Two art projects commissioned by the BMW Group for Frieze London 2021 set out to explore the human/machine relation in new and exciting ways. Madeline Hollander’s ‘Sunrise/Sunset’ is an installation of 96 disused headlights salvaged from the company’s recycling centre. Playing on the responsive nature of these automatic adaptive car headlights which react to movement, light and weather conditions, the artist has matched each to different global time zones to create a networked map that mimics the sun rising and setting across the globe. Hollander’s art examines how our erratic individual actions and everyday technologies can synchronically align, become a collective and, in the case of the installation for Frieze, turn into a cascading technological dance.
Meanwhile, dance choreographer Wayne McGregor and experimental studio Random International’s ‘No One is an Island’ is a live performance involving a multi-armed robot and two human dancers. Playing the lead role is the robotic sculpture — an enigmatic machine whose liquid movements are steered by advanced algorithms. As it transitions from robot to human likeness, the two dancers in turn interact with the kinetics, all of which is performed to the hypnotic soundscape of Tokyo electronic music artist Chihei Hatakeyama. The idea here is to visualise how a minimal amount of information can animate form so that it can be recognised as human, while the most subtle changes in information can have an equally fundamental impact on our behaviour.
BMW Group Culture support some interesting cultural programmes including the Art Journey initiative with Art Basel which encourages the chosen artist to let the experience of their journey organically mould the artwork. Last year US artist Jamal Cyrus travelled to Europe, Africa and Latin America, tracing the migration of slaves to assess their cultural impact along their journey. In the previous year, the British artist Abigail Reynolds took on lost libraries along the Silk Road. This year the Berlin-based Zac Langdon-Pole will follow the flight path of birds, travelling along the earth’s axis through Central Europe and the Pacific Islands as a way of understanding how cultures intersect with the science of celestial mapping – how this flows into larger existential inquiries about who we are, and our role in this world.
Art and money have always had a mutually seductive rapport. Artists need the patronage of industry, industry benefits greatly from the positive kudos this union can bring. The truth is big art projects are costly and unless governments fully fund cultural activities, galleries and museums will need to engaged with corporate capital.
The outcome can be intriguing if the relationship is balanced, and crucially if the sponsor allows the artist and creative to do their thing, which can be tricky when you’re dealing with big corporations such as car companies.
I met with Thomas Girst, BMW’s cultural manager since 2004. He is charge of the marque numerous artistic ventures including Tate Modern Live, the Art Journey initiative with Art Basel and the classic Art Car project, which for 2017 explores two very different concepts – minimalism and virtual and augmented reality with two equally different artists, the celebrated Californian John Baldessari and Chinese digital artist Cao Fei.