The Mechanics of Adaption

Students with Autism join forces with Brisbane artists for Brisbane Festival exhibition.

Marcel Duchamp elevated the humble bicycle to art with Bicycle Wheel, now Brisbane’s decommissioned CityCycles have been transformed into sculptures for the 2021 Brisbane Festival.

Commissioned by Metro Arts, The Mechanics of Adaption features retired CityCycles reimagined by artists Ross Manning, Kinly Grey, Susan Hawkins, Aishla Manning and Sarah Poulgrain, in collaboration with Year 9 students from the Sycamore School for kids with autism.

Metro Arts Producer and Development Coordinator Jenna Green said the exhibition came about as the successful CityCycle scheme ended in August.

“Thousands of CityCycles have been decommissioned and JC Decaux were breaking down the bikes for recycling and they asked us if we could do something with the bike parts,” Ms Green said.

“We had several kids from the Sycamore School, who work with kids on the autism spectrum, come and work with the artists at facilitated workshops each week. 

“We had a giant shed full of bike parts and the artists would set up stations where they were playing around with the various parts and the kids were drawn to various stations, hang out with the artists, play with the materials and their back-and-forth engagement helped to inspire these works. 

“It was about playing in the same space together and being inspired by the way each other thinks.

“What’s really wonderful about the partnership is that the five artists involved in this show are real tinkerers and the kids would bring in robotic or things they were interested in to share with the artists.”

One of the artworks that the students collaborated on was Joining Multiples by sculptor Susan Hawkins.

“She was looking at the rims of the bicycles and making them into forms inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes so she taught the boys how to connect the rims,” Ms Green said.

“She taught the boys how to heat shrink rubber onto handlebars to connect them… the boys really like the repetition and building something big from small objects.”
Ms Green said the creative process was as beneficial to the artists as it was to the students.

“The kids were amazing to work with and the artists learned a lot as well, the boys just had different perspectives and working styles that inspired them,” she said.

“There were some kids who were quite shy but over the seven weeks of workshops there was a beautiful rapport and engagement which came into the works.”
Ms Green said working on the art changed the students’ view of art and artists.

“When we started the workshops, the kids were like ‘I hate art, teachers just tell me how to paint’, it was the classic school attitude to creativity… but when the artists presented their techniques each child was glued to the screen, it was like nothing they had ever seen before. 

“It was interesting to see their idea of art change over time and that the learning process was just as important as the outcome – it just changed their preconception of what art is.”

The Mechanics of Adaption runs at Metro Arts, West End, until 26 September. Entry is free. 

Metro Arts is home to several Brisbane Festival performances.