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Es Devlin’s Art Basel installation explores sustainable energy and movement.

In June 2024, London-based multi disciplinary artist, world-famous set designer and Design Indaba alum Es Devlin unveiled a series of multimedia works at Art Basel. Commissioned by BMW, it marks 20 years of its involvement in the art fair and the innovative hydrogen fuel technology of the BMW iX5 Hydrogen.


In Hall 1.1 of the fair, Devlin created a booth displaying four works: ‘Surfacing’ (2024), ‘Surfacing II’ (2024), ‘Mask’ (2018)and ‘Mask in Motion’ (2018). Surfacing (2024), an illuminated cube of rain penetrated by a line of light, and Surfacing II (2024), a pair of painted televisions in which a dancing figure appears to displace pixels and pigment, are flanked by Mask (2018), a projection-mapped model city fusing hands and river, and Mask in Motion (2018), a revolving illuminated translucent printed city which meshes viewers within its kinetic shadow.


Each work continues Devlin's 30-year exploration of the entangled dance between humans and technology. The booth surprises visitors each hour as Surfacing's box of rain, like a magician's apparatus, conjures a seven-minute dance work by renowned Paris-based choreographer Sharon Eyal with music composed by London-based duo Polyphonia.


Devlin says: ‘I learned from the BMW engineers the beautiful symmetry of the system at work within the hydrogen fuel cell: the energy that is used to separate hydrogen atoms from oxygen is recreated when the oxygen is reunited with hydrogen within the car. The by-product is not only the energy which propels the vehicle, but water.’


Devlin spent the past year engaging with engineers at BMW, learning the mechanics behind the hydrogen fuel cell technology and its implications for the future of sustainable energy systems. As an opening chapter to the works on show, she also created a soundscape drawn from her conversations with the engineers and underscored by composers Polyphonia which was played to guests driving in the pilot fleet of BMW iX5 Hydrogen vehicles.


Devlin also decorated the car itself, wrapping the exterior in a painted blue and white collage of paintings and text made in response to the prints and literature which populated her wall and bookshelves as a teenager. Painted features echoing the 1831 woodcut ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’ by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai are superimposed over handwritten extracts from literature’s longest sentence about water drawn from James Joyce’s seminal novel Ulysses.





Art of speed


Under pressure


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