A Show about Bi­kers

Art Press - - MOTOPOETICS -


The mo­tor­cycle rider is a pa­ra­doxi­cal fi­gure. He’s re­pu­ted to be a lone wolf, but he’s al­so a mem­ber of a tight­ly knit com­mu­ni­ty, al­most a congre­ga­tion. You’re a bi­ker. Are all the ar­tists in this show?

On­ly some. But they all have their own “vi­sion” of the mo­tor­cycle and can use a va­rie­ty of ar­tis­tic me­dia to speak to the sen­sa­tions a mo­tor­cycle pro­duces, the at­ti­tudes, a rider’s re­la­tion­ship to his bike and to others, gen­der is­sues, vio­lence and pure and ideal beau­ty. Or de­si­gn and me­cha­nics, like Alain Bu­blex. In this sense, each art­work conveys a sense of so­li­tude, even if they all come to­ge­ther around the idea that a mo­tor­cycle is not just a ma­chine or means of trans­port, but a vec­tor of a way of being in the world that is in­tense, unique and lar­ge­ly al­ter­na­tive.

Isn’t bi­ker art most­ly land­scape art?

For some ar­tists that’s the case, in the tra­di­tion of the two Ro­berts, Sexé and Pir­sig, great bi­kers on the long haul to­ward the Eter­nal. While ri­ding down the high­way bet­ween Ti­jua­na and Mexi­co Ci­ty, Gon­za­lo Le­bri­ja contem­plates the land­scape re­flec­ted in the chrome flanks of the gas tank on his BMW R75/5. The re­sul­ting pho­tos are the me­mo­ry of so­me­thing seen, so­me­thing felt, a si­mul­ta­neous­ly so­lid and floa­ting ins­crip­tion in the sur­roun­dings and the mo­ment. A mo­tor­cycle broa­dens our ho­ri­zons, but ne­ver gra­tui­tous­ly. Through it the land­scape constructs being. It is the oc­ca­sion for an in­evi­table soul-sear­ching pro­du­ced by the im­pos­si­bi­li­ty, as we ride, of com­mu­ni­ca­ting with anyone but our­selves. Ali Kaz­ma, Oli­vier Mos­set and Jean-Bap­tiste Sau­vage consi­der their runs as mo­ments of spi­ri­tual self-de­ve­lop­ment, more dee­ply roo­ting their bo­dy in their heart of hearts, right to the li­mits of conscious­ness. Mo­tor­cycles are the on­ly ve­hicle that make it pos­sible to tra­vel qui­ck­ly while staying in contact with the ele­ments, in a kind of pa­ra­doxi­cal col­li­sion with them, a kind of tes­ting, si­mul­ta­neous­ly in­vol­ving re­sis­tance, suf­fe­ring and plea­sure. Heat and cold, the rain, wind re­sis­tance, being bur­ned by the sun—this im­mer­sion in the world im­plies a Wel­tan­schauung. It thi­ckens and den­si­fies sen­sa­tion and vi­ta­lism.


“We can climb so high I ne­ver wan­na to die,” sang Step­pen­wolf in Born to be Wild. But while bi­king is a ce­le­bra­tion of life and free­dom, it’s al­so as­so­cia­ted with death, isn’t it? And so­me­times with mys­ti­cism.

Eve­ry bi­ker is ac­quain­ted with death, the death of friends and lo­ved ones and their own brush with death when they’ve had a wi­peout, a fall. They nei­ther mock death nor re­vere it. It’s just there. A mo­tor­cycle can’t stand still and upright on its own two wheels, and if it’s a hog, it can take you up to 300 ki­lo­me­ters an hour in a heart­beat. When you ride a bike, you’re si­gning a risk wai­ver that makes staying alive both har­der and more de­si­rable. Bi­kers love the road be­cause it heigh­tens the love for life. In his won­der­ful pain­tings Charles Moo­dy po­wer­ful­ly exults in this “bike joy” pro­du­ced by the cons­tant sense of dan­ger. That kind of eu­pho­ria can lead to ac­ci­dents. That’s what a bi­ker has to use all his dex­te­ri­ty and acro­ba­tic skill to avoid. And yes, so­me­times there is mys­ti­cism. In one of his vi­deos Clay­ton Bur­khart por­trays him­self as an Or­pheus on a Du­ca­ti 999 “Ter­blanche” mo­ving through the New York night like a ghost. Shaun Glad­well, wea­ring a hel­met and black lea­thers, stops his Ya­ma­ha R1 along the Aus­tra­lian high­ways to pick up kan­ga­roo road­kill, ta­king them in his arms as if to console them. An angel of for­gi­ve­ness.

Bri­gitte Bar­dot, moun­ted on her Har­ley Da­vid­son, “feels de­sire ri­sing through her thighs,” to quote Serge Gains­bourg. Mo­tor­cycles have a sexual di­men­sion, and a lot of re­la­tion­ships are born on one.

To the point of ca­ri­ca­ture, all too of­ten. Even out­side the field of po­pu­lar culture, like in the work of An­dré Pieyre de Man­diargues, au­thor of the no­vel La Mo­to­cy­clette (1963), that exalts the ro­man­tic mo­del of the mo­tor­cycle as the red and black char­ger of the apo­ca­lypse, of love and death. Ri­ding a mo­tor­cycle is no more sexual than ri­ding a horse, kick­boxing or fen­cing. It’s phy­si­cal. The sexual conno­ta­tion in this case comes from cheap fan­ta­sy about what it means to mount, men who “have what it takes” bet­ween their legs. Not ma­ny ar­tists fall in­to this. If they en­gage in a “lo­ving re­la­tion­ship” with a bike, they do it like My­riam Me­chi­ta, who de­co­rates it with pearls, tur­ning it in­to a jewel, an as­pi­ra­tion to the su­blime, or Tia-Cal­li Bor­lase, who dresses up bikes Bell­mer-style with cloth and lea­ther like a sty­list dresses a mo­del. Or like Ja­net Biggs, who com­pares the prac­tice of pure speed with prayer and re­li­gious chan­ting. Love, in this sense, is ab­so­lute and ideal ra­ther than car­nal.

Neil Young, in Long May You Run, talks about the hy­bri­di­za­tion of men and ma­chines, a “chrome heart shi­ning in the sun.” Are bi­kers mo­dern-day cen­taurs?

No, that’s an old chest­nut. The cen­taur theme is a cli­ché in bi­ker representation. It’s true that ri­ding a mo­tor­cycle can feel like the fu­sion of man and ma­chine, but that doesn’t mean that the two form an or­ga­nic whole. For the rider, the cycle is an other, an al­ter, even if it is ado­red, ser­ved and tri­cked out like a god­dess— an ob­ject of power. Being able to ride a mo­tor­cycle im­plies the power of the rider over the power of the ma­chine. The cons­tant obligation to tame the cycle and mas­ter its mo­ve­ment de­fines two op­po­sing states of rea­li­ty. You can get this idea in some of Gé­rard Ran­ci­nan’s por­trait pho­tos. He re­pre­sents mo­tor­cycle ra­cers as gla­dia­tors or Re­nais­sance princes, in­toxi­ca­ted by do­mi­na­tion.

This show al­so has some fun­ny mo­ments, es­pe­cial­ly when it comes to cus­tom rides.

Ke­vin Lais­né shows us a chop­per that seems to have been ins­pi­red by a home trai­ning bike. Moo Chew Wong’s pain- tings give us so­me­times hy­per­bo­lic va­ria­tions on the “Bikes and Babes” theme. Florent La­mou­roux made a mol­ding of his bo­dy in the bi­ker po­si­tion like the Le­go fi­gure he played with as a child. There’s no sa­cra­li­za­tion here. Ra­ther, the mo­tor­cycle is ta­ken as a mal­leable ob­ject, one that can be made in­to the ob­ject of all sorts of fas­ci­na­tions, whe­ther rea­so­nable or not. Lea­ning more to­wards the ca­price than the norm. Mi­chae­la Spie­gel, who ex­poses the (real) ma­chis­mo in the bi­ker world, does so with caus­tic hu­mor in her sa­tires of bi­ker culture and to­day’s cults of the Har­ley-Da­vid­son and “the pack” that are re­lics of a by­gone time, the days of Hol­lis­ter’s re­bels wi­thout a cause, of Hell’s An­gels and the other one-per­cen­ters of the Wild Bunch. The post­mo­dern Lea­ther Boys are not an­ti-so­cial free­dom figh­ters but much more li­ke­ly just ve­ry frus­tra­ted.

There is cer­tain sound and fu­ry in this show. Will the walls of the Lyon mo­dern art cen­ter tremble?

I com­mis­sio­ned An­drea Ce­ra, a young com­po­ser who wor­ked at the Ir­cam, to write so­me­thing for the oc­ca­sion, and the re­sult is When They Sing, an ope­ra com­po­sed for Mo­to­poé­tique, in which a hu­man voice does its best to imi­tate the sounds of mo­tor­cycles. He tries to be­come a mo­tor­cycle through his brea­thing, his voice, in a dis­tur­bing glimpse of a pos­sible mo­to­ri­zed fu­ture. This is un­doub­ted­ly the height of love and de­vo­tion.

Trans­la­tion, L-S Tor­goff

Paul Ar­denne roule en 1000 La­ver­da. 1980

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