Swiss-born multi-disciplinary artist, Olaf Breuning, asked himself. Inspired by Hermès’ 2018 theme of ‘Play’ and fuelled by his own boundless imagination, Breuning has created a Lilliputian universe in the windows of the Hermès Liat Towers store which will run from 21 March to June 2018. Entitled ‘The Sleeping Giant’, the display conjures up memories of childhood imaginations through its absurdist, fantastical and almost humorous scenes.

Traversing the various windows of the store is akin to stepping into different worlds. The main display draws viewers into a world where a slumbering giant sits captured under a tree by a colony of small beings that surreptitiously pilfer his Hermès belongings. In another display, a quaint-looking folk scene unfolds, with tiny horses, carriages, ladders, and small creatures passing through the tunnels, leading to other tiny kingdoms. Further windows depict equally curious and vibrant realms, ranging from panoramic cityscapes to enchanted forests that cloak the Hermès products with an aura of wonder and marvel. In these miniature worlds, the creations of Hermès are now larger-than-life in contrast, and viewers are offered a rush of pure escapism as they enter into the surprising and playful worlds of Breuning’s work.

ART REPUBLIK speaks with Breuning to find out more about his inspirations, artistic language and the kinds of reactions he hopes to provoke from his work.

Your work is reminiscent of children’s tales and playthings. What were some of your inspirations in putting this art piece together for Hermès?

The book ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ by Jonathan Swift is part of my childhood memory, the story was told to me when I was a child. However, this was just a simple idea and I was more interested in creating a lot of small creatures taking over the big, big giant. I was thus inspired to work on a window where the details are not obvious at first glance, but it piques your curiosity and so you have to go closer to check it out.

There is something absurdist yet fascinating about the kinds of narratives you have spun in your display. How do the Hermès products fit into the Lilliputian world that you have created around them?

The Hermès objects fit very well in my point of view. I have created a world where, in one scene, Lilliputians have stolen the sleeping giant’s ‘Cape Cod Double Tour’ watch, transforming a skyscraper into a ‘watch tower’, while a crowd gathers and watches in amazement. In another, the characters have smuggled the giant’s ‘Calvi Evercolor’ card holder into the forest, where they move in ritualistic circles dancing in worship of the pouch.

You’ve mentioned that you prefer a handcrafted feel for your objects of art. What is it about the homemade that intrigues you? And how does it relate to Hermès’ legacy of artisanal craft?

I personally like to feel the human involvement in products. So many things today are produced via industrial methods and also in the cheapest way. Today, if you feel human involvement in a product, it is an absolutely positive value. For this window, we produced all the ceramics by hand so that the “human touch” is visible. Each figurine was handcrafted, fired twice in a kiln and hand-painted. It was an intense process. I think this is also a very typical Hermès characteristic in that the products are made with love and well-crafted labour.

In a world of attention grabbing and loud window displays, your miniscule works stand small but powerfully amidst these other displays. What kind of reactions or thought processes do you wish to provoke from passers-by?

To be surprised. From far away you see only the simple shapes – a mannequin sitting against a tree with a landscape in the background. But you feel that there has to be more than that and you also see small items on the floor. Eventually people will come close to the window and it is a surprise to have so much to discover. Surprise is always good!

Also, playful thinking about a world where all of a sudden things are different. We take our surroundings very seriously and of course, with a good reason since there is no such a thing as a one-inch-tall person. But just thinking about a world where that would be reality is funny to me. I guess children will understand that best.

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