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Operation Bike Bloc: Designing the Resistance Machine!

The designing and building of the Bike Bloc prototypes in Bristol and what's in store for Copenhagen.

Written by Grace Beaumont

page -2″ src=”” alt=”Shaun-McDowell–Untitled, this web -2″ />Untitled 2 by Shaun Mc Dowell

To examine artists on display in regards to their own sense of what is intangible; what is the unbeknownst? Cecily Brown (one of the five artists displaying), once elucidated of her method; ‘Often, I find it really hard to see what I’m doing when I’m in the thick of things (painting).’ This seemed a resonant befall to take into the exhibition, and one that permeated throughout; the artist’s blindness filtering down to the viewers’ perception.

steve-white-installation-shAll photographs by Stephen White, courtesy of Parasol unit

On entering the chic industrial space of the Parasol Unit, the viewer is introduced to Katy Moran’s installations of small, yet expressively fueled paintings. Ambiguous and ethereal spaces, you are inserted into a void of instability. She is emphatically a cannon for the abstract. Sometimes unsettling, occasionally frustrating (primarily by the evasive titles), but most of all, her paintings are enchanting. Staring into a framed space of colour and shape, for example Daniel, the warped style within the pieces allude to envisions of nothingness that are quite remarkable.

steve white installation shots 054

Shaun McDowell, renowned for his part in the Peckham art squats, uses colour and technique in a vast and expansive means. Glaringly bright and expansively detailed, what initially looks like a lot of fun swiftly augments to a somewhat dark and unnerving visage. Strolling slowly past his paintings, I became ever more hypnotised as the images took on a pseudo stereogram quality. In seeing what wasn’t there, McDowell emulates invisibility by somehow tricking his viewer into complacence, before revealing his true mien.

steve white installation shots 030

Spotted throughout the gallery, Hans Josephsohn’s sculptures have a weird (for want of a better word) presence. Remindful of Easter Island Moai, the veteran sculptor’s cast brass creations have a transcendent quality. Although clearly based upon the human form, they seem to capture their own timeless space with an omnipresent earthliness.

Cecily Brown and Maaike Schoorel probably make for the biggest contrast within the exhibition. Feasibly the crux of the collective display, Brown’s paintings are entirely mesmerising. Sensual and figurative, each image draws the viewer in. A lieu of strokes, the paintings seem to shift with every glance, yielding an ever more desire to look. Saturated with existentialist sensibilities, her works exude human instinct. Counter to this, Maaike Schoorel seems to take a much more apathetic stance. Her bleached canvases denote a controlled and methodical temperament. Her works certainly evoke the invisible, and after forcefully adjusting to her palate, figures and landscapes subtlety emerge.

Katy-Moran,-Salters-Ridge,-Salters Ridge by Katy Moran

Visible Invisible invites the viewer into an uncomfortable world where a desired truth is obsolete. Each artist takes their own stance on how to barrage their audience with a distinctive underlay. Irritating the senses, the exhibition leaves you wanting for something that evades, and, insofar, wanting more.

Visible Invisible: Against the Security of the Real is at the Parasol unit, Foundation for Contemporary Art, 14 Wharf Road, London, N1 7RW from 25.11.09 – 07.02.10. Gallery opens Tuesday to Saturday 10 am to 6 pm. Sunday is 12 to 5 pm. First Thursday of every month, open until 9 pm. Admission if free. Please note that from 6pm on Friday 18 December 2009 until Tuesday 5 January 2010 Parasol unit will be closed for the holidays.

Last week at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol Climate Camp and the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination joined forces to become Operation Bike Bloc, prescription which will launch the Resistance Machine in Copenhagen on the 16th of December. First however the prototype had to be designed and built. So what on earth materialised when a bunch of volunteers and activists were let loose with a pile of old bikes and welding equipment? I called up JJ, one of the projects facilitators, to find out…

So how did the designing and building of the prototypes go in Bristol last week?

It was brilliant, the idea of the week in Bristol was about creating a collective culture, a lot of social engineering, a lot of the work was getting these people that had never really worked in this formation to build a lot of trust, and work fast and efficiently together, and something that is importantly fun. It was really successful. We then started to set out the design process, through working collectively together we’d already formed a merge of intelligence because the 2 groups that went off to do designs came up with exactly the same 2 ideas, that was really beautiful, it showed that we were really on the same page. There was a wall in the gallery with maybe 100 different designs, so we were looking at those and discussing. Then basically we had this big shipping container outside with this big poster on the side of it. People just welded, learnt to weld, there was a lot of skill sharing.


What kind of ideas did every one come up with?

Well there are 3 prototypes; the first is ‘The Swarm’, which involves many bikes attached together so that anyone can become a part of the bike bloc. The ideas based on bees swarming, with many bodies communicating together. Then there is ‘Double Double Trouble’ that is 2 tall bikes, basically if you imagine 2 bike frames welded together, it’s got 2 wheels with the bike frames welded on top of each other to make a tall bike about 9/20 ft tall, with a chariot in the middle of those 2 to ride through the streets. That’ll be used for carrying people, things, lots of different uses, for getting up high and so on.The 3rd thing, prototype, ‘The Machine’, won’t actually be released, it’s a secret! That’ll actually be released on the 16th, the day of action in Copenhagen.


Didn’t you stay on a boat while you were in Bristol?

We stayed on the boat every night, which was fantastic, we all worked collectively, cooking and cleaning together, for us one of the most important things is creating rebel friendships and really enabling people to trust each other and work together well. That is really important, building friendships and relationships really.

The project involves Climate Camp and the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination collaborating. How do these 2 work together?

Well the Lab is a collection of volunteers and activists that sets this project going and then we collaborated with Climate Camp,  for us it’s a bit like we’re trying to create this spark, with various bits of wood and if that catches then that’s  a project that happens. We’d try and keep the spark going till lots of other bits of wood and materials come in and it catches and the fire starts. It’s about losing control in the sense of starting off an idea and making it open. That’s a key part of what we do. Everyone owns it, which is very different from other ways artists work, quite the opposite.


And finally how to you think things will pan-out in Copenhagen at Candy Factory? What are your hopes?

We like to create an idea that has its own sort of mythology or power behind it, I think that is beginning to happen already, it seems to have captured peoples imagination, it really is about designing new forms of civil disobedience and making it fun and adventurous, effective and  beautiful, that seems to be happening, we’ve already got about 150 bikes waiting for us in Copenhagen when we get there. We’re going to be based in the Candy Factory, in like a legalized squat. How is it going to go? Well I don’t want to make any predictions, I think it’s unexpected. Our dream is that on the 16th, the day of civil disobedience, the reclaim power day when the Climate Justice Action group which is the wider network we’re working within, the idea is to go and non violently push through… and not escalate to violence but get as near to the UN conference as possible and then to create a peoples summit for climate justice. I think what could happen and I think this would be a historically important moment if it did is that while we do that delegates from the inside would walk out and join to create a new space. It could be amazing. We’re hoping that the bike bloc would enable that to happen as we’re going to be this mobile swarm that’s constantly moving around, like a cavalry from one place to another, engaging and moving off. So hopefully we’ll be able to enable that to happen and also maybe to get people who haven’t done activism or who might feel like it feels safer to be on a bicycle. And also there’s nothing more fun, it’s like being kids, all in your bike gang and that’s what the project is, the title is put the fun between your legs and that’s super important for us that people just love doing it.

Photography by Amy Scaife

More coming soon on the COP15 summit and the unveiling of ‘The Machine’!

A cool video incase you missed it first time around…


The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination
Climate Camp
Climate Justice Action


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