Ai Weiwei uses thousands of bicycles to create sculpture

Ai Weiwei - Forever Bicycles, 2014
Ai WeiweiForever Bicycles, 2014. 1,254 bicycles. Dimensions variable. Installation view, Waller Creek Delta, The Contemporary Austin – Museum Without Walls Program, Austin, Texas, 2017
Photo: Brian Fitzsimmons/thecontemporaryaustin.org

Ai Weiwei & bicycles

Bicycles have always featured in Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s installations. The very first time that Ai used bicycles was in his installation known as Very Yao1 in 2008. As the years have passed, his use of bicycles has only gotten grander as is evident in his piece titled the Forever Bicycles. In Forever Bicycles, Ai used Shanghai-based Forever Company bicycles to make his massive installation. The repetitiveness and the size of the installation were intended to allude to China’s mass production, which is well known to fuel the Chinese manufacturing industry.

The meaning of Forever Bicycles

The artist used Forever Bicycles also partly in recognition of the huge role that bicycles play in the Chinese society. Some editions of the work were composed of 10000 bicycles installed in a 10-meter high space in abstract shapes designed to symbolize the social environment in China.

Ai Weiwei - Forever Bicycles, 2011, 2630 x 353 x 957 cm, installation view of Ai Weiwei absent, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, 2011 Oct 29 - 2012 Jan 29
Ai Weiwei – Forever Bicycles, 2011, 2630 x 353 x 957 cm, installation view of Ai Weiwei absent, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, 2011 Oct 29 – 2012 Jan 29

Why did Ai Weiwei use bicycles?

Ai opted to used bikes and not any other object because bicycles were important to him and his community as he was growing up. As a matter of fact, bicycles are still commonly used in China today for transportation so Ai used them because he thought that the audience would relate to them. The use of the forever bikes as a medium had an element of poignancy: that although bikes symbolized freedom and movement in China, the fact that they were stuck together in the piece could point to the status of the Chinese society today.

Ai Weiwei at the unveiling of Forever, consists of 1,245 bicycle frames, outside the Gherkin building in London. Photo- EPA
Ai Weiwei at the unveiling of Forever Bicycles, consists of 1,245 bicycle frames, outside the Gherkin building in London
Photo: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA/nytimes.com

Different versions of Forever Bicycles

The first version of the Forever Bicycles installed in 2013 featured the suspended Forever bicycles arranged in a circle. Ai made sure to remove all the vital components that make the bike functional such as the seats and pedals, which set the artist on a path of abstraction which later then gave him the opportunity to introduce ambiguity to the subject, as well as play around with different patterns. The statically arranged bicycles also offered an illusion of movement, which was also perhaps another commentary on the modern Chinese society as people have come to understand and appreciate it.

Conclusion

Subsequent versions of the first installation embraced a more manufactured aesthetic which allowed the structures to acquire unique architectural proportions. Ai’s work, which has been exhibited in numerous art spaces across the globe, can be reproduced with any brand of bicycle, which almost helps to point to the collective power of thrift, as well as the beauty that can be found in uniformity.

Photos: ‘Forever Bicycles’ in Austin, Edmonton, London, Melbourne & Taipei

Ai Weiwei - Forever Bicycles, Installation view at National Gallery of Victoria, 2015
Ai WeiweiForever Bicycles, installation view at National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2015

Ai Weiwei - Forever Bicycles, Installation view at National Gallery of Victoria, 2015
Ai WeiweiForever Bicycles, Installation view at National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2015

Ai Weiwei - Forever Bicycles, 2014, Austin, Texas. Photo by Elizabeth Hackler
Ai WeiweiForever Bicycles, 2014, Austin, Texas. Photo by Elizabeth Hackler/txamagazine.org

Ai Weiwei - Forever Bicycles, Royal Academy London, 2015, 1200 bicycles, Photo Daniel Zylbersztajn
Ai WeiweiForever Bicycles, Royal Academy London, 2015, 1200 bicycles
Photo: Daniel Zylbersztajn/dzx2.net

Ai Weiwei - Forever Bicycles, 2630 x 353 x 957 cm, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taiwan Taipei, 2011
Ai WeiweiForever Bicycles, 2630 x 353 x 957 cm, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
Photo: Arrested Motion/arrestedmotion.com

Ai Weiwei - Forever Bicycles, 2630 x 353 x 957 cm, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taiwan Taipei, 2011
Ai WeiweiForever Bicycles, 2630 x 353 x 957 cm, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan

Ai Weiwei - Forever Bicycles, Nuit Blanche, Edmonton, 2014, Photo Ryan Tumilty
Ai WeiweiForever Bicycles, Edmonton, 2014
Photo: Ryan Tumilty/scotiabanknuitblanche.com

All images by Ai Weiwei studio unless otherwise noted.

Videos

Ai Weiwei on the inspiration behind ‘Forever Bicycles’

2min 40sec

Timelapse of ‘Forever Bicycles’, Toronto, 2013

3min 40sec

Timelapse of ‘Forever Bicycles’, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2015

1min 9sec

Bjorn Geldhof about ‘Forever Bicycles’

2min 20sec

Other important works by Ai Weiwei

  1. https://www.designboom.com/art/ai-weiwei-stacked-an-installation-of-760-bikes/
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