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Chinese Artist Cao Fei’s BMW Art Car

For the first time ever, a digital version of the renowned auto accompanies the physical model

by Alessandro De Toni

When it comes to the incredible speed of development in China, the other side of the coin is corruption, pollution, social disparity, wild urbanization and more—themes not only tackled by daily news, but explored by Cao Fei and many other Chinese contemporary artists. Cao Fei, a young internationally acclaimed Beijing-based artist, is certainly a standout name when it comes to portraying this dystopian pace of development—the clash between fast-changing landscape and personal dreams. Urbanization, alienation and parallel worlds have been distinctive themes in her work—from her cosplayers project to the pioneering RMB city, a satiric twist on urban planning in the virtual world of “Second Life,” to her more recent film “Haze and Fog.” In the words of Chris Dercon, former director of Tate Gallery in London and member of BMW Art Car jury, Cao Fei’s key message is, “Let’s watch out with blind modernization, and keep in mind that a human and spiritual dimension shouldn’t be left behind.” This is what made Cao Fei the ideal artist to create the 18th BMW Art Car—she’s a successful Chinese artist, projected into a digital future yet attentive to the human dimension.

The result of a two year collaboration has just been unveiled at Minsheng Art Museum in Beijing. On the stage of the premiere, Cao Fei (who doesn’t nor hasn’t had a driver’s license) compared the thrill from her very first BMW ride on a race track to the feeling of China’s lightning-fast development. Hence her idea of having light as the core of her parallel world unfolding around BMW Art Car: a video, an augmented reality app and the physical car.

The video features a monk walking from remote mountains to the city, amidst contrasts between past and future, icons of consumerism and propaganda slogans. In a parking lot full of cars he wears AR goggles and he executes spiritual movements, which echo in colorful streams of light. When the app is used within the vicinity of the car, these light swishes become an augmented reality installation floating above and around the BMW M6 GT3—involving the spectator.

The car is entirely black, a choice that isn’t just aesthetic. The non-reflective black is meant to meet the technical requirements of the AR makeover and pays tribute to the carbon-fiber structure of the racecar chassis. Cao Fei’s says, “Instead of a direct intervention on the physical car, virtuality gave me a key to turn it from mere object into art.”

The BMW M6 GT3 Art Car will bring the future to the Macau’s FIA GT World Cup in November 2017, while Cao Fei says that her next project “will be about looking back instead of forward, looking into the past.”

Images by Alessandro De Toni


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