For the 100 Bikes Project: Part Two, New Zealand artist Scott Eady has sourced, salvaged, and beautifully restored discarded bicycles from in and around Gwangju. Child visitors to the Gwangju Biennale are invited to ride these bicycles inside and around the gallery space. Eady’s project carries the hallmarks of the archetypal biennale installation. It offers participatory and active modes of encounter, hints of environmentalism, and connects the local to the global, playing obliquely into a history of trade and political relations between New Zealand and Korea.
So far, so well meaning, so likeable. Yet behind the project’s promise of interactivity lurks an interrogative edge trained on the nature and function of contemporary sculpture in the gallery context. This is an artist whose practice has long been premised on the making of sculptural objects that unsettle the viewing experience through provocation, frustration, or rogue humour. These elements carry over into both iterations of this project, the first taking place at the Dowse Art Gallery in Wellington, New Zealand in 2011. Despite its own apparent claims to the contrary, the project sits awkwardly in relation to seemingly-like work that ushers real world activities into the gallery, a tactic rehashed endlessly in post-object and relational practices.
Eady’s combination of dump-salvaged bicycles, tricycles, and scooters occupy and take over exhibition space. Some lean against walls, others are haphazardly strewn across the floor. Eady clutters gallery spaces with what essentially remains sculptural form, presenting objects to be encountered rather than, or as well as, an invitation to participate. Audience participation is invited, but is not necessary to activate the meanings and potential of this project. These possibilities are firstly built into the making of these objects, which in conventional sculptural terms, is based around the transformation of material into new form. Call the bicycles found objects if you must, but what matters and ultimately determines the viewer’s engagement with the project is Eady’s workmanship and the labour-intensive process of making that transforms trash into sculptural object.
Eady’s emphasis on making and encounter brings a very sculptural element of risk to this project. The invitation to ride these bikes around the gallery is a provocation made through sculptural form, positing the medium not as something to bump into but as something to gleefully bump into other things with. Any participatory element really emerges from an activation of the sculptural possibilities borne from that very physical encounter between body and the sculptural object played out in real space and real time. This channelling of the sense of the danger and disorder carried by sculpture invites chaos and mess into the gallery experience under the guise of participation, where it can act unhindered by the raft of protective devices and barriers regularly used to force the separation of body from object.
Eady’s more overtly sculptural work explores these concerns from the other direction, through object-ness. The floor-based blob sculpture Ivan (2010) has a ‘kick me’ note stuck to its surface of skin-coloured enamel paint. This seemingly soft and gooey surface conceals a solid bronze core, a sculptural trap awaiting anyone willing or stupid enough to take up its invitation to participate. Twin catapults occupy either sides of the gallery in Ping and Pong (2010), inviting the audience to load and fire small rubber balls across the space. Participation is again invited but ultimately turned on itself in what quickly becomes a parody of gallery behaviour and encounter. All of those fraught relationships played out in the white cube are encompassed, between audiences sharing space, between audiences and art works, and that often highly combative relationship between objects brought together in an exhibition and somehow expected to be get on and behave. Seen through such work, The 100 Bikes Project starts to look more subversive and probing, despite or exactly because of its ability to function on more laudable terms as a participatory, community-focused project.
Eady has always and continues to make strong claims for an object-based sculptural practice, while or though undercutting some of its associations and forms. As a maker of objects that confound the nature and value of objects, it’s not surprising that Eady’s recent work has taken on a greater participatory dimension. Yet object-ness is never compromised. He works outwards from the object to claim that complex space shared with the audience that is now often considered the domain of installation. With the first iteration of this project Eady exploited the promise of interactivity and community participation to extend an object and studio-based sculptural practice. In this second iteration he rides these concerns further, straight into the readymade context of the international biennale.