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Xavier Veilhan is the latest artists to turn his hand to boat design with a floating sculpture that will be sold at auction by Artcurial in Monaco. The artist shares his thoughts on the relationship between art and movement.

The latest work by the multi-disciplined artist Xavier Veilhan is not a painting, photograph or sculpture but rather a fully functioning motor yacht built in collaboration with Frauscher, a prestigious Austrian shipyard. It joins a small armada of art-at-sea that includes Guilty, a yacht launched in 2009 emblazoned with the work of Jeff Koons and Aquariva by Marc Newson, which will be launched in a limited edition of 22 in September.

“I love cars, boats, skiing, biking, planes…as a means of opening up a different, dynamic vision, with which the eye is physically associated,” explains Paris-based Veilhan of his focus on transport, which has seen him create sculptures of bicycles, airships, and the horse drawn carriage that was exhibited at Versailles in 2009. He considers RAL 5015, as his bright blue boat with defined lines is called, as entirely consistent with his artistic approach to movement.

Reaffirming the fact that Veilhan’s boat is more of a floating sculpture than just his first functional object, the unique work will be sold by the Paris-based auction house Artcurial in Monaco on July 20. For the type of collector who cruises Lake Como, it’s the ultimate trophy piece.


Xavier Veilhan talks with Françoise-Claire Prodhon about his latest work, the floating sculpture that is the RAL 5015 boat for Frauscher.

Whether it involves sculpture, photography, film or installation – and whatever the subject – the interpretation of reality is always the starting-point for your work... But teaming up with a dockyard to design a boat is something else!
I’ve often taken a representational approach to things, but I’ve come to realize that, over and beyond conveying the image of an object, I wanted to get as close as possible to reality. So when John Dodelande, the man behind this project, asked me to think about designing a boat, I jumped at the chance.

What interests you in the idea of the boat?
To my eyes, a boat is basically a cabin on the move – a cell that lets you get around. The image of the boat takes us back to the history of mankind – a history which doubtless starts with a man hitting on the idea of mounting a tree trunk to cross a river... It’s also a very simple object which uses the laws of physics – and floating (like riding or flying) is something I’m interested in. I go sailing. I like the idea of speed across the water.

How does an artist pass from representing an object to the object itself?
I’ve always been fascinated by Design and how to conceive an object, notably in terms of materials. Gio Ponti’s Superleggera chair from 1957 worked so well because it pursued a programme through to the end: it is both handsome and ultra-light, made from a material (ash wood) that lends itself to these qualities. The capacities of the boat we made with the Frauscher dockyard result from the firm’s savoir-faire. This very powerful boat will only assume its true form when it takes to the water, even though I think it could also make a very fine exhibition item.

How did you work?
In tackling this project I have tried to stick to the essentials, as I do when making sculptures: everything I did corresponds to the object’s function. The only detail that’s not functional is the shark, a bit like the Spirit of Ecstasy (radiator cap) on a Rolls-Royce.

Your work is often peppered with images or objects evoking transport, ranging from the horse-and-cart, the bicycle and the airship to the Model T Ford, various types of boat, and the carriage shown at Versailles recently... Why are you so interested in means of transport?
Reality is movement: that’s a fundamental given of contemporary physics. This idea of displacement permeates my work. For me, it’s linked to the question of perception. We seldom look at a landscape as if it were ‘framed’, like a Caspar David Friedrich landscape inviting contemplation. We’re used to seeing landscapes through a car windscreen or a the window of a train, like tracking shots in a film. All these means of transport are linked to our perception of the world in movement, as opposed to a
freeze-frame... It’s a dynamic way of understanding or approaching the world. Also, means of transport have always fascinated me: they offer possibilities of freedom, and propose elegant solutions. Any object with wheels must be beautiful. A splendid bike is worth any sculpture!

There is something pertinent about this project with regard to your usual work methods. For years you have surrounded yourself with a regular team, as well as with firms who enable you to take on certain projects, and with creative figures (engineers, musicians, photographers, stage designers, producers, graphic designers) you like to work with. What does this specific project with a dockyard give you in terms of experience?
For this project, the dockyard placed their savoir-faire at our disposal – in line with a constructive tradition that we exploited to the full for everything to do with the boat below the water line, so to speak, where our own input was limited. Building a boat is a bit like designing a violin if you’re a lute-maker; experience acquired down the years is crucial. We saved plenty of time in completing the project by having competent interlocutors. But it couldn’t really have worked if the firm hadn’t been open and motivated... They were, and that bolstered the initial interest no end. Usually, when I take on a joint project, it mostly involves discussions and exchanges of information – taking into account my
wishes on the one hand, and what may or may not be feasible on the other. Here, the framework was that of an existing boat, corresponding in many ways to what we wanted to do, and well suited to our project.

How do you think this project will affect your approach and fit in with your work as an artist?
I don’t worry about that sort of thing, as a rule. I take up opportunities and projects as they come along. Sometimes they overlap with obsessions or recurring themes in my work. Some things interest me more than others. I’m often asked, for instance, to get involved in ‘branding’ by adding my name, or a stylistic element typical of my work, to an existing object. I usually refuse. I can only accept such an offer if I feel close to the object I’m asked to work on, and if I can transform it. And that was the case with our boat!

More info:

RAL 5015 by Xavier Veilhan is on show until 14 June at Artcurial, Paris. It will be auctioned in Monaco on July 20.

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