Jaime Hayon and Swarovski put a fresh spin on the fairground carousel

Jaime Hayon and Swarovski put a fresh spin on the fairground carousel

While carousels come in many shapes and guises, they have rarely strayed from the Victorian aesthetic that harks back to the heyday of the travelling fairground. A new carousel, unveiled in Wattens, Austria today by crystal manufacturer Swarovski, is an exuberant exception.

Created by Spanish artist-designer Jaime Hayon, the carousel is perched in the south-west corner of Swarovski Kristallwelten – the sculpture garden cum visitors centre nestled among the Tyrolean Alps, near the brand’s head office. Bucking the custom of colourful fairground rides, Hayon has rendered his design in black and white with accents of gold, all in contrast to the verdant surroundings. For Carla Rumler, cultural director of Swarovski and commissioner of the carousel, the choice of palette came as a surprise. ‘I thought it was irritating before I saw the renderings,’ she recalls. ‘But it turned out to be the most elegant thing.’

Jaime Hayon portrait in his studio, for Swarovski carousel
Jaime Hayon sketches

Top, Jaime Hayon in his studio, sketching the Swarovski carousel. Bottom, Carousel sketches, by Jaime Hayon. Photography: Mark Cocksedge. Courtesy of Swarovski

Walking up the winding path to the carousel, one first notices the jug-eared, cartoonish bust at the top, appearing to wear the carousel’s tented top as an enormous skirt. Underneath, the usual wooden horses have been replaced with fantastic monochrome seats. ‘For me, a carousel can be seen a moving museum,’ explains Hayon. ‘There are sculptures moving around, which can be seen as art pieces. So I started by drawing freely and creating creatures from my imagination.’

One eventual creature appears to be a cross between a balloon animal and a rubber duck, a smaller piece looks like a bipedal narwhal wearing Japanese clogs. For the younger riders, there’s a gentling rocking carriage that can be described as a cross between a snail and a dog, while the requisite spinning teacup has been adorned with playful clown faces.

More whimsical faces – formed of geometric shapes and drawing inspiration from African masks – can be seen on the awnings and fencing. They alternate between expressions of excitement, joy and wonder, mirroring the common reactions of visitors as they discover the attraction. Even the ride attendant’s cabin is topped with a winking character that balances a sausage-like form on its head.

Detail of the carousel roof, by Jaime Hayon and Swarovski
Photography: Mark Cocksedge. Courtesy of Swarovski

While the project brief did not require Hayon to use Swarovski crystal, there are 15 million pieces deftly integrated into the design, including the wall panels that wrap around the central pole (punctuated with geometric mirrors), the faces on the awnings, and the carousel’s ceiling, which is inlaid with playful drawings in typical Hayon-esque fashion. Sparkling under the summer sun, they draw further attention to the already eye-catching forms.

There are ample view points to admire the carousel, including an observation deck a stone’s throw away, but the best way to experience it is by climbing aboard. Here, a lively soundtrack plays in the background, its classical melody offset by a contemporary bassline. One is torn between caressing, then straddling the fibreglass creatures; admiring the optical illusions created by striped elements in motion; and taking in the glorious views, including the glass-faceted tower by Snøhetta nearby (which serves as Kristallwelten’s café) and the more traditional Alpine architecture and majestic hills in the distance; all while basking in fairytale-like wonder.

Hayon is keen to defy the stereotype that the carousel is a child’s ride. ‘This is an art piece, and art should be for all audiences. I think that adults need to dream and to dare, like children do. When Swarovski asked me to make this carousel, I thought it would be the perfect project. Because even though it can be linked to children, it’s been the perfect opportunity to break the rules.’ §

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