Quick question: What do massive bells, Italian marble and international travel have in common?
They are all key elements in the artistic practice of two BMW Art Journey recipients.
Back in December 2020, BMW and Art Basel teamed up for an enlightening art talk by the first recipient of the BMW Art Journey award – Samson Young – and the current winner, Leelee Chan. Moderated by Claire Hsu of Asia Art Archive, the two artists introduced their art journeys respectively, one completed and one still in progress. The audience was treated to tales of how Young traversed across the world tracking down bells of significance (Wanna know more? Get your free copy of his artbook “For Whom the Bell Tolls” here) before hearing about how Chan time-warped from immersing herself in the ancient art of Italian marble sculpture through to the futuristic use of mushrooms instead of plastics. Then, with careful prompting by Hsu and audience members, the pair shared some more insights into how “journey” as a concept has affected their art.
On the occasion, we chatted with Hedwig Solis Weinstein, Head of Brand Cooperations, Arts & Design at BMW about the art talk, a weird 2020 and what comes next in the art journey for Lee Chan and BMW:
1. What makes the BWM Art Journey award special?
Our inspiration was to create a unique art award: to offer an experience, to allow creativity to unfold—on the road, like a mobile studio.
Artists who travel are constantly processing ideas, discovering things, envisioning new work. Going on journeys is part of how they operate. We wanted to enable those journeys and hoped they would have a positive impact on the artistic careers of young artists.
The BMW Art Journey is a joint initiative with our long-term partner Art Basel. Artists featured in Art Basel Hong Kong are eligible for the award.* Three artists are invited to submit proposals and one of them is selected by our international jury of experts. The winner sets out to destinations of their own choice to conduct research, create new work and push their own boundaries.
If you think about it, creating art is about going somewhere you haven’t been before. It is a process of discovery – a journey in itself. Not to mention that you can have amazing journeys in our cars too (TheArtGorgeous: Hedwig smiles). For all these reasons, we thought the Art Journey is special and a pretty good match.
2. Can you tell us about the current BWM Art Journey winner?
Leelee Chan is a Hong Kong-based sculptor. Her BMW Art Journey, “Tokens from Time,” is about tracing materials from the past, present and future. She explores issues of sustainability including recent biotechnological advancements. For Leelee, materials – from marble to carbon fibre – represent key qualities, aspirations, and feelings of living in societies across different historical and cultural contexts.
Because of Covid-19, Leelee decided to revise her plans and start out in Europe. She finished the first chapter of her journey in November, after traveling in Italy, Switzerland, and Germany. Each country and region gave her access to different materials. For example, she went to a marble quarry where the same family have been mining the finest marble for generations. I think for Leelee, who reveres marble as an iconic sculptural material, this was like visiting heaven.
Leelee was the first BMW Art Journey artist to visit our BMW Headquarters in Munich to interact with our specialists and designers. It was such a pleasure to welcome her! (Please see below a film about her visit.)
3. 2020 has been a difficult year for travel, to say the least. How has the concept of “journey” been maintained or adapted in this year’s project?
It was challenging and, at the same time, it also opened up new possibilities. It started with an incredibly supportive jury and partner. When we learned that Art Basel Hong Kong had to be cancelled due to the outbreak and spread of Covid-19, we pivoted to a digital selection process. And we had a flexible winner – Leelee was willing to navigate these challenging times. I think artists are generally good at adapting to new constraints. We can all take inspiration from them.
Despite adapting her travel plans, Leelee managed to explore key destinations while respecting all health and travel regulations. We continue to monitor the situation and to adapt the journey as needed. And here’s where opportunities open up. We are seeing that a journey can take part in many different ways and formats. Digitalization, in particular, offers new possibilities.
4. How did the concept of bringing the first winner of this art prize – Samson Young – into conversation with the current winner come about?
We stay in touch with Art Journey artists and follow their continuing professional journeys. And a couple of nice coincidences came together here: Hong Kong Spotlight by Art Basel happening in Hong Kong; both artists being representatives of the local art scene; and one of our wonderful jurors, Claire Hsu, co-founder and executive director of the Asia Art Archive, is also based in Hong Kong, and was willing to host the conversation.
This was an opportunity to bring together two recipients of the Art Journey to share, compare and even laugh about their respective experiences. Samson is now part of the BMW Art Journey jury, which is wonderful for us. It’s interesting for him and Claire, one of our longest-serving jurors, to compare notes and see how the jury’s decisions played out.
5. What will be the next step in Leelee’s art journey?
Leelee is planning to go to Mexico, as soon as travel and health conditions permit, to study crystals in Maya culture and explore traditional and modern silversmithing techniques. We can’t wait to learn about her discoveries. Meanwhile, she will have time back home to take stock of the huge amount of research material she has gathered in Europe.
6. How will BMW keep the spirit of artistic discovery through journey alive in the upcoming year? Any adaptions or restrictions necessary?
Creativity never stands still. As noted, the BMW Art Journey can take many different forms—the whole idea is to explore the astonishing range of possibilities involved in making a journey. In fact, when we were planning the project, we had some pretty funny brainstorm sessions about what a journey can and cannot be.
This pandemic has shown us that the borders between our physical and virtual lives and selves has become more permeable. A powerful example can be found in the work of Lu Yang, the BMW Art Journey winner of 2019, for whom this boundary between real and virtual is a central element.
Lu Yang started his journey in early 2020, but the pandemic posed an obstacle. He decided to continue digitally. The latest body of work features Lu Yang’s digital avatar in situations that are entirely out of this world. And thanks to a new partnership with Acute Art, Lu Yang was able to create an augmented-reality art piece that extended his journey to a new digital dimension, not only enabling a leap in Lu Yang’s practice, but also connecting peers across the globe and sharing a participatory spirit.
This project along with a selection of works linked to the Art Journey was recently exhibited in the Online Viewing Rooms linked to Art Basel Miami Beach. I invite you to try Lu Yang’s AR art piece “Gigant DOKU.” All you need to do is download the Acute Art app via the QR code. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. As you will see, we’re still just scraping the surface of what is possible when you combine artists and journeys.
*The respective artists have to be emerging and mid-career artists from the Discoveries sector and artists represented by participating galleries founded no more than 10 years ago.
Text by Jamie Bennett