“When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race,” wrote H.G. Wells. The author of sci-fi novels might have cast an optimistic eye on Tacoma, which boasts a lively bike culture as well as one of the country’s oldest bicycle clubs, the Tacoma Wheelmen (est. 1888).
During National Bike Month, in May, regional artists keen to the possibilities of two-wheeled transport rolled out their ideas for the 4th Annual Zeit-Bike Competition, organized by the Tacoma Art Museum and the City of Tacoma. Zeit-Bike 2010: Movable Feats attracted a full field of human-powered designs vying for three $1,000 prizes awarded by the City of Tacoma; the winning bikes, by Eric Holdener, Bil Fleming and Scott McGee, are arriving this week at the Woolworth Building, at 11th & Commerce.
Unique artistry and eco-friendly functionality come together in these kinetic bike sculptures, which can actually be ridden. Eric Holdener is an Olympia sculptor and a two-time winner of Zeit-Bike. His entry, Flightless, resembles an old-time flying machine, and is a tribute to the era of engineering that preceded the Wright brothers. Holdener took a vintage bike the color of balsa wood and fitted it with a clean, wooden frame attached to white cloth-covered wings; the effect echoes “the look and feel of materials they might have used,” he says. The Wrights (who, incidentally, owned a successful bike shop) lived during an evolutionary period of “optimism, genius, as well as miscalculation. That period broadened our view of what is possible.” Holdener’s 2007 winning design, Harmony, will also be on display at Woolworth’s.
Tacoma artist Scott McGee likes a mean machine: his curvaceous, 9′-long, apple-green cycle, Long Odds, was made by combining two bike frames, and looks like it could eat up the road. McGee’s appreciation for motorcycles (he is a technician at Harley-Davidson) is reflected in the bike’s muscular geometry and sleek handlebar design. “The only thing I was sure of from the start was that I wanted [the bike] to be big and eye-catching,” he says. “The final result was more shaped by what bits and pieces seemed to fit together nicely.” At present, McGee’s preference is for riding his Harley-Davidson FXD Superglide, “However, I am working on a new bike that’s a blend of art and functionality that I plan to ride around town.”
Bil Fleming’s kinetic assemblage, Traffic Terror Tow-tem, “portray(s) the fears we all have of riding a bike for transportation,” according to the artist. This fantastical bicycle, made from re-purposed junkyard materials, pulls a trailer mounted with a squirrel cage fan that inflates a waving, plastic windsock-type creature which appears to chase the bike rider from behind. The fan is powered by the bike’s rolling wheels.
Recycled materials are a mainstay of Fleming’s work: “It is my hope that a wider and deeper appreciation for old, used things will help curb our culture’s tendency to throw so many useful objects and materials away.” Traffic Terror Tow-tem ingeniously illustrates how a consumer society can be relentlessly pursued by its own desires. Zeit-Bike 2010: Movable Feats by Eric Holdener, Bil Fleming and Scott McGee; Woolworth Building, 11th & Commerce, through Sept. 24, 2010; www.eric-holdener.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bilfleming.com