Visual Arts

Please Collaborate

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The lobby displays only a couple of Lopes' completed works, in which he covered bikes with unexpected substances. Ciclovia Aerea, for example, is a bicycle wrapped in osier, a twiggy variety of willow. The beautiful, wicker-like weave follows the form of the bike, bringing out the aesthetic quality of the contraption's design. The mechanical pieces are completely covered — surely rendering the bike useless. This is a completed work and, so far, it's apparent that Lopes was thinking of ways to transform the object from a device of function to an aesthetic entity. And while I never before realized how pretty a bike's shape could be, I was hard-pressed to find a more conceptual read of the piece.

Upon entering the gallery/studio, I found similar works. The difference here is that, much like the labor on the walls, there is no way to know how much Lopes is responsible for. One bike frame was covered with packed and dried soil, secured with netting and wire. The bulbous mounds of earth were molded to the bike frame, erasing the geometric harshness of the design. The message is pretty obvious: Earth and bike have a beneficial relationship. Again, I wasn't blown away.

Other bike-inspired works were everywhere. A makeshift racing ring made of black floor mats, covered with painted bike wheel tracks, circled the gallery. There was a Jolly Green Giant-sized bike made entirely of wood. And a canopy of bike wheels, interconnected by thick chains, hung from the ceiling. Once more, I just didn't see the bigger message. It really just looked like someone was goofing around with bike parts.

It's impossible to know what Lopes created, and what is the work of his collaborators. But it's obvious that with so many participants trekking through his workspace, leaving their mark, this artist was working with an unpredictable atmosphere. The walls are effed up with random scribbles and painted graffiti. Objects such as shoes, sticky notes, and decorated papers are hanging from every direction.

High on the west wall of Kresge Gallery is an installation of sorts. Four pairs of red shoes are affixed to the wall, forming a circle. Extending from each shoe is one red shoelace that meets the others in the middle — just like the spokes of a bicycle wheel. To the left of the shoe wheel, two violin bows are set vertically — one on top of the other. Written on the wall in cursive is, "To be played on red string while traveling." I'd like to imagine that some college student made this to represent a recent trip to Europe, playing music to earn a little cash — scrimping by and experiencing adventures on a shoestring budget. Regardless of the meaning, it is evident that someone brought specific materials and spent time thinking about how they wanted to use the space.

The shoe wheel was an exception, as most of the crowd participation was spontaneous and less thoughtful — but enjoyable nonetheless. On one of my visits, I spied (among the scribbles, poems, and children's handprints) a huge squid, painted in thick black lines. Next to its writhing tentacles the contributing "artist" wrote, "Mmm whale!" I couldn't help but chuckle. In a different area, someone drew a delicate purple flower. Next to it, a scrawl of girly handwriting reads, "There's always the person after." Another contribution I enjoyed is a piece of cardboard, nailed to the wall, on which someone wrote, "I am in love with the following women:" and then listed six names. It was those zany cartoons and anonymous confessions that brought the room alive and inspired me to get lost in the random decorations, discovering words and images laced with expressions of humor, rage and heartbreak.

The place is filled with evidence that people are getting into it — they've fully embraced the opportunity to participate. The idea is working and the energy is exciting.

But how does Lopes' individual studio work fit in? My excitement about the gallery's frenzied state was diminished by the bicycle project. It seemed to come totally out of left field. I couldn't find a way to bridge the dramatic gap between the participation and Lopes' bicycles.

The bike pieces, as a whole, were disappointing. And it may be that the participatory energy I loved didn't depend on Lopes' work. Couldn't simply offering up the gallery to a public free-for-all produce the same energy? How much did Lopes and his work really have to do with the visual buzz left by participants?

I couldn't reconcile these questions, but ASU surely deserves credit for taking such a huge risk. The show is a unique experimental experience that is compelling enough to entice a collaborative effort. And that is where the exhibition's real artistic merit lies.

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Lilia Menconi
Contact: Lilia Menconi