The car, the art fair, the smartphone interface: BMW Open Work – A conversation between Attilia Fattori Franchini and David Goldenberg on Olivia Erlanger's 'Body Electric', a commission for the new multi-platform of BMW and Frieze

  • 13.10.2017

David Goldenberg: Please, tell me how it all began.

Attilia Fattori Franchini: The starting point of BMW Open Work was to enable artists to create something unique by having access to the great expertise and technological advancement that BMW can offer. The programme invites artists to work with BMW design and engineering team to develop a project displayed across different platforms and launched during Frieze London.

I had been in conversation with Frieze and BMW about a new commissioning programme to be launched during Frieze London for a while, when in March 2017 my appointment as curator and initiator of the programme became official. It’s been extremely exciting to initiate such a cross over, shaping its structure and process, looking at various ways to engage and support the youngest generation of artists.

DG: Who selected the artist and concept to embody the first project for the BMW Open Work series and how much room did you have in the project’s realisation? Or did you have to work towards a brief?

AFF: I invited three artists to submit a proposal in response to the idea of the programme, following a conversation with BMW's engineering team. We chose one proposal to be realised. We are at the beginning of this exciting programme and the selection format might vary next year, nevertheless the idea is a dialogue and exchange with artists.

When conceiving the programme, I was thinking a lot about Italian radical design from the 60's and 70’s, and how some of the best outputs came through a strong dialogue and experimentation between radical thinkers and industry.

DG: So that is where the idea of the multi-platform comes from? Or is it more a format combining both physical space and digital space, particularly as Seth Prices once called a ‘networked practice’?

AFF: Seth Price has talked about this idea of networked art and dispersed platforms in his pivotal text Dispersion (2002), but it is not something we were looking at within this project. Post-objectual practices are a common approach to art making and offer interesting ways of engagement. The internet offers another layer to the way an artwork, project or idea can be presented, horizontally and democratically and within this project, premiering at an art fair was interesting to bring the project out of its initial premises.

DG: The policy also seems to me to fall between two other possibilities; the current conservative aspiration to reinvent existing art institutions and the extension of the boundaries of known formats.

AFF: Yes, but the most important is to offer artists ways to experiment without concerning about that kind of parameters.

DG: Please, tell me how the work of Olivia Erlanger opened up within this context.

[Here a copypasted fragment of a conversation Attilia Fattori Franchini and Olivia Erlanger had during the process, published originally in the catalogue of Frieze art fair:]

AFF: Hi! Thanks for texting before you fly. So what appealed about the Open Work invitation? OE: I was excited about the opportunity to disperse narratives across different platforms and mediums. AFF: :) Your project that premieres in October ‘Body Electric’ considers the changing relationship that humans have to the environment. How do you see this change?

OE: We have already begun a mutative synthesis with machines. Our embodied experience of the ‘natural’ is increasingly mediated and distorted by objects of our own design.

AFF: How does it expand upon your current and previous artistic research?

OE: Ecology. Commodity. Mobility. Value. Architecture. Privacy. Control. I think these are the points of interest that remain constant in my work. Also Precarity.

AFF: and constant mobility? (forced or chosen) OE: Yes. Mobility as a state of being. (...)

DG: What brings together the original concept of the BMW Open Work and Erlanger’s work? Given the fact that the work comes across as a series of tightly controlled film settings as opposed to being open ended, how are we to understand the historical mutation, adoption and reworking of the concept for this new context?

AFF: Umberto Eco’s writing from 1962 called Opera Aperta theorizes the work of art as ‘open’, completed by public or chance. This idea of openness is not suggesting, a work that is not finished by its author but reinvented at each iteration, as if playing a musical score. The idea of the commissioning programme as extended to various platform but also wanting to support artists in their research extending the singularity of the art object, embodies Eco’s vision. The commission somehow begins with the project presentation but continues afterward. Open Work aims to support artist towards researching and developing ambitious ideas that could take variable formats whilst offering BMW expertise and knowledge. Olivia Erlanger’s current research is intersecting the programme’s aims: she is working on a book Hate Suburbia, due to be published with MIT in the fall of 2018 along with a film documentary thinking about the garage as a creative site - Steve Jobs and Apple come to mind or Kevin Spacey renewed identity in American Beauty - but also looking at the relationship between industry and architecture.

DG: What does this syntax of art theory, the open work, BMW and Frieze say?

AFF: You should tell me. In general I think that given the current instability of the field artists need new ways of support, which are increasingly more hybrid than patronage seen in a classical way.

BMW Open Work supports artists in the creation of a project, yes presented at a fair, but completely owed by the artist, wishing to support mainly the expansion of their current research and artistic development.

DG: The art fair itself seems to be the only reason to situate the work as a research partnership between BMW’s team of engineers and young artists at Frieze.

AFF: Frieze stands out as an extremely critical environment for the presentation of art, with a long history of non-commercial projects within the fair and elsewhere. BMW Open Work joins the amazing commissions presented by Frieze Projects. It is an environment where the work and practice can get high visibility from curators, museum directors and can originate new possibilities.

DG: I said that because, as far as I can tell, there seemed to be a remarkable continuity between the look of the work and the design of the overall Frieze art fair CI, with its use of design and colour to structure the space and group bodies of work together.

AFF: It’s funny, but that is something that happened by chance and we realised the continuity only after we opened the project. The connection was absolutely not intentional; nevertheless sometimes we all walk silently in the same directions. I call it, thinking of Jung, the collective subconscious of the art world.