First, Audi. The Vorsprung Durch Technik tag-line is probably as much German as most of us know, and it suggests a certain Teutonic level of progressive thought that is not always present in the cars. Still, their adverts are usually great, and at the opening of the new Audi City ‘digital showroom’ on London’s Piccadilly earlier this week, things got seriously futuristic. Gone are the days of lukewarm coffee in plastic cups and slippery salesmen in cheap suits. Now, Audi would like you to order and ‘configure’ your new A1 on giant iPad-style screens, a process that makes Steven Spielberg’s 2001 techno-noir Minority Report look like an episode of Coronation Street.
In front of an audience that included the likes of Clive Owen, Thandie Newton and Rupert Penry-Jones, Audi boss Rupert Stadler told us that this new retail frontier was all about sustainability, squaring up to the challenges of a future in which millions of us will be trying to get about in the vast mega-cities we’ll be living in. Righto.
This was the cue for brilliant British film-maker and artist Chris Cunningham to fire up the remarkable installation he’d set up by the blacked-out window of the show-roo… sorry, digital retail space. Cunningham is probably best-known for his work with Aphex Twin and the still-stunning video for the Bjork song ‘All Is Full Of Love’, in which two robots – how can I put this – inter-twine in an erotic fashion. He was also approached by the late Stanley Kubrick – a true titan of cinema – to create the androids for AI. Cunningham’s video installation Flex moved him closer to the art world, though he remains closely affiliated to Warp Records, home to relentlessly minimalist electronica.
All in all, then, a brave choice by Audi. Especially as many of Cunningham’s signature notes and preoccupations are present. The nine-minute installation begins with a robot hissing and cranking into life, before commencing a choreographed dalliance with another robot, initially serenading each other with lasers to a crunching electronic soundtrack amid dry ice before getting a bit more brutal. Turns out they’re squabbling over an Audi TFSi engine, and though it fails it to do anything dramatic – or even turn on – there’s still lots to admire and no doubt a subtext about ‘machines having feelings too’ to deconstruct. When we spoke to Cunningham afterwards, he admitted that it hadn’t actually gone according to plan. Machines, eh? Still, we liked it, and we applaud Audi’s ambition.
Over in London’s Shoreditch, meanwhile, BMW’s famous art cars have taken over an entire NCP car park. You can check out the gallery of images here, but this is a mega rare opportunity to see the entire art car collection in one space in the UK. Kick-started in 1975 by French auctioneer and racing fan Herve Poulain, 17 BMWs have become mobile, kinetic canvases over the years for the likes of Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Jenny Holzer, and most recently Jeff Koons, whose vibrant and mischievous take on BMW’s 2010 M3 GT2 Le Mans car is worth extra close inspection. Those might look like go-faster stripes, but they’re go-faster stripes with a typically Koonsian twist.