Studio Wayne McGregor investigates the human/machine relation in the information age

Contemporary dance company Wayne McGregor has teamed up with experimental art studios Random International and Superblue to explore the human relation to machine and technology. Informed by the technology behind BMW i, ‘No One is an Island’ combines sculptural, performative and musical elements. Through electrified movement steered by advanced algorithms and inspired by Picasso’s light drawings, it reflects on how the human mind can empathise with artificial intelligence and automated processes. Dancers perform to the electronic sound of Chihei Hatakeyama adding a performative dimension to the sculpture, while re-translating and celebrating the connection between human and mechanical movement.

A series of digital and live performances are now planned for 2021. 
Learn more on ‘No One is an Island’ here

Images: ‘No One is an Island’ by Random International, Superblue, Studio Wayne McGregor and BMW i and dancers Jacob O’Connell and Rebecca Bassett- Graham (company Wayne McGregor). Photo Ravi Deepres © BMW AG

Race, identity, technology are themes leading Rolls-Royce’s latest arts commission

The 2021 Rolls-Royce arts 'Dream Commission' shortlist of moving-image artists tackle critical issues of race, culture, gender and technology
Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, from “That which identifies them, like the eye of the cyclops” 2016

Rolls-Royce has chosen four shortlisted artists for the inaugural ‘Dream Commission’ for moving-image art. Chosen by an independent jury of leading international figures in the art world, the work this dynamic group produce is highly relevant, reflecting our current discussions on culture, on gender and race and our relation with technology.

They include Beatriz Santiago Muñoz from Puerto Rico, Zhou Tao from China and the American artists Martine Syms and Sondra Perry – all of whom have made short moving-image pieces detailing their concepts. Once the jury has decided on an ultimate winner, Rolls-Royce will finance the full-length moving-image artwork to be released next year.

The biannual Dream Commission is aimed at emerging and mid-career artists who demonstrate innovation in the field of moving image art. As the name suggests, participants are asked to investigate their dreams as a way of finding an alternative sensory universe – perhaps take us on journeys into the world of the subconscious. Their work needs to be impactful and immersive.

To understand more, I caught up with Hans Ulrich Obrist, the curator, author and artistic director at London’s Serpentine Galleries, who is on the Dream Commission selection jury.

Nargess Banks: Needless to say, these are challenging times for the arts. On the one hand, the temporary closure of art spaces has brought a renewed longing for seeing live visual arts. Then, these are extraordinary times too in that we are revising and reviewing how art is shown – what subjects are represented and who has been underrepresented. What struck me immediately with this selection is the relevance of the chosen artists.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: A series of brilliant nominators proposed a wonderful long list of artists, which the jury then shortlisted from. The commission acts as a laboratory for artists, and what has become evident is that this next generation is thinking about mixed reality, and quite radically liberating moving image away from defining characteristics such as its ‘loop’, works become instead infinite, sprawling and organic.

NB: The theme of dreams and investigating our subconscious strikes me as a fascinating topic.

HUO: Around 20 years ago I met Hélène Cixous, the great French writer, who was at the time working on a book called ‘Dream I Tell You’, where she transcribed her dreams. It opens with an observation: ‘They tell me their stories in their language, in the twilight, all alike or almost, half gentle half cruel, before any day, any hour. I don’t wake, the dream wakes me…’

I often speak to artists about their unrealised projects, their dreams; I’ve been documenting them since the ’90s and it is one of the recurring questions I’ve been asking throughout my interview project. My investigations are intimately connected to the dimension of dreams also, projects as a cherished aspiration, an idea or an ambition.

NB: And what were you looking for when deciding on the Dream Commission shortlist?

HUO: We asked ourselves how, as a jury, can we better listen to what is being said by artists amongst so much distance and confusion? So we engaged in some active listening and this is the shortlist that spoke to us.

Sondra Perry says of making work that she ‘wants people to feel like they have space and agency’.

For Martine Syms, ‘art is a way for me to think and way for me to learn about myself, but also about the world and other people’. Through making work she explores her own personal mythology, anchored in the biological, psychological and the sociological. 

Beatriz Santiago Muñoz explains that it’s an opportunity to ‘experiment with the expanded mind’. Moving-image is for her an ‘experimental process which functions like an organism’.

Zhao Tao told us that moving images are experiences which reflect on the spatial interface of a ‘remote space’ during this time of lockdown.

NB: Collectively, their work speaks very much of our time.

HUO: Indeed, our shortlist have worked to create films during the pandemic. It is this time, more than ever, we should be listening to artists – it is often they who have the most important and prescient ideas about how one can act in times of crisis.

NB: The commission artists are from such different cultures and backgrounds. Do you see a unified voice coming out of this?

HUO: All of our shortlisted artists address urgent issues of our time with remarkable energy and commitment. Their work is all very different, but it is all generous, engaged and empathetic.

As Marshall McLuhan writes in ‘Understanding Media’: ‘Art is an early alarm system pointing us to new developments in times ahead and allowing us to prepare to cope with them.’ These artists all make work that will help us understand the world that is to come.

Take a look at the work of the four shortlisted artists in the Rolls-Royce 2021 Dream Commission here. Also read why brands and businesses should support arts and ideas here.

See the four chosen Dream Commission artists discuss their work:

Hayward Gallery’s Space Shifters offers new perspectives

We live in peculiar times. Reality, fact, truth is under fire – replaced with a cocktail of fiction. Increasingly we are made to feel detached from the reality of others as news, war, death all become passing images. So, it feels apt to turn it all up-side-down – to see all around from different perspectives. This is the theme behind ‘Space Shifters’, the new exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London. The surrounding Southbank Centre and its sincere civic promise, then the Hayward’s brutalist solid structure yet soft, tactile concrete walls and rooms flooded with natural light, are perfectly fitting to experience reality on its head.

Here, our sense of space is completely disrupted through twenty installation pieces and sculptures by a powerhouse of international artists. Yayoi Kusamas, Anish Kapoor, Richard Wilson are exploring how – through shape and translucent materials – they can indulge in a little play on our perceptions. They also offer an alternative view of minimalism. Rather than the usual dry, geometric and serial minimalism, the collection here are altogether more alluring and playful.

Some of the artists featured have explored the double meaning of reflection – the physical mirroring of an object and the contemplative act. One of the highlights is at the top of the concrete ramp – an installation by Daniel Steegmann Mangrané inspired by the shape of pouring concrete stairwells. It asks us to form a new narrative with the architecture of the Hayward Gallery.

‘Space Shifters’ alters our focus. We see ourselves differently – perhaps as others may see us. The audience become participants, approaching the art, entering sculptures, becoming animated. The space is flooded with strange reflections of distorted faces and inverted bodies. And yes, it is a selfie paradise. This isn’t to say ‘Space Shifters’ is presenting art as a theme park. Rather, here there is room for contemplation to allow space for other realities.

Design Talks | The Textile Building | 29a Chatham Place | London | E9 6FJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
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Book review: FuturBalla, Life Light Speed

I have long been intrigued by the Italian futurists. Radical in its early days, the movement was fascinated by progress, speed, modernity. When researching The Life Negroni, we travelled around Italy in search of arts and ideas, of elements that make this classic cocktail so timeless and so special. We soon realised how interlinked the Negroni is with this creative movement when we came across the rich futurist archives at the homes of Campari and Martini in Milan and Piedmont – private collections bursting with rare and unseen works of art. So, I was hugely excited to receive a book dedicated to the work of one of the pioneers of this movement Giacomo Ballà.

FuturBalla: Life Light Speed is edited by Ester Coen and published by Skira

His inventive and innovative style helped forge a fundamental link between Italian art and the classic avant-garde. Ballà was born into an exciting historical time for Italy, in Turin in 1875. His family soon moved to the new capital Rome where the young artist developed his original style rich in glowing streaks, bold contrasts of light and dark, a daring perspective and a love of detail.

Ballà was fascinated by the power and speed, the machine age and in particular cars which he saw as characteristics of modernity. In his studies between 1912 and 1924 entitled Iridescent Interpenetrations, Ballà began embracing futurism through the colourful synthesis of individual elements of light, and in Line of Speed and Abstract Speed The Car (both 1913) he explores movement and dynamism in a rapidly evolving society. Abstract Speed The Car hangs in the Tate Modern in London and is well worth visiting.

FuturBalla: Life Light Speed presents the work and life of Ballà. This is the most complete monograph on the artist presenting works from public and private collections, Tate Modern and Estorick Collection in London, Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo and the Israel Museum of Jerusalem. The 200 colour illustrations here are supported by insightful essays by the editor, the art historia Ester Coen and contributors Vincenzo Barone, Zelda De Lillo and Luca Francesco Ticini.

FuturBalla: Life Light Speed is edited by Ester Coen and published by Skira

Nargess Banks

Design Talks | The Textile Building | 29a Chatham Place | London | E9 6FJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
All rights and labelled images are covered by ©

Lee Ufan’s Relatum – Stage opens at Serpentine Galleries

Once-upon-a-time ‘Rock on Top of Another Rock’ lived in Kensington Gardens Hyde Park outside the Serpentine Galleries. The public sculpture by Swiss artist Fischli & Weiss stayed here until a few years ago, its public life prolonged for its popularity, and it made me smile every time I walked, jogged, or ran past it. It was so simple and so perfect for this magical little corner of London. As seasons changed so did these seemingly hovering Rocks – their mood, their light, their character. One day as I ran past, the two rocks has gone leaving a sad empty space. I changed my running route.

Today I was so excited to see South Korean artist Lee Ufan’s ‘Relatum – Stage’ which went live this morning and will be here until July. It recalls Fischli & Weiss’s work and is a nod to the neolithic monuments in the British countryside – Stonehenge etc. Ufan’s minimalist work uses only two materials – steel and stone – as is characteristic of the Japanese avant-garde Mono-ha group of which he was one of the main proponents in the 1960s. Meaning ‘object school’, the group rejected Western notions of representation, instead focusing on the relationships between materials and perceptions.

Here in Hyde Park the two cold, angled, mirrored, steel sheets and tactile Welsh stones together reflect and blend in with the surroundings. In focusing on the precise conceptual and spatial juxtaposition of the natural and industrial materials, Ufan seeks to find a balance that heightens the moment of encounter, allowing us to see ‘the world as it is,’ he says. ‘The highest level of expression is not to create something from nothing, but rather to nudge something that already exists so that the world shows up more vividly.’

Relatum – Stage will be at the Serpentine Galleries, Kensington Gardens until 29 July.
Photographs © Lee Ufan, Photograph © Ian Gavan/Getty Images.

Nargess Banks

Read my interview with the Serpentine Galleries chief executive Yana Peel here.

Design Talks | The Textile Building | 29a Chatham Place | London | E9 6FJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
All rights and labelled images are covered by ©