Ai Weiwei’s “Bicycles Forever”

Dissident artist's love affair with bike undimmed after detention.

4 Apr 2012  |  Posted by GARETH  |  Categories: Art & Design, Bicycles

Here on the Blog, we have examined more than once the different ways in which two wheels function as Muse in the creative process. Denoting a clear expression of Human Freedom from the moment of its invention, the bicycle is a deep mine of material and inspiration for artists of nearly every hue.

The Canons of Photography, Painting and Film have of course all been enriched to a degree by Artists’ use of the bike. We only need to think of Graham Watson, Frank Patterson or BMX Bandits to see this. But it is perhaps that most contemporary of Art forms, the Installation, which has seen its practitioners in recent times finding the most novel and interesting ways to engage Beholders by framing, ahem, frames and other bike parts in new contexts.

A case in point is the occasional nudist and vociferous critic of his native land’s civic policies, China’s Ai Weiwei. Released this year after sitting a three month jail sentence for alleged tax evasion, Weiwei is perhaps most commonly associated with a 2010 project for which he Installed around 12,000,000 porcelain “sunflower seeds” on the floor of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.

But Taiwan was the location earlier this year for another show which explored similar themes with similar methods yielding extremely unsimilar results. Forever Bicycle took 1200 identical frame and fork sets (each branded with the name “Forever”) plus close to 2000 wheels. Devoid of componentry, the frames were joined, with each seat tube the host of another frame’s head tube, or vice versa. The dropouts front and back all received the wheel of another of the bikes, allowing them to interconnect at all sorts of angles.

It’s a form with which he has experimented on a smaller scale in the past, creating circular, stacked walls of more completely assembled bikes. But visually the newer piece is less cluttered and more uniform than it could possibly be if it had incorporated saddles, seat posts, bars and cranks.

This wasn’t the only reason for their omission, of course. Weiwei is interested in the notions of Usefulness and Potential. In this new work, he shows us something recognizably a bike, but a bike which is at the same time nowhere near capable of carrying out its manifest destiny, as it were.

The end result is a piece that visitors could walk through and around, or absorb standing. A piece with a clearly finite quantity of composite elements, but which gave an almost infinite variety of visual perspectives upon which to meditate.

The irony that his home country China produces more than half of the world’s bicycles was probably not lost on many. And Weiwei’s treatment of the bike here, as we say, seems to have been to shackle it. At any rate, since the Installation’s dismantling it remains unclear whether the frames are to be built up and sold, or perhaps exhibited elsewhere later this year.

Weiwei was detained for three months last year by Chinese authorities while they investigated his tax affairs, and subsequently released without charge.

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2 Comments

  1. Bicycles Forever – Brooks « Tweed Wheelers 
    Posted 8:58 am
    8 Apr 2012

    [...] Ai Weiwei’s “Bicycles Forever” [...]

  2. John Dreiling 
    Posted 4:15 pm
    22 May 2012

    I much enjoyed this presentation from the Kingdom of Bicycles !