Monday, February 22, 2010

Just Ride It: Bicycles and Art

Exhibition Title: The Magnificent Seven - Abraham Cruzvillegas
CCA Wattis Institute 111th 8th Street San Francisco, CA 94107

Dates: November 15 - November 29, 2009

Lecture Title: Race and Alternative Show
Eighth Street San Francisco, CA

November 21, 2009

Discussing the forms of vehicles and investigating concepts of need and scarcity in relation to object making, Mexican artist Abraham Cruzvillegas led a group of graduate students from CCA to transform regular bicycles into objects of art. When does the functionality return to the art object? Does that have something to do with the endless discussion between highbrow and lowbrow art? It seems to be that today contemporary art — if we can still call it that — challenges the object by shifting it into its original function. The return to the utilitarian role and the use of alternative spaces confronts old debates by making art enjoyable outside the gallery space — yet inside of the art world — and non-limited to the public that both interacts and laughs with this “new” way of artistic production.

Bike Race, November 21, 2009 (taken by Mick Lorusso)

Abraham Cruzvillegas was the first participant in the Wattis Institute's The Magnificent Seven program and of last fall’s Capp Street Project artist in residence. The Mexican artist is best known for his sculptures that transform everyday objects, such as found scrap wood into elegant compositions. The artist plays the role of a scavenger, finding value in the discarded objects. The student artists who participated in the program were Fred Alvarado, Natalia Anciso, Angela Camille, Daniel Dallabrida, Rachel Dawson, Crystal De la Torre, Courtney Johnson, Vanessa Nava, Carlos Ramírez, and Allison Rowe. After 4 months of intense work, the results were configurations of scrap bike parts, but scrap that was presented within the rules of art distribution and consumption. At first, the exhibition of the products was in the main hall of CCA, but the real interaction happened when the “art objects” stopped being static and started to be functional. How? The public was able to touch, ride, and interact with the risk of damaging the works. The only broken aspect of this “exhibition” was actually the artistic social behavior, which could be described as: no touching, no screaming, no laughing, and no running. The performance was totally the opposite of a conventional art exhibition and more like a kindergarten park with hotdogs and riding games. The show on Eighth Street was based on the idea of a race, since the configurations of these artifacts were functional.

A sense of hypertrophy is created through the means of changing the parameters and sizes of bike parts that transform these objects into something else, that is, art objects. How then do regular objects become artworks? Is it only through the means in which those are created and distributed (i.e. art school, art show)? Or is it only through a sense of hypertrophy (this is an increase in volume or parts of an organ due to the enlargement of its components) that the useful value becomes an aesthetic one? Throughout art history, we find several times in which artists have turned to this strategy of production, but what happens if the breaking of social behaviors also occurred? I would say that exhibitions like this one challenge the way in which art must be understood, read, and enjoyed. Cruzvillegas’ idea of art has the sense of not needing the rules of art to be art, and that is what showed during the process and the race. Perhaps without intending to, visiting faculty and students put aside not only the academic rules but the art world rules as well. So how do we approach this kind of art? I say, just by riding it.

Bike Race, November 21, 2009 (taken by Mick Lorusso)

However, by the end of the race the objects returned to the gallery, and again the sense of hypertrophy became just an idea to be shown, not a real or functional one. What’s left? Just the reminiscence of a performance documented in diverse mediums (web, catalogues, photos, etc.) is what’s left in peoples’ memory. Is it art then or just an experience? Several artists base their works on the experience, people like Rainer Prohaska who Enter Beijing riding a three-wheel-cargo-bike; Pablo Helguera who travels from Alaska to the Patagonia with the idea of a mobile art school gathering and sharing experiences; or even Harrell Fletcher whose material of production is the people he works with and what results from this interaction. I believe art is still in the process of assimilating the “experience” as a way to produce sense and/or meaning. If accepted and repeated in time, would it then be called as a “new” art movement? In the meantime, artists continue their production, breaking the rules and making art more and more enjoyable, creating more than just experience, but a new meaning that is understood, not with the mind, but with the heart.

Fundación/Colección Jumex scholar

1 comment:

  1. I always like these kind of exhibitions. Bike culture in SF is very big. The birth of Critical Mass started here...

    I remember when I was hella young and a great club/art scene called KLUBSTITUTE held exhibitions,disco parties etc. all over the Mission and SOMA. There were annual events like trannies racing around the block in box cars.