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17 Sparkling Chambers of Wonder

Swarovski Crystal Worlds in Wattens overwhelm visitors with concepts of space and experience through their bling-bling materials.

It’s a kind of magic. The Giant is not what you expect to see when you travel the rural Austrian countryside of Tyrol, but once you get to Innsbruck, you cannot escape the temptation of visiting the Swarovski Crystal Worlds nearby. This radiant wonderland is more than a huge marketing stunt. Here, inside an artificial hill, are 17 Chambers of Wonder, similar to what baroque castles used to host, each attempting to assemble a universal collection of knowledge. It was the Austrian multimedia artist André Heller who conceived of the fantasy setting in Wattens – the home of the Swarovski crystal factory. In 1995, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the company, the park and the permanent exhibition were opened to the public but have now been further developed as an art space, seeing some of the world’s greatest artists trying their hands at working with the sparkling material.

Heroes of Peace, André Heller, Swarovski Crystal Worlds © Swarovski Kristallwelten

Let’s enter the subterranean world of The Giant and start with the first chamber, The Blue Hall. The shade of the slanted walls is an exact shade of International Klein Blue – referring to Yves Klein – and catapults viewers mentally into the 20th century. In this room, visitors are unexpectedly met with Salvatore Dalí’s melting watch (The Persistence of Memory), rendered in crystal of course; then a Crystal-Bearing Nana by Niki de Saint Phalle; a mysterious Stele by Keith Haring; and even a work of Andy Warhol called Gems. The next astonishment is up in Jim Whiting’s Mechanical Theatre. Now some readers may be old enough to remember the avantgarde music video Rockit by Herbie Hancock, which won ten MTV awards in 1984. Jim Whiting was the artist behind this mind-blowing production, and he excels himself in this chamber. An Adonis and a Walking Woman shatter into bits and pieces, white shirts fly through the room and a bizarre couple at a coffee table perform secret choreography.

Mechanical Theatre, Jim Whiting, Swarovski Crystal Worlds © Swarovski Kristallwelten

After all this excitement, visitors encounter cool calmness in the Crystal Dome, which was modelled after Sir Richard Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome. It consists of 595 mirrors and, incidentally, is a very popular wedding venue! The music in the background was created by Brian Eno – the British conceptual artist also has a Chamber of Wonder of his own called 55 Million Crystals. There, a computer-generated kaleidoscope produces sublimely changing images like multi-coloured church windows. No projection ever looks the same. A similar hypnotic effect appears in Fernando Romero’s immersive installation El Sol, an exploration of humankind’s relationship with the sun.

More solemn artistic discourse comes from South Korean artist Lee Bul, who has created a metropolitan, dramatic, utopian landscape completely out of crystal. A deeply symbolic bridge leads you through her installation, Into Lattice Sun.

The newest chamber, known as the Chandelier of Grief, is the masterpiece of another important contemporary artist: Yayoi Kusama. Born in 1929, she has been working on her Infinity Mirror Rooms for more than fifty years. Thousands have been fascinated by her encompassing installations worldwide; her existential grief derives from hallucinations and social pressure, resulting in the artist’s voluntary residence in a mental home next to her workshop in Tokyo. “As long as I live, I want to live”, reads her statement at the entrance to the chamber.

Chandelier of Grief, Yayoi Kusama, Swarovski Crystal Worlds © Swarovski Kristallwelten

Another work focusing on the pure, clear crystal is Silent Light, a flashy Christmas tree that was originally created for the Victoria & Albert Museum in London by designers Tord Boontje and the late Alexander McQueen.

The exhibition also features more colourful displays, for example, Manish Arora’s Ready to Love, a popular favourite. “I have so much love to give, that one is not enough”, says the artist about his playful production. “You are invited to partake in the enchanting ritual and leave a declaration of love on the graffiti wall!”. Another heart-warming experience comes from the Dutch artist duo Studio Job, it is a curiosity cabinet with no corners, and a model railway set full of short stories to discover. To round up the light-footed international presentations, the Russian artist duo FAMOS, devised the Empire State Building, the Cheops Pyramid and the Taj Mahal out of Swarovski crystal and combined it with their notorious tongue-in-cheek videos.

Once you step out of the realm of The Giant, you can neither escape art – with more installations in the park – nor crystals. The Crystal Cloud in the garden, created by Andy Cao and Xavier Perrot, consists of 800,000 hand-mounted crystals. Underneath lies a pond, the Mirror Pool, and the whole scenery changes ceaselessly with the natural light. As the pendulous crystals move in the atmosphere they look like fireflies. ‘Crystalline’ ambient sounds invite you to sit down and reflect, take a deep breath and rest your eyes on the soothing mountains.

Winter in The Giant

During the dark season Swarovski lights up the Crystal Worlds site. This winter, the Festival of Light tells the most sparkling winter fairy tale in the Alps. A 13-metre-tall Christmas tree and a light harp create brilliant sounds and reflections on the snowy landscape and the glittering Carousel by Spanish designer Jaime Hayon, set with 15 million Swarovski crystals, will be on show all through the winter season.

Ready to Love, Manish_Arora, Swarovski Crystal Worlds © Swarovski Kristallwelten

Crystal Worlds in Wattens, Austria is open until 6 January 2020, and is open daily from until 9pm.

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