Chic to chic: the art of cyling on a mission, Tim Dawson

Originally published at June 2013

Mikael Colville-Andersen’s promotion of ‘cycling for the 99%’ is in impressive campaign. The Canadian-born, Denmark-resident, ‘bicycle ambassador’ started photographing and posting pictures of everyday Danes on their bikes in 2007. His blog, became a sizeable online hit – not least because many of his subjects were exceptionally beautiful women.

Today, on the back of his blog, he has built an urban mobility consultancy, and a travelling exhibition of his pictures is currently appearing in towns all over the world – the itinerary includes Ljublajana, Budapest, Vietnam, Berlin and Long Beach. I caught up with the display at the Ethnographic Museum, in Dubrovnik, Croatia, where it is on until 10 June 2013.

Fifty photographs from the 10,000 that he has so far published on his site have been selected, printed and hung with art-curatorial reverence, along with an actual Christiana bike and a Bullit cargo bike.

To anyone familiar with their online form, the pictures are familiar. People from every walk of life are captured in all weather conditions and environments on their bicycles. There are mums with their children, young couples exchanging a cuddle at traffic lights, old women with baskets on their handlebars and a musician with his horn slung over his back. Unposed – in all probability taken without consent – they demonstrate the extraordinary place that the bicycle occupies in the life of the Danish capital. Bicycles appear to be both central to the lives of a high proportion of its citizens and simultaneously part of the city’s wallpaper. One senses that most of Colville-Andersen’s subjects would no more call themselves ‘cyclists’ than they would consider themselves ‘shoe enthusiasts’ despite owning several pairs and wearing them daily.

If you can view the blog, of course, you might wonder at the point of mounting an exhibition of these pictures. That, however, is to miss the point. Colville-Andersen’s mission among internet-savvy cyclists is largely done – not least as there are copyists in several other cities.

By promoting his work as worthy of wallspace in art galleries, Colville-Andersen is occupying a new beachhead in his crusade on behalf of utility cycling. His work is unlikely ever to be spoken of in the same breath as Henri Cartier-Bresson (although they share an enthusiasm for stealth photography). Using attractive imagery to take his message to exhibition-goers, however, is an important initiative – particularly in an area of the Balkans that combines spectacular scenery, with bad roads, terrible driving and very little visible cycling culture, sporting, utility of otherwise. As Upton Sinclair noted, ‘all art is propaganda’.

TD June 13

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