Way back in 2008, the Downtown Austin Alliance sent out a request for proposals, asking artists to submit designs for bike rack sculptures (pretty things to lock your bike to). I’m no sculptor by any means, but I put together a submission anyway. My concept was to create a cluster of very tall, simple spires, comprised primarily of used bike gears. Since bicyclists are generally more environmentally-minded, I thought the recycled nature of my design would appeal to them. Plus, the gears might hint at the purpose of the piece: “Oh, I get it. I can lock my bike to this”. These spires kind of resembled abstract trees, so I dubbed it Gear Grove. Here’s my original mockup from my proposal:
Surprisingly, my design was chosen! I was excited to be a part of this city initiative to make art a priority, and in a useful way. Then things slowed down a bit… I don’t know if it was the economy, or if things got tied up in one of the 23 committees involved, but basically nothing happened, and kept happening. An example of one of the delays: Apparently, some mythical hot dog vendor had a permit to sell hot dogs at the installation site. Nobody ever saw the hot dog man – he hadn’t sold hot dogs there for years. Nobody even had a way to get a hold of the guy, but he still had a permit…so we eventually just moved the site a bit.
All those delays weren’t necessarily a horrible thing, because they gave me time to collect all the gears I needed. I handed out collection bins to bike shops around the city, and I stopped by to pick up the gears every few months, stockpiling them in my garage. I have to thank my wife, here, for her patience throughout this whole process. Also in this time, I had to figure out how this thing was going to get produced. I got a couple of bids from various people around town, worked with the guys at Blue Genie for a while, but finally ended up going with Rick Mansfield as my fabricator. He’s a sculpture technician at UT. You can see some of his work at www.richardmansfield.net
Over the years the design evolved quite a bit, and I learned a lot in the process. The spires wouldn’t be strong enough to support their own weight, so I had to add a series of crossbars to stabilize the piece structurally. I made the crossbars in the shape of bike frames, to continue the motif (actual bike frames wouldn’t work, unfortunately). I also added a base to ground the piece, which had a spoke-like pattern routed into its surface. At one point, I was going to incorporate used bike chains, as well, wrapped around the poles. These chains created a really cool texture that was bark-like, and added another element to the work. However, due to budget constraints, they got cut from the final design. I also had to use fewer gears, and put them higher up so people wouldn’t gouge their eyes out by walking into the thing.
There was some discussion about whether or not the final finish of the piece would be shiny, or have a rusty patina. Ultimately, Mother Nature decided for us, and rust prevailed. Hopefully a nice patina develops over the years.
So, to the people of Austin, I say this: If you had your bike worked on in the last 5 years or so, your used bike gear might be stacked up with 222 others just like it on the corner of 9th and Congress Ave. And if it’s not there, then it’s probably in my garage. And even if you don’t appreciate this 16 ft tall tower of rubble, hopefully you can appreciate the sense of community ownership I was intending with this work. If you don’t buy that either, at least it’ll keep your bike safe.