Swizz Beatz and Arne Quinze Open Up About Collaborating On ‘Are We The Aliens_’

"When you listen to the universe, I think it's normal that we sit in the same boat."

Two men stand with arms around one another making triumphant gestures to the camera
Arne Quinze and Swizz Beats. Photography by Dave Bruel for Arne Quinze Photography by Dave Bruel for Arne Quinze

As the 60th edition of the Biennale d’Arte di Venezia went up, music producer Swizz Beatz was working with Belgian artist Arne Quinze to create an “intersensory” exhibition in Venice’s San Francesco della Vigna. Co-curated by Hervé Mikaeloff and Reiner Opoku, it pairs Quinze’s large, site-specific sculptures with acoustic environments masterminded by Swizz Beatz. Titled “Are We The Aliens_,” the selection of works in the church’s nave, cloister and scoletta address society’s ever-growing detachment from our external environment, echoing the wider fretful theme of the 2024 Biennale, “Foreigners Everywhere.”

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On the first floor of the scoletta, Swizz Beatz’s soundscape includes opera, African drums, industrial pounding, ethereal whirs and cavernous chanting—emitted through state-of-the-art loudspeakers to enable the ultimate sound design. The sounds suffuse a white high-ceilinged room inhabited by large aluminum sculptures intermittently flashing with bright lights. In the church’s cloister is a grouping of Quinze’s site-specific ceramic sculptures, made in collaboration with the Belgian studio Atelier Vierkant and titled Ceramorphia_.’

Ceramic sculptures in an open-air courtyard
‘Ceramorphia_’ Photography by Dave Bruel for Arne Quinze / Courtesy of König Galerie

After a recent presentation in the historic 16th-century Renaissance church, Swizz Beatz and Quinze chatted with Observer about artistic synchronicity, ego management and their approach to the Biennale.

First, a pragmatic question: how did you end up working together?

Arne: I think it’s natural.

But were you friends already? Or had you collaborated before?

Arne: We have a very good friend, a brother, between us. At the same time, when you listen to the universe, I think it’s normal that we sit in the same boat.

Before the work comes together jointly, you have to figure out a way to understand what you are each going for. How did you negotiate that common artistic language?

Swizz: A lot of phone conversations. I think the big breaking moment is when my brother [Arne] came to San Diego, to the house, and we could sit without a time limit, and really play this out. I was able to play some reference tracks, just playing things without telling him I’m playing them—to see what his energy was toward it, what stuck out. The speakers in the living room, from Bang and Olufsen, became the speakers in the show. Like: let’s take this moment and bring it to Venice, because it was a very intimate moment, which is why you can lay on the floor and feel like you’re in a home, and you feel the comfort, because that’s where it was really created.

An art installation with industrial looking metal sculptures, neon lights and fog
‘Sonic Levitation_’ Photography by Dave Bruel for Arne Quinze / Courtesy of König Galerie

Can you cite some of the reference tracks?

Swizz: I played Basement Jaxx, the orchestra version. He brought the sculpture over, of what we’re seeing in real life, to the house, about this big [motions with hands]. And so I’m looking at this and I’m like, Man, maybe a symphony goes with thismaybe it’s like some Star Wars orchestra.

Arne: And then the voices…

Swizz: The voices!

Arne: The voices we wanted to add, it went all step by step, naturally. He was playing one record after the other, the whole weekend, in the car.

Swizz: The whole time I’m testing his ears, like, Let me see how he reacts to this. Once we started going, the whole direction just took its own form. And everything was different.

In what way? Did your intentions shift over the course of the project?

Arne: It grows so easily between us—it was just a story growing, step by step. The exchange was so natural. It was like playing ping pong. But the cool thing is that we had almost the same references. We love the same things. We love the same movies. We love the same music. And it’s so diverse. We could really go from classic to jazz to hip-hop to electronic: there was no limit.

Colorful glass sculptures lit from underneath set in what looks to be a concrete mound
‘Impact Glass.’ Photography by Dave Bruel for Arne Quinze / Courtesy of König Galerie

What shaped things, in the end? 

Swizz: Just deadlines [laughs]. Because he’s a busy man, I’m a busy man and my wife… [bells chime] How many times is it?

Arne: I think it’s twelve [times].

Swizz: It’s long! My wife is just finishing up a Broadway show. So I was in between supporting her with her opening [at the Shubert Theatre] and going back to this, and playing dad… you know, you lose track of time. And I’m like, Okay, I know this is gonna get done, and we’re gonna have fun. He’s like, this is the date. So he reminds me of the date, and then Oh shit.

Arne: But what I really like is when you feel the pressure, and then suddenly you need to produce everything. It’s like when you’re in the race at the last curve: you need to win. That’s when there is a power, even over the phone or video call.

A large metal sculpture in a dimply lit room
‘Bronze,’ which sits in front of the altar niche. Photography by Dave Bruel for Arne Quinze / Courtesy of König Galerie

Swizz, as a well-known art collector, does working with an artist add something to your vision about art and bringing it into your home or into museums?

Swizz: I’m an artist myself, so it’s just like working with a classmate that’s just in a different medium, different expression. The same intention, same goals, same journeys. I’m like 10 percent on that side, 90 percent on the other side. Even when we get art in the collection, it’s not a transactional thing for us; it’s more ‘Welcome to the family’ than ‘I paid for something and I receive something.’ I think a lot of collectors need to understand that this is people’s life work, and it can’t just be transactional with currency, although that’s a part of it. But it should be more family-oriented. It should be handled with care. Because, like, look at these sculptures he did with his hands, you know? How can you afford this? He did this with his hands—he’s never getting that time back, he’s never getting that moment back—that’s priceless. I’m gonna eventually start speaking about that area a little bit more, as I open up and expand what I’m doing. I’ve learned a lot, and there’s so much that I want to teach from what I’m learning—not just keep it to myself. It’s very important for people to understand the intentions that they should have: how to collect, how to protect, and how to respect the artist’s work. These are things that we’re doubling down on.

Arne: You work as an artist, you work as a curator. How I shape the sculpture and how you shape the music: I think there was an equal level.

Swizz: Yeah, yeah!

Arne: We did something, it’s like clay: his hands, my hands can structure anything. That is what I really like, is creating on that same level. And normally, it’s very difficult to work with another artist, because we all have our egos: we always want to achieve the best, and it’s a fight we have with ourselves to bring out the best. And here it felt like there was no ego.

Swizz: No, no.

Arne: It was creating together.

As we’re standing in Venice, what are you most excited to see while you’re here?

Arne: I haven’t had the time yet to see anything. We worked up until a half hour before the opening. This was three weeks building up. I will come back after the summer, when everything is more relaxed; then you can walk easily into things.

Swizz: Everything—all the pavilions. I just love the discovery of it all. I love that I haven’t seen everything. I love that I don’t have everything; because that’s the end of the road. You want to always keep finding these tunnels to go through. So I walk into any pavilion with an open mind and hope to see something different and amazing. I’m excited for that.

Swizz Beatz and Arne Quinze Open Up About Collaborating On ‘Are We The Aliens_’