Tucked away off the Bund in Shanghai lies the Swatch Art Peace Hotel, a gallery space-meets-hotel that not only holds countless works of art, but also the artists themselves.
Roughly three years ago on November 1, 2011, The Swatch Art Peace Hotel (with the help of the Swatch Group, of course) invited artists to stay within the walls of the hotel—a building with over 100 years of history as the Palace Hotel and eventually the South Building of the Peace Hotel. Swatch was approved to revive and restore the location in 2008. Much like the neighborhood it resides in, the mix of Western and Asian influences is something that applies as much to the hotel as it does to the blend of artists the hotel has welcomed to its studios and workshops in the past three years.
As of November 1 of this year, the concept is fully realized; the hotel is open both as an exhibition space and literal "living gallery."
The concept behind the project, titled "Faces and Traces," is to enrich the retail and commercial environment of the hotel space with the creativity of the artists and their work. "Faces" describes the artists—over 139 of them—who have cycled in and out of the Swatch Art Peace Hotel on varied three to six month residencies. "Traces" are the works that these artists leave behind; a signifier of not only their effect on the hotel, but the hotel's—and Shanghai's—effect on them and their work(s).
According to Swatch International's Creative Director Carlo Giordenetti, the project is comprised of 4 "C"s: creativity, connection, community, and challenge. By utilizing the artist's creativity, the program connects their personalities and work into a community that thrives off the challenges of working in a foreign place, working with new people, and still creating great work.
The artists themselves come from a variety of disciplines, including sound design, sculpture, video and film, painting, writing, and dance, just to name a few. The hotel may be available for guest use, but the second and third floors are designated for the artists-in-residence, where they live and create in one of the 18 designated and fully functional workshops. The important thing to note is that artists are given "no brief or any conditions by the organizers apart from leaving a mark and a portrait photo."
So what if you're interested in visiting (or even staying) in the hotel? The first floor remains as the Exhibition Room, where several of the traces have been curated and presented for public viewing. The fifth floor houses a multi-function gallery, along with restaurants, (including the East-meets-West Shook! Shanghai) and a terrace that hosts views of the Huangpu River and the Bund. The fourth floor is is home to seven guest locations (four suites and three rooms) that fuse luxury accommodation with the artists' traces.
While the project seems like quite an undertaking for a watch company, a closer look at the Swatch Group's ideology and history shows Swatch's commitment to art—especially on the wrist. Swatch began in 1983, and as early 1984, the brand was producing a special edition watch for presentation in Paris at the Centre Pompidou. CEO of the Swatch Group Nick Hayek reminded guests that "Swatch is the canvas on the wrist." Their artist collaborations and inspirations have been consistent ever since.
As Giordanetti puts it, "This connection with art has been, since the very beginning, a real part of the DNA of the brand. And spontaneously, I think, you want to give back at a certain point, and this is a great way to give back."
Inevitably, the goal of the hotel is not only to provide a luxurious experience to its guests and visitors, but to make those visitors think and experience art in a new way. Spending three years "building the story," the hotel is experienced best by personal immersion. More than any other place in Shanghai could this mix of energies be so vibrant—and remain that way.
For the future, the hotel is a living and breathing gallery and residence—and as long as it can remain open, it will.
"It will absolutely continue, even as of today actually, because some artists decided to stay until [the day after their residency] even if their time was gone." remarks Giordanetti. "We will bring the project out of these walls, but probably not in the form that people would expect. So we’re not going to replicate the exhibitions somewhere else...we still have to go in a way that we will enjoy this project, instead of trying to do something else already."
From the artists' faces to the traces left behind, the Swatch Art Peace Hotel is nothing short of artistic immersion. While not everyone may be able to experience the hotel gallery on a visit to Shanghai, or stay in one of the hotels rooms or suites, the Swatch Art Peace Hotel is a global art precedent that's sure to leave a "trace" far beyond its home by the Bund.