Inspired by Mano Singham’s recent post sharing a video tour of the Hammer Gallery, I feel it is time to play another round of the game, is it art, or is it a bicycle rack?
That’s a question that’s so old it’s been plaguing homo sapiens since perhaps before the beginning of our current geologic epoch. More to the point, it’s a question that has been the source of giggle between my best friend and I for a good twenty years. We’ll be drawing heavily from bikerackaroundtheworld.blogspot.ca for examples, the first of which shows that our question can be decidedly difficult to answer in places like Burma:
Though I’m assured by the blog Bike Rack Around The World that this is intended to be a bicycle rack, the relative delicacy and unfamiliar diamond pattern make this fence-like metal object seem unnecessarily difficult to use when attaching bike locks. Without seeing a bike actually locked to it, I’d be unlikely to think that this was intended to be a bicycle rack. Even with a bike attached, I’m not sure it definitely seem a bike rack to me, or if I would simply interpret the situation as another example of the (nearly-)pan-Eurasian willingness to lock a bike to almost anything.
While in New Orleans, Louisiana there is a boundary-crossing bicycle rack with only a toe over the line into the realm of sculpture:
This European photo (of unspecified country or city of origin) comes to us via BuzzFeed, and presents its own questions:
Clearly a custom contraption, someone has carved out a seat near one end of a bicycle rack, then added wheels, gears, pedals and steering. When it is parked, does it become a bicycle rack? If it does, what impact will that have on the rider? And yet, how can it not be a bicycle rack when 90% of the thing started out as a bicycle rack and still exists unmodified as part of the final object?
Further, while it would be terribly difficult to say that this vehicle does not send a message, is it fair to call such a rectilinear, ugly contraption art?
What about this:
It’s clearly a rack. And it’s clearly in the shape of a bicycle, even if it doesn’t have the function of a bicycle. But except for that one terribly odd example immediately above, there may be no bike racks in the world that function as a bicycle. But is it misleading to call it a bicycle rack? And if so, should it be called art? Does it matter to your answer that they are mass-produced and sold on Amazon?
In Chiang Mai, Thailand and Beijing – and probably many other cities with whose bicycle cultures I am less familiar – residents are notorious for locking bicycles to almost anything. And yet, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily difficult to spot a bicycle rack made to be a bicycle rack:
Or does it? The size of the rack itself as well as the spacing of the vertical bars tells us that this may very well be intended more for motorized scooters than human-powered bicycles. It’s almost certainly not art, but is it a bicycle rack? That is deceptively difficult to say. Now we are having trouble not only with the definition of art, but also with the definition of bicycle rack. Harrumph.
Perhaps to lighten the mood (if shirtless Vespa riders did not lighten it for you already) we can examine this NYC bicycle rack photographed in Little Italy showing off its neighborhood pride:
While it certainly can be used as a bike rack, it can also be (and is) used as an anti-car barrier for street fairs and clearly intends to send a nostalgic, prideful, or emotional message besides. In fact, when it functions as a car barrier, it may also be sending another message encouraging the social gatherings that are so crucial to making a street fair a fair. Few people wouldn’t call it a bicycle rack, but is it art yet?
All of this, though, is but stage dressing (reef dressing?) for our ultimate puzzle-picture:
This chrome-plated cephalopod is located in Seattle, and was intended from the get-go as a visual attraction, a minor climbing structure for very young adventurers, and as a convenient, secure location for temporary bicycle storage.
Is this a bicycle rack? Cthulhu’s penny-farthing-obsessed maiden aunt only knows.