Artist Fabian Oefner takes things apart—like an Audi R8 V10—to see what we put together in response.
Art, it’s safe to say, is defined by how it moves you. How you respond to a photograph, a sculpture, a model is what gives creativity its meaning. For Swiss artist Fabian Oefner, it’s that response—or those multiple possible responses—that drives his approach. And at least some of his work is not about just what drives us to respond but what we drive.
In his latest work, “Disintegrating — Audi R8,” Oefner helped take apart and capture the detailed parts of what he describes as “an exploding” 10-year-old Audi R8 V10. For him, the piece captures what he calls “a moment in time that doesn’t exist” when the fabric of what we see and understand is torn apart.
“It’s a way that we question our reality,” he said over lunch, explaining his approach to the piece. It shows the R8 in a state of what looks to be spontaneous deconstruction, with its gears, engine, drivetrain and wiring coming apart all at once. He wants viewers to draw their own conclusions about what it means to them, but Oefner sees two possible personalities who will examine the work: the kind of car lover who will pour over the parts, the mechanical essence of the vehicle and admire its design and the engineering that these parts represent. The other, he said, would feel the emotional impact while processing the work intellectually, seeing something familiar in a completely different way.
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“You hate taking apart such a great car,” he said with a knowing smile.
As a car lover, Oefner felt that the series of his work that includes the R8 resonated with fellow fans.
“People have a connection to cars. They gravitate to them,” he said. “And when they see them in this way, they’ll respond, which helps me in my relationship to the art.”
While not all of his work is car-centric, Oefner's desire to be a car designer when he was younger drove him to study product design, which informed his meticulous, ingenious approach to art. For instance, in taking apart the decommissioned R8 with Audi technicians in Richmond, Va., he captured each individual piece via a photographic process that encompassed a week, with thousands of shots to capture and catalog each component before he reassembled it for the composition.
He also wanted to note that while it was a little emotional to take apart a vehicle like the R8, the executives at Audi Germany assured Oefner that the vehicle was decommissioned, having been used as a show car and unsuitable for driving anymore.
While his work with Audi shows a kind of obsessive attention to detail, it contrasts nicely with another series that Oefner calls “Explosion.” It takes familiar, often placid, works of art and appears to blow them apart, the canvas shredded and the effect violent. Where “Disintegrating” looks a little like an engineering project with the viewer able to see how the pieces fit together and how they might be put back together, “Explosion” feels more visceral and immediate. The painting he portrayed will never be the same.
“People have a connection to cars. They gravitate to them.”
The difference in perspective is part of the intellectual approach Oefner uses in all of his series of work. In the end, it’s part of his point of view as an artist.
“I think I’m into taking the approach of creative destruction,” he said.
Walking around his studio in Danbury, Conn., and seeing new projects in various states of readiness—things that he will smash with hammers, models taken apart, a camera finely sawed into thin strips—I saw the beauty in his approach. Some things need to be destroyed in order to be appreciated and to better understand why it moves you in the first place.