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Chinese Tricycles Between Day to Day Culture and Art Intervention on View at Museum Tinguely
Tricycle, Beijing 2008 © Foto: Nils Fisch, Basel.
BASEL.- If the humble rickshaw was generally widespread in pre modern-day China, in the 20th century its place was taken by the three-wheeled cycle. This tricycle was to be found everywhere in Beijing (Peking), the capital city. Barely a crowded street, a market square, a shopping mile or entertainment district, or even scrap yards were imaginable without the ever-present tricycle. More than 30 of these vehicles were bought up by Littmann Kulturprojekte on the streets of Peking, some with their cargo, some without. The loaded tricycles were left in their original state, and the empty ones entrusted to various artists commissioned to re-think them and lend them an artistic content. The exhibition at the Museum Tinguely will present both groups of tricycles and have on display only one neutral tricycle – a used model, roadworthy, its former use indeterminate. Were Jean Tinguely to see this ensemble, the convergence of the words “China” and “Kinetics” (movement) would perhaps spontaneously lead him to coin the term “Chinetik”.

Exhibited on dais that raise them to the status of art objects, these tricycles that were formerly in use as commercial platforms (mobile “show windows”), as mobile kitchens, as animal cages, or as means of conveyance for various commodities (foodstuffs, household utensils, furniture, garbage) are now turned into museum pieces, representative of everyday culture in China. Next to these ordinary tricycles are those re-converted via artistic intervention. Various artists in the east (China) and in the West (Europe, USA) were commissioned to transform the neutral and empty tricycles according to their own concept. The sole condition required of them was that the tricycles were to remain roadworthy; apart from that, they could give free rein to their fantasy. Amongst the artists approached were Wang Guangyi, Thomas Virnich, Ulrike Schröter, Peter Kogler, Daniele Buetti, Robert Rauschenberg, Guillaume Bijl, Stephen Craig. “Chinetik”, the exhibition, a collaboration between the Museum Tinguely and Littmann Kulturprojekte presents the first display of these projects by artists from China and Germany, from Belgium, from Ireland, from the Netherlands and Austria as well as from the USA and Switzerland alongside original tricycles drawn from Chinese daily life, complete with their original freight.

Tricycles are disappearing from the street scene in Chinese cities due to the increase in affluence brought about by globalisation and especially an even greater surge of modernisation in Beijing thanks to the Olympic Games in 2008. In the mid-1990s tricycles were still to be seen everywhere. By 2008 they had become a rarity. What will be the role of the tricycle in the China of tomorrow? No more than a museum piece caught between day-to-day culture and art project?

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