Cao Fei's BMW art car 18 spotlights chinese culture through VR

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Chinese artist cao fei has unveiled her design for the latest BMW art car in beijing. fei has adopted cutting-edge tools like augmented and virtual reality to creatively interpret the BMW M6 GT3 race car — bringing the famed art car series up to 21st century speeds. for the project, the beijing-based artist has tapped in to her own personal interest in chinese culture and society to address themes around the future of mobility, such as autonomous driving, airborne cars and digitalization.

Designboom was in beijing for the reveal of BMW art car #18, marking the first time a chinese creative has been commissioned for the series. fei’s participation follows a lineup of internationally renowned artists — including olafur eliasson, jeff koons, and most recently john baldessari — who have been part of the project since 1975. 

First previewed by designboom last year, cao fei’s BMW art car #18 reflects on the rapid speed of societal change in china. the artist approached the project in the same means as her own artistic practice — building a parallel universe. the installation delves into a trajectory spanning thousands of years, paying tribute to asia’s ancient spiritual wisdom as it moves towards the realities of the future. 

These themes are addressed through three different components: a video titled ‘unmanned’ that follows a time traveling spiritual practitioner; augmented reality features picturing colorful light particles, accessible via a dedicated app; and the physical BMW M6 GT3 racecar in its original carbon black. fei’s holistic use of a non-reflective black surface allows the car to embrace the possibilities of the digital world.

The three elements of the project are intertwined. fei’s implementation of video art and augmented reality creates an immersive and engaging environment around the M6 GT3.

This relationship is evident in her video work, where the time traveling practitioner enacts spiritual movements, echoed in colorful streams of light. similarly, when the app is used within the premises of the car, these light swishes become an augmented reality installation that floats above and around the BMW. viewers, in turn, become interactive agents of participation. this narrative reflects on a traditional spiritual ceremony common throughout asia, in which new objects — including automobiles — are blessed, wishing good luck to the car and its driver. in this sense, fei’s interpretation of light elements in both VR and video media realize what the eyes cannot see.

To me, light represents thoughts,’ fei comments on her BMW art car. ‘as the speed of thoughts cannot be measured, the #18 art car questions the existence of the boundaries of the human mind. we are entering a new age, where the mind directly controls objects and where thoughts can be transferred, such as unmanned operations and artificial intelligence. which attitudes and temperaments hold the key to opening the gateway to the new age?’

The unveil of BMW art car #18 marks the product of fei’s nearly three year research and investigation followingthe announcement of her commission. during numerous visits to BMW’s headquarters and factories, she worked closely with engineers, designers, and digital specialists, giving her a unique insight into the automotive industry.

‘[cao fei] is a solid example of BMW group’s commitment to promote the new emerging generation of chinese artists,’ described olaf kastner, president and CEO of BMW group in china. ‘we are not only active in shaping the future of mobility, but also in developing strong social connections with china through cultural engagement initiatives, dating back as early as 11 years ago. china is undergoing huge and rapid developments, especially in the digital landscape. the 18th BMW art car pays tribute to the flourishing changes in the chinese society.’

In summer 2017, fei’s multimedia installation will be exhibited at the BMW experience shanghai — a brand and driving center — before her M6 GT3 needs to prove itself on the racetrack of the FIA GT world cup in macau in november. a virtual experience of her BMW art car will also be on display at the UBS forum during art basel in basel in june.

Source: 
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