“It’s never enough, is it Ben?”
My brother’s an animal when he exercises, grunting and moaning like a wounded bear as he bench presses. Formerly an endurance runner who wielded a silly looking Camelbak, Marc’s aims changed as soon as he joined the police force as a cadet. Apparently he wasn’t big enough for their liking. Eager to make an impression, it went from being kilometres to kilograms, and water backpacks with straws to protein shakes
that taste like a liquefied Tim Tam soaked in beach water. Who would’ve thought the dubious ethics of biometrics (The justification given by his trainers for the change in focus) would prove so motivating?
That’s what made his defeatist declaration of inadequacy so surprising; it was an admission of the grim functionality of his task, the addictive challenge of benching more and more despite a reasonable build overtaking the rational, idealistic aims of his exercises. The means were now the end. Who cares how much work you’re doing if the incremental improvements were now objectively the ideal, rather than the aim in itself? Of course it’ll never be enough, improvement becomes disappointing once you get past where you want to go to.
Sports have always been rooted in this kind of guff, for which we can thank the Greek Classicists. The Ancient Olympics were predicated on the pursuit of the Platonic; the leisurely tasks designed to measure the athleticism of the contestants in the eyes of the gods. As one would imagine, the winners of these tasks would be covered in glory, as by winning they themselves would become an approximation of an ideal, whether that be in the field of running, wrestling etc. Vats of olive oil would arrive at their doorstep, their achievements marked by statues that consecrate their achievement for the duration of that epoch (Akin to Lethal Leigh at the MCG).
I guess the question is, what becomes of us who aren’t so biometrically inclined to be Olympic in our athletic pursuits? Do we just pack it in, accepting the fact that we’ll never be Mohammed Ali or Gary Ablett Junior and become excellent at compiling tax returns?
The Aesthetes, an amateur school of thought within the bodybuilding industry, popularized by Aziz Shavershian, bless their souls, have never been so defeatist, despite their 9-5 jobs and bloated, shallow aims. It’s all about the crunches and the brawn; forget the girls (Even if that’s how Aziz started). If you can’t get there with the gym, you can get there with protein shakes and supplements. If protein shakes aren’t working for you, there’s always a special connect within your gym. If someone’s telling you that the anabolic steroids are dangerous, tell them you’ve been riding bicycles. They’ll know what you mean, then frown and walk away. Don’t worry about what they think, you’re an amateur, and hard work can only take you so far. And besides, you
do ride bicycles (for recovery), so you have been working hard. And if you’ve been working hard, you need to work harder. Even if it means collapsing in a sauna due to anabolics and a family history of heart problems, like Aziz. It was the bloody bicycles, wasn’t it?
Riding Bicycles is about such moments, where the obsession and grim functionality of leisurely after-work pursuits & professional sports overtakes/sabotages their idealistic and utilitarian aims of self-improvement. Leisure becomes a self-deceiving & absurd theatre defined by painstaking repetition; the aim of the game is sidelined on the pine while the dedication to it becomes a different kind of sport. It is somewhat fitting that a group of contemporary artists would be focusing on such a topic, given that the world of contemporary art is itself a leisurely pursuit necessarily predicated on the professional
and bureaucratic exchange of proposals, grants, applications forms, CV’s and career achievements. Repetitions for editions, obsessiveness to detail and paperwork frequently are substitutes for dedication and enjoyment of our craft. Theorists like Graw and Groys would argue the market and the notion of a career constitutes a type of sport in its own right.
Subsequently given the artists’ individual involvement in sport and art, it is important see these works as not just nihilistic, absurdist critiques of the flawed thinking that drives amateur sports people, but additionally as jovial, willing participants in the school of thought. We’re all trying to get somewhere, even as we have a laugh at those in other fields who are ahead of us or the minor things we’re possibly further ahead at ourselves.
This lingers through the work. Abdul Rahman-Abdullah, a former Amateur boxer himself, pays tribute to the professional losing spirit of Reggie Strickland, the worst professional boxer in the recent history of the sport, but one who can lie claim to being more financially successful than most of its budding professionals, even if it’s at the expense of being respected for his talent. Mark Parfitt’s efforts in attempting to kick his brother’s arse on the squash courts of Kensington, Western Australia lead to moral and formal considerations on the perception of squash in the present day. For my part, the act of avoiding soft-tissues strains on the footy field becomes a ridiculous ritual of stretches, instructions and unintentional homoeroticism that sabotages the love of amateur footy
and becomes a different sort of game.
Ultimately we turn to sport because of the clarity and clear narrative path it provides en route to the ideal and utopian aim of success. We have an aim but we just have to try a few things to get there. I’d hope that even though the show lingers on these few things to no particular end, the bicycles riders are worth watching, over and over. There’s something addictive about that kind repetition, even if it isn’t enough.
- Ben Rodin, September 2013.
September 11th - 28th
by Ben Rodin