The Big White Out

OLAFUR ELIASSON freezes Berlin in near-tropical July with icy H2R car: a biomorphic sculpture that mixes metallic structure and frozen bodywork.

“Lack of charisma can be fatal” was spelled out in a contemporary font, in all silvery glittering capitals, on the inverted aerofoil of the car that once made its rounds in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1999, when American artist Jenny Holzer turned the white 12-cylinder high-tech monster into a mobile platform for her Truisms. The end of the 20th century, then, saw the end of a symbiosis of mutual admiration between engineering and the avant-garde. The century had begun with a declaration of love for such machinery from the technology- and speed-obsessed Futurists. Since then, there have been many artists who have fallen for racing cars, such as Francis Picabia, and many automobile companies have expressed an enthusiasm for art. Within this tradition, the history of BMW’s Art Cars is unique and, with the latest project from 39-year-old Danish artist Olafur Eliasson, has entered the 21st century with courageous and confident style. As beautiful as the painted M1, 320i, 635CSi, or 3.0 CSL by Calder, Lichtenstein, Warhol, or Rauschenberg were, these vehicles were also limited to equating the body of the car with a canvas. Yet it was in an outsized freezer that Eliasson presented an early version of his “Art Car” at his Berlin studio last July. With its spectacular mix of metallic structure and frozen bodywork, the biomorphic sculpture astounded every visitor who stumbled into the icy studio from the near-tropical warmth outside.

ELIASSON_002_ret

Eliasson’s cold shock is not the shock of modernism’s ice palaces. Cold and ice appear in his work as suggestions of vulnerability. On a warm and gentle July evening, one was asked to think of the threatened icy regions of the world – glaciers, polar caps, icebergs – now melting as a consequence of global warming. Cold and ice, then, no longer represent the concepts they once did for artists and philosophers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Instead, with Eliasson, icy landscapes have become utopian, impossible landscapes, disappearing and lost. To burden an automobile with such fragility is a post-ecological détournement, the complexity of which does not impair a pop-cultural interpretation of the object – the “Art Car” remains trapped in the logic of the event without necessarily being defined by it.

ELIASSON_005_retAmazed bohemian Berliners took photos in front of the object, the haptic and aesthetic exoticism of which steered clear of any and all of the usual banalities of automobile design. Eliasson himself removed the BMW logo from the middle of the alloy rim and only the bare essentials of the auto – four wheels and a chassis – remained recognizable. The car was skinned and given a mantle of wire and ice, but the automobile nevertheless seemed to dissolve in the frosty White Cube. Mountain climbers and polar explorers have a term for this moment when all perception of the world fades to white: “white out.”

All of Eliasson’s works are naturally ecologically oriented, so it’s no surprise that he has taken the experimental hydrogen-powered BMW H2R as the foundation for his “Art Car.” The only waste produced by the H2R is water, the very element that constitutes the car in Eliasson’s studio. While the legacy of Futurism left transportation policy as the last battleground for rebellion against historicity, what follows the aestheticization of racing is that of conservation and environmental awareness, and for this we have Eliasson to thank.

ELIASSON_015_ret

www.bmw-art-cars.de
www.olafureliasson.net

By ULF POSCHARDT, Photography by JENS ZIEHE

Related Content

  • Deeper

  • 032c Cosmic Workshop Collection

    032c Cosmic Workshop Belt

    €170
    Buy Now
  • 032c Cosmic Workshop Collection

    032c COSMIC WORKSHOP "Maria" Longsleeve Grey

    €90
    Buy Now
  • Life Exists: Theaster Gates’ Black Image Corporation

    Theaster Gates' “The Black Image Corporation” presents photographs from the holdings of Chicago’s Johnson Publishing Company, a sprawling archive that shaped “the aesthetic and cultural languages of contemporary African American identity.” Gates approached the project as a celebration and activation of the black image in Milan through photographs of women photographed by Moneta Sleet Jr. and Isaac Sutton – of black entrepreneurship and legacy-making. “Life exists” in the Johnson archive, he says, just as it exists and should be honored in other places of black creativity.More
  • FRIDA ESCOBEDO: The Era of the Starchitect is Over

    Rising Mexican architect Frida Escobedo is relentlessly inquisitive, eschewing stylistic constants in favour of an overriding preoccupation with shifting dynamics. Personal curiosity is the driving force behind her practice, which makes he an outlier in a profession dominated by extroverted personalities keen on making bold assertions. "I think it really is a generational shift," Escobedo says. "The idea of the starchitect making grand gestures with huge commissions is over."More
  • “I live a hope despite my knowing better”: James Baldwin in Conversation With Fritz J. Raddatz (1978)

    Born in Berlin in 1931, editor and writer Fritz J. Raddatz relied on food delivered by African American GIs after the death of his parents. To Baldwin he was an “anti-Nazi German who has the scars to prove it.” Debating his return to the USA after 25 years, Baldwin explores the political climate in America at the end of the 1970s in a conversation at home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence.More
  • House as Archive: James Baldwin’s Provençal Home

    For her new book, Magdalena J. Zaborowska visited the house Baldwin occupied from 1971 to 1987 “to expand his biography and explore the politics and poetics of blackness, queerness, and domesticity”. Here, she narrates her early journeys to Baldwin’s home and proposes a salve for its recent loss: a virtual presentation of Baldwin’s home and effects.More
  • Where are the real investments? Theaster Gates on James Baldwin

    The Chicago-based artist talks to Victoria Camblin about materializing the past, the house as museum, and preserving black legacies. Social and artistic engagement, Gates suggests, may allow the contents and spirit of Baldwin’s home, and others like it, to settle in lived experience.More