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Hennessy reveals emotion behind V.S.O.P Privilège through data mapping

Acclaimed media artist, Refik Anadol with the 2021 Hennessy V.S.O.P Limited Edition bottle.
Acclaimed media artist, Refik Anadol with the 2021 Hennessy V.S.O.P Limited Edition bottle.

In 2021, Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilège boldly recast its savoir-faire in an unexpected new dimension.

In a groundbreaking collaboration, Hennessy welcomed the pioneer and acclaimed media artist and director Refik Anadol to its historic seat in Cognac, France, to observe the Tasting Committee at work. It marked the first time in Maison’s history that an artist was allowed to capture that time-honoured ritual real-time via neuroscientific research methods, and to use the collected data in collaboration with machine intelligence to create an unprecedented work of art.

Refik Anadol visits the Hennessy Cognac distillery where double distillation takes place to make eau-de-vie for cognac every year. Each eau-de-vie demands years of labour, as well as rotation between different barrels, so that it can reach its full complexity

Enduring mastery and new modes of expression came together in an extraordinary convergence. In an experiment borrowed from another realm, the Hennessy Tasting Committee consented to “open up their minds” to a completely unconventional experiment. Outfitted in high-tech equipment, Master Blender Renaud Fillioux de Gironde and his colleagues allowed Refik Anadol to track their emotions in real-time, capturing their experience, sensations, and appreciations of eaux-de-vie.

“In our craft, we are constantly classifying, describing, and trying to find exactly the right words to convey our impressions and experiences,” said Renaud Fillioux de Gironde, Hennessy’s 8th-generation Master Blender. “We were all very intrigued to see what elements technology might bring to light.”

During the traditional 11am meeting, a rare and specialized electroencephalogram (EEG) typically reserved for laboratory research was used to capture sensorial data as each participating Tasting Committee member evaluated a selection of eaux-de-vie destined for Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilège. Freshly equipped with sensors, the committee followed a ritual that has remained unchanged for generations. Past and present merged in what Refik Anadol describes as “a near-future experience, in real-time.”

“Emotion lives in the senses, on the skin, in the heart, and in the mind — and with this hypersensitive equipment, we are able to trace everything, down to the movement of the glass,” Refik Anadol explains. “You can see heritage and savoir-faire become visible and observe how the material actually becomes the wisdom.”

The specialised electroencephalogram (EEG) used to capture sensorial data as each participating Tasting Committee member evaluated a selection of eaux-de-vie

Back in his California studio, Refik Anadol and his team filtered the true data — two centuries’ worth of living memory —through sophisticated analytics, transforming the data set into pigments and light. What emerged, the artist says, was a completely harmonious dialogue, an “architecture of memory” that was remarkably consistent across subjects at a specific point in time.

“With help from machine intelligence, we embarked on a journey through gene memories and dreams. Neuro-scientifically, the Tasting Committee is the source of memory, dreaming about the future,” he says.

The Tasting Committee meets at 11am every day to grade up to 50 eaux-de-vie a day and 10 000 a year. For the first time ever, the committee welcomed Refik Anadol to capture the moment in time

The 2021 Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilège Limited Edition by Refik Anadol will be available in Makro stores nationwide from 1 November 2021.

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