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Art Show Reinvents the Bicycle Wheel

Gianofer Fields

Artists aim to create artwork that's both "beautiful and functional" from bicycle parts.

Since it was first invented in Europe in the early 1800s, the bicycle has been a progressive part of our culture.

It brought easy transportation to the masses - as it became inexpensive and easily acquired. Some credit it as helping inspire the suffragist cause as young women became more independent and mobile. And today it represents an answer to pollutant producing vehicles that dominate our roads.

But the bicycle is also art. So say artist Austin Ohm and architect Emily Scali. They recently curated a short-lived group show called "Art in Bike Out" at the Artin Gallery in Madison, with eight other local artists. The show examined the bike as more than an object of transportation.

The pair say they deconstruct the bicycle for its parts as objects - taking the bike off the street and re-imagined it as art. Ohm says their work wanted to take the bicycle beyond its function and recreate it as a vehicle for artistic expression.

"There is a beauty in the simplicity and functionality of the bike," he says. "There's a trend these days you see of a lot of clean, very stripped down bikes that some people might not consider that art. But I see those as art too, because it's eliminating all the extra frills and doodads and bells and whistles and getting down to what is that pure essence of the bike, and that's beautiful to me, too."

Ohm has seen other bike art shows, but he says they have interpreted the bike too literally. Instead, Scali says their show wanted to explore each individual part of the bike work together to create something "beautiful and functional."

Credit Gianofer Fields
Ohm's pickled bike parts

"It's really been an exploration of how do you take these things apart or group all of those things together," she says. "If you have eight different wheels, what different dynamic does that make that's different than just the bicycle? But you're actually expressing the different parts of the bicycle somehow."

Together their work created a "bicycle environment" - what Ohm described as a "bicycle's dream" or a "dreamscape of a bicycle." One of Scali's pieces features a wheel rim that utilizes strips of tape to create shadows and crisscrossing lines. One of Ohm's works includes pickled bike parts.

"I think something we really tried to do too was to exemplify our passion for the bicycle and how we felt about bicycling," Scali says. "Like that whole feeling you get from it, how do you actually take that feeling and express it in an object that's made of parts of the thing that you love? So it kind of comes full cycle."

Gianofer Fields studies material culture at UW-Madison and is the curator of "It's a Material World" - that project is funded by the Chipstone Foundation, a decorative arts foundation whose mission is preserving and interpreting their collection, as well as stimulating research and education in the decorative arts.