Solar Designer Marjan van Aubel Charges Up at Miami Art Week

The eco-minded Dutch designer teamed up with Lexus for a collaboration on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art's sculpture garden.

Marjan van Aubel's illusory solar-powered vehicular installation "8 Minutes and 20 Seconds." Courtesy of Lexus.

The award-winning Dutch solar energy designer Marjan van Aubel specializes in combining sustainability with a chic and timeless aesthetic. Her award-winning work, which has an organic vibe and never looks like gizmos, culls ideas from all around her, including from elements as subtle as variations of light.

“It’s weird, but I allow myself to get distracted,” she said of her process. “Like, okay, I’m actually looking way too long at this shadow. But maybe there’s actually something there? Because inspiration always comes from things you never expected. I see that as a kind of journey, and I have to be open all the time.”

The solar designer Marjan van Aubel. Photo: Steve Benisty.

The solar designer Marjan van Aubel. Photo: Steve Benisty.

Van Aubel was speaking over video call last week from the Institute of Contemporary Art’s sculpture garden in Miami where she was busy finalizing the install of her art-meets-design hybrid project, a riff off of a luxury car, the LF-ZC Lexus Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) to be exact.

The collaboration debuts this week and will remain on view for the duration of Miami Art & Design Week. Called 8 Minutes and 20 Seconds, Van Aubel’s work derives its title from the time it takes light from the sun to reach the earth.

Van Aubel teamed up with the Amsterdam- and Paris-based Random Studios for the project. The optimistic, solar-powered sculpture is a celebration of the sun and eco-conscious automobiles. Plus, it’s interactive. “It’s like the sculpture becomes alive when you’re near it,” van Aubel noted. “It responds to you. I’m always talking about making ‘living objects’ that power themselves. It feels like the sculpture has a voice.”

Van Aubel mid-process designing 8 Minutes and 20 Seconds. Photo: Steve Benisty.

Van Aubel mid-process designing 8 Minutes and 20 Seconds. Photo: Steve Benisty.

8 Minutes and 20 Seconds aligns with the ICA’s own ecological mission. “Environmental sustainability is a priority for ICA Miami,” said Alex Gartenfeld, the museum’s Irma and Norman Braman Artistic Director in a statement. “Marjan van Aubel’s powerful work with Lexus represents significant advances in innovative sustainable design.”

The work is constructed from eleven thin sheets of organic photovoltaic (OPV) solar cells, depending on the viewer’s angle, a 3D image of a phantom Lexus will appear. “The installation constantly changes from different angles,” van Aubel said. “It gives the idea of motion that the car is moving around.”

The sun has been van Aubel’s primary motivator since childhood. “I’ve always been obsessed with the idea that sunlight hits something and is activating it,” she said. “You can’t see it, and it’s happening. It’s physics.”

A night view of <i>8 Minutes and 20 Seconds</i>. Courtesy of Lexus.

A night view of 8 Minutes and 20 Seconds. Courtesy of Lexus.

She’s made it part of her mission to prove that solar power can as aesthetically pleasing as it is environmentally beneficial. 8 Minutes and 20 Seconds could itself sway some solar holdouts. “There’s still the notion of solar power as these ugly panels on roofs,” van Aubel said. “There’s more innovation in Europe. I don’t think like the notion that solar can be beautiful is common here yet.”

She continued, “I think in the future we will consider something as being broken if it doesn’t generate its own energy. Design is such a powerful tool to change things.”

8 Minutes and 20 Seconds is on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, sculpture garden during Miami Art & Design Week 2023.


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