In an exploration into the essence of creativity and role to time, the august cognac house, Louis XIII, reaches all the way back into the origin of time itself, some 13 billion years ago to the moment of the Big Bang. From there the journey, and film, of Believe In Time – its recently launched global campaign– takes us to the present day with its promise of the future as well. The central message of nature and human endeavour across time is interpreted in an art film by Grammy award-winning singer, songwriter and visual artist Solange Knowles. Backgrounded by an original composition by Knowles, the film illustrates the phenomenal aspect of time – and the belief in time – needed to arrive in the present day; from the birth of the Himalayas and discovery of fire, to the mighty forests and human achievement of taking to the stars.
This avant-garde vision receives another collaborator for the Believe In Time short film in the form of Chinese couture designer Guo Pei, who creates a remarkable dress embodying Mother Earth, which Knowles wears in the film. This garment, a two-year opus, is Guo’s tribute to what she terms as “heirlooms to be handed down from one generation to the next. With posterity in mind, I picture my creations as eternal and precious objects that will connect our present with the future.”
For Solange, the narrative of time and space throughout the film is rooted in her belief of how future generations will discover her work. This Believe In Time production, lensed by French-Senegalese auteur Mati Diop – a Cannes Festival Grand Prix-winning director – reveals the ultimate depths and roots of everything in humankind’s existence: creativity, dance, music, nature and technological advancement.
As for the cognac that is Louis XIII, this art film is yet another tribute to the relationship it holds most dear, that of time. This undeniable ingredient has, since 1874, turned eaux de vie into a transcendent, rich and full experience. From the cognac’s complex blend of eau de vie sourced exclusively from the Grande Champagne region — some aged for a century — to the handmade crystal decanter it comes in, every bottle of Louis XIII is the culmination of work spanning generations; earning this exceptional elixir its global renown.
This month, through the exceptional vision of Malaysian artist Michelle Yap, a solo exhibition takes place at Qing Gallery located at Desa Park City. Entitled Believe In Time, this show reimagines the aspect of time and nature through a time-travelling terracotta character created by Yap. The character 小趙 (Xiao Zhao) first appeared in her canon of works in 2016 through a series of artworks exhibited in Singapore. It then surfaced in China via a specially commissioned series by the mayor of Xi’an, where a group of farmers had unearthed the phenomenal 8,000-plus terracotta collection dating back to the third century BCE. The earthen and clay figurines representing all manner of musicians, acrobats, officials and guards were meant to be the eternal companions of Qin Shi Huang, who history credits as being the first monarch to unite China’s warring factions thus becoming its first emperor and masterminding the linking up of fortifications in his kingdom, turning it into the Great Wall of China.
The name, Xiao (meaning little) and Zhao, is derived from the use by the descendants of the area where the emperor was born, who used it to mark his glory. Yap has revived Xiao Zhao through 13 paintings, 11 sculptures and three NFT artworks. In this series, Xiao Zhao navigates the modern world from the moment of his discovery, going through the era of breakdancing, arcade games, the rise of Japan-mania, and the renewed Space Race, with the aim of colonising other worlds.
Yap, a graduate of Central Saint Martins College of Arts in London, is an international abstract artist represented by international galleries such as Saatchi Art in the US and Singulart in Paris. This solo exhibition breaks new ground for Yap as she works on sculptures and NFT pieces for the first time. With the sculptures, she approximated the earthen and clay hues of the original terracotta figurines, while adding glaze and epoxy to give it a contemporary lustre.
“Knowing that I could work with Louis XIII – the king of cognacs – really pushed me to develop a first-ever sculpture collection,” Yap says.” Xiao Zhao embodies a deep history and culture – a refinement just like Louis XIII cognacs.” In the same way that Louis XIII exhorts its aficionados to think a century ahead, so too does Yap with her terracotta character, as Xiao Zhao journeys from present to the future through this new series, always enjoying and savouring the present in paintings depicting him enjoying the popular hotpot and barbecue, or taking a selfie while striking a kingly pose.
Yap’s series of sculptures are also richly embedded with meanings and symbols of Louis XIII. In a mixed media piece, Yap depicts Xiao Zhao lying blissfully in a bed of lilies (the lily or fleur-de-lis being the logo of Louis XIII) while dressed in the French rugby jersey (following their recent win at the Six Nations). In another, Xiao Zhao is dressed up as an astronaut, with the iconic Baccarat decanter as his oxygen supply. In the NFT version, the same astronaut version arrives on a new planet bearing grapevines as a message of greening the new world, in a spaceship which also bears a striking resemblance to the Louis XIII decanter.
Reflecting on her completed works and the show ahead, Yap draws parallels to the current Louis XIII Believe In Time campaign. “Xiao Zhao is now rediscovering life through the lens of someone from 2,500 years ago and enjoying the new technology and advancement in civilisation. At the same time, he is already looking into the future, with his interplanetary travel and colonisation of new worlds with his grapevines and his decanter spaceship,” she says. “In that way, he too believes in time because there is a sense that life carries on.”
The month-long Believe In Time solo art exhibition by Michelle Yap opens on 13 May. Entry is by invitation and appointment only.