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Cao Fei, BMW Art Car #18 (detail, still). Augmented Reality | © BMW AG and Cao Fei Studio.
Cao Fei, BMW Art Car #18 (detail, still). Augmented Reality | © BMW AG and Cao Fei Studio.
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Cao Fei Is the First Chinese Artist to Create a BMW Art Car

Picture of Freire Barnes
Art & Design Editor
Updated: 6 June 2017

As the youngest artist to take on the acclaimed BMW Art Car project, Cao Fei has created a dynamic project made up of three components: a carbon black BMW M6 GT3 race car, a video featuring a time traveling spiritual practitioner and probably the most exciting aspect, augmented reality light particles that are accessible via the BMW Art Car app.

Cao Fei, BMW Art Car #18 (detail, still). Augmented Reality | © BMW AG and Cao Fei Studio.

Following in the footsteps of artistic greats like John Baldessari and David Hockney, Fei has employed the technology of the 21st century to reflect upon the changing economic and cultural landscape of China. She’s also engaged with the future of mobility through the use of augmented and virtual reality.

Cao Fei, BMW Art Car #18 (detail, still). Augmented Reality | © BMW AG and Cao Fei Studio.

Fei, who is based in Beijing, said of the work: ‘To me, light represents thoughts. As the speed of thoughts cannot be measured, the #18 Art Car questions the existence of the boundaries of the human mind. We are entering a new age, where the mind directly controls objects and where thoughts can be transferred, such as unmanned operations and artificial intelligence. Which attitudes and temperaments hold the key to opening the gateway to the new age?’

Cao Fei, BMW Art Car #18 (detail, still). Augmented Reality | © BMW AG and Cao Fei Studio.

As with her practice, Fei creates a parallel universe within the cinematic short film, Unmanned, that draws on Asian traditions, mainly spiritual practices within the terrain of China’s rapid development. The film follows a monk from the rural landscape into a metropolis where high-rise construction is rife and and parking lots are filled with identical cars.

BMW Art Car #18 by Cao Fei: Unmanned, film still | © BMW AG and Cao Fei Studio

Upon seeing the black BMW, the monk dons a VR headset and begins a ritual of blessing the car, a common ceremonial practice in Asia. The essence of wishing good luck both to car and driver is brought to life through the swishes of light, which can only be seen through the app.

BMW Art Car #18 by Cao Fei: Unmanned, film still | © BMW AG and Cao Fei Studio

Before the car hits the racetrack in Macao, it can be experienced during Art Basel at the UBS Forum. Here, you’ll be able to get a sense of the augmented reality aspects of the work that echo the ceremonial movements of the time-travelling protagonist in the film.

BMW Art Car #18 by Cao Fei: Unmanned, film still | © BMW AG and Cao Fei Studio