Sociopolitcal art is in a sad state.  Especially from the realm of ceramics (the medium in which I most commonly work) I have endured far too many statements of generic discontent masquerading as statements of significant import.  Political imagery isn't necessarily a default form of activism - being political takes more than employing representations of political figures, symbols and words.  In fact, politically and socially themed art need not use such subject matter at all.  It is all the better when it is simply political activity carefully crafted and artistically presented. What important issues is art capable of dealing with today?  How can art be truly activist without being mere commentary?  The Bicycle Rehabilitation Project was created in direct response to these questions.  

Several times in the past I have contextualized my interest in bicycles as an artistic practice, however my fundamental desire to ride a bicycle is not so complicated.   Throughout my adult life I have refused to operate automobiles on the basis that they contribute more than their share to the addiction to fuel and energy consumption that threatens the world and our delicately balanced civilization.  Global climate change, conflict over dwindling resources, and outrageous levels of illness caused by physical inactivity are just a few of the most desperate concerns exacerbated by dependence upon automobiles for transport and recreation.  Because the effect of each individual automobile and each individual driver is so perceptible, the impact of not driving is one of the strongest that a person can make.

A great number of the bicycles in use today operate below their optimum capabilities. This can take many forms - a missing reflector, a rusty chain, weak braking power, or any number of other troubles - and the results can range from a ride that is merely inconvenient to one that is uncomfortable, impractical or downright dangerous.   More importantly, though, is the concession that this signifies on the behalf of too many cyclists:  that bicycling is merely a concern of functionality, a trivial afterthought of the necessity of travel unworthy of the virtues of care and maintenance.  I wish to convey the opposite:  that bicycling can be a powerful symbolic activity, capable of much more than simply moving from there to here, and that caring for and maintaining each single bicycle amounts to caring for the environment and interpersonal relationships.

To that end, I wish to instill in my viewers/participants a consciousness of and an appreciation for the meaning of bicycling - that meaning being that one does not have to drive .  Ultimately, my goal is to encourage more cycling - and therefore less driving - by dealing with the individual technical problems that might inhibit it on a bike by bike basis.

The crucial conceptual components of this project are the relationships being built through the activity of repairing bicycles.  These are numerous: I will be providing the service for free, and people will be free to use it or not; the project will create a forum on the issues represented by automobiles and mass-consumption; the sticker with which I will "sign" the repaired bicycles is a physical relationship between myself and the participant, representing a shared opinion on the issues; a network of relationships will be formed not only between myself and the viewers, but also among viewers who meet in the gallery or viewers who identify each other through the sticker/signature.

In my composition of The Bicycle Rehabilitation Project I have relied on the theory of writer Nicolas Bourriaud who identifies the artistic medium not as material or activity, but as one and the same with the medium of interpersonal relations.  Relational Aesthetics , as he calls it, is central to art practice throughout history, but he notes that it is only in the works of contemporary artists such as Alfredo Jaar and Rirkrit Tiravanija where it has become self-consciously examined and utilized.  This movement collapses the traditional dichotomy between life and art as well as the differentiations between artist, philosopher and activist.  The result is a new characterization embodying all three: the cultural worker, as described by Felix Gonzalez-Torres.

Bicycling is not a magical cure-all for the energy and pollution problems that plague our society.  It is still dependent upon the questionable practice of mass-production, and bicycles themselves are subject to the conflicts delineated by the quest for commodity, wealth and status.  Despite its imperfection, it is, at the very least, a workable compromise - a negotiable middle road between the impossibility of navigating today's car-oriented landscape on foot and the intolerable option of burning gasoline just to get to the grocery store.  But this project is less about the impossible idea of utopia than it is about the possibility of making a dystopic reality just a little bit better.  As Bourriaud writes "It seems more pressing to invent possible relations with our neighbours in the present than to bet on happier tomorrows."  The title of the exhibition - The Bicycle Rehabilitation Project - speaks not only of the practice of repairing bicycles, but also of the restorative and relational powers that bicycles provide for participants in the project.