For years, BMW has positioned itself at the intersection of two equally popular worlds: the automobile and high art. This overlap is perhaps most famously embodied by the company’s Art Cars, where artists collaborate with the German automaker to create a one-of-a-kind BMW model. Alexander Calder was the first to take up the challenge in 1975; since then, other participating artists have included Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jenny Holzer and Robert Rauschenberg, among others.
Today, BMW’s Art Car philosophy touches the mass consumer market. Unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2022, the new BMW iX M60 ushers in Digital Art Mode, which transforms the car’s interior into an immersive digital installation by Chinese multimedia artist Cao Fei. For now, Cao’s work, quantum garden, will be the only artwork available in select BMW models, including the recently launched 7 Series; but BMW drivers should expect to see Digital Art Mode continue to grow.
quantum garden is just the latest in a series of successful collaborations between Cao and BMW. Cao created the newest Art Car model for BMW, ingeniously eliminating the use of augmented reality when she incorporated it into her design of the 2017 BMW M6 GT3. She was also on the design competition jury Newly created BMW M4 GT4. Additionally, his first major solo exhibition in the UK was commissioned and presented by Rolls-Royce’s Muse art programme. (Rolls-Royce is a subsidiary of BMW Group.)
Cao’s psychedelic, freewheeling work trades canvases for screens and nostalgic reflections for fantastical utopian futures, in perfect harmony with BMW’s avant-garde creative vision.
“Last year, when BMW was thinking about the concept of Art Mode, they thought I might be a suitable artist for this project, because the future driving mode is very closely related to digitalization,” Cao said. ART news.
But, while Cao is used to working in the digital realm, quantum garden undoubtedly presented new challenges for the Beijing-based artist. First, the experience would be both mass-produced and mass-programmed into certain BMW models. Cao had to adapt his work to specific screen sizes and keep the practical limitations of Art Mode in mind at all times.
“I don’t want it distracting drivers. But to some extent, it’s a very difficult challenge for an artist, because you create art to catch people’s attention,” Cao says. “It’s not like an ordinary work of art – you have to consider functionality and safety features.”
To that end, a BMW spokesperson confirmed that the current iteration of Art Mode moves slower when the car is in motion, so as not to distract the driver. Cao’s design – Technicolor 3D streaks and shapes, undulating against a pitch-black background – is designed to be visible yet unobtrusive, whatever the time of day.
Art Mode joins other mood-oriented My Modes experienced in BMW’s new range of vehicles, which can change multiple in-cab settings (lighting, sound design, etc.) with a single click. quantum garden is displayed on the car’s main screen, images are enhanced with these multi-sensory settings. The abstract work evokes the glow of a restless skyline at night, though viewed from a quiet distance. The new 7 Series in particular, with its innovative light features in the cockpit, allows for an immersive room experience.
“I would describe the color effects as quite meditative,” Cao says. “It’s not meant to grab [people’s] attention, but to create an atmosphere of relaxation and reflection.
This design task weighed heavily on Cao when creating quantum garden. BMW first contacted her about the project last year, at a time when much of the world was still sheltered in place and limited in-person interactions. She began to think of the expressive potential of the automobile as a mobile space but of itself, a connecting agent in a time when many felt more distant than ever.
“I see this work as releasing a kind of quantum energy through [driving],” she says. “It’s a way to spread my vision of healing and connect people. You can see it in the art: different points connect, surround and interact in a big picture.”
Whether quantum garden may be a small part of the tentative steps towards this reconnection, Cao will feel like she has achieved what she set out to do when she took on the commission last year.
“I hope that no matter how far apart we are, people will come together to bring our lives back,” she said. “I would like this quantum garden to bloom.”
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