This Is Why Rolls-Royce Is Investing In The Arts

This Is Why Rolls-Royce Is Investing In The Arts

Themes of lineage, memory, longing, race, identity form the basis of the latest artwork created under the patronage of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. American artist Sondra Perry’s “Lineage for a Phantom Zone” uses the concept of dreams as a space for reconfiguring history. Her immersive and powerful audio-visual installation reconstructs an imaginary dream about her grandmother. This is a highly personal story told through the lens of imaginings as a way of discussing critical notions surrounding the erasure of Black history in the American South. The artist has imagined the dream space as a passage to reach sites of heritage absent in reality.

Perry’s work was created as part of Rolls-Royce’s Muse, the philanthropic program designed to foster arts and ideas. Chosen by a jury of leading art world figures over the course of the year, it is also the winner of the inaugural Dream Commission for moving-image art.

This is a powerful artwork with disorientating and sensory elements. In developing her work, Perry took her family on a pilgrimage to North Carolina to find the land where her grandmother was raised and worked as a sharecropper, before she was forced to leave at thirteen due to escalating racism in the area.

Perry described the inspiration as originating from “a dream that I wish I’d had, a dream about my grandmother and the land that she grew up on,” says the artist. “I’d had this thought that it would have been a perfect narrative to dream a dream around her growing up, but I have never had a dream about her growing up. Actually, every time I have had a dream about my grandmother, she was never in it. It was someone else who I didn’t know. So, I wanted to place her in the space of imagination. And that’s how it began.”

Highly intrigued, I caught up with Jessica Persson-Conway, head of Rolls-Royce art program, to see how and why the maker of grand luxurious motor cars is involved in art philanthropy and in such provocative and relevant work.

Nargess Banks: The artists shortlisted for the Dream Commission were a strong group. What made the jury choose Sondra Perry as the overall winner?

Jessica Persson-Conway: It was a difficult decision, as the level of creativity demonstrated by the shortlisted artists was exceptional. [Yet], the jury made the unanimous decision to choose Sondra based on her outstanding artwork proposal, which they felt epitomized the core values of the initiative. They were drawn to the brilliant way that she delves deeply into personal experiences, whilst presenting them within a universal context. Her work is at once moving, challenging and exciting.

How do you see the accompanying commissioned book expanding on this project? 

The artist’s book brings together a series of essays by Black writers and designers. It will be available for visitors to the exhibition — with the ambition that it will enable them to engage with the research that informs the artwork. Beyond the exhibition, the book will act as an important resource for anyone interested in Sondra’s practice and the subject matter that her artwork explores — providing a platform for not only Sondra but also other Black voices in the industry.

Muse and Dream Commission tap into the world of contemporary art in new and exciting ways. And your choice of artists appears to be getting more and more relevant — in line with today’s discussions on race, representation and the wider role of art in society. What are you looking for when choosing the artists?

The primary criteria for the Dream Commission are that artists must be emerging and they must create work in the field of moving image. They must have the ability to conjure alternative sensory universes and journey into the subconscious. Moving image is an important frontier of innovation in contemporary art. In this same vein the jury is tasked with selecting artists who are pushing technical and conceptual boundaries in their practice. Innovation is at the core of the Dream Commission’s values, therefore the artists we work with are often exploring some of the most relevant and urgent subjects in our society today.

How important is it for a brand at the pinnacle of luxury to be involved with the arts?

In my view, it is essential. The arts are a source of inspiration and we have a duty to support future generations of art and design talent. Muse connects patrons of Rolls-Royce and the public with the world of contemporary art and design through the Dream Commission and Spirit of Ecstasy Challenge initiatives, igniting a dialogue with some of the most exciting creative visionaries of our time. Our ambition is that the art program will inspire people and provide insight into creative individual’s ways of seeing and thinking.

It has the added benefit of helping these emerging artists in developing their careers.

Yes, I also believe there is a philanthropic element to Muse, by way of supporting the arts and artists at this critical time. Our two commissioning initiatives are providing opportunities for artists and designers early in their careers, creating an important platform to show their work. Naturally, the relationships formed through Muse are beneficial to our clients too, many of whom are established art collectors with a keen interest in the advancement of contemporary art.

What do you see as the possibilities with the Dream Commissions? 

It enables the creation of exciting new artworks, which otherwise may not have come to fruition. The aim is to promote creativity and creation in the field of moving image and support the careers of artists working in this medium. It also provides a fantastic opportunity for our craftspeople at Rolls-Royce to connect with artists, gaining an insight into their creative worlds. We have a robust process for selecting artists via an esteemed group of nominators and leading jurors to make the final selection and we give artists complete creative freedom once they have been selected. Although we follow the journey with the artist closely, the final work they produce is up to them.

Lineage for a Phantom Zone” is currently on public view (until 13 March 2022) at Fondation Beyeler, Switzerland, after which it will exhibit at the Serpentine Galleries in London, with dates to be announced at a later stage.

See some other inventive car/design/art collaborations: BMW and Jeff Koons and with Spanish artist Almudena RomeroAres and sculptor Hubert Phipps, Lexus and the Royal College of Art and Polestar’s global design contest.