Put the fun between your legs: Become the Bike Bloc

Arnolfini, Bristol and COP 15, Copenhagen


Tens of thousands of people from around the world made their way to the UN Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen in December 2009. We were invited by the Copenhagen Contemporary Art Centre (CCAC) to make a project for the city wide exhibition RE:THINK:contempory art and climate change. PUT THE FUN BETWEEN YOUR LEGS: BECOME THE BIKE BLOC brought artists, engineers, activists and bike hackers together to design and build new tools of civil disobedience out of Copenhagen’s thousands of discarded bikes for the RECLAIM POWER day of mass action.

Following weeks of working with the CCAC, they dropped the project when they realized that when we said “civil disobedience” we really meant it; we were not ‘pretending’ to do politics : we were going to build the machines and use them on the streets, they were not going to be commodities to contemplate in a museum, but practical tools of resistance. Thankfully the Candy Factory an incredible creative social centre in an old factory was less timid and offered to host us for the building part of the project.

The team first came together at Bristol’s Arnolfini Gallery as part of Platform’s C-WORDS exhibition. The gallery was turned into a bike repair space, skill shares were held and open workshops using permaculture took place to co-design the machines of resistance for Copenhagen. Three prototypes were launched from our welding container on Bristol docks , and the team made their way to Copenhagen, pockets filled with blueprints. The BIKE BLOC was supported by the Climate Camp movement and hundreds of activists made their way to the Candy Factory where over 500 carcasses of old bikes and welding equipment awaited us. Non stop welding took place, dozens of Double Double Troubles (aka DDT) were built, mass bike swarming trainings held and a sound swarm prepared.

Despite the mass arrests and general climate of repression including the police raiding our space and confiscating the DDT’s and naming them ‘war bikes’ in the popular press, the Bike Bloc took to the streets on the 16th of December for the day of action. Over two hundred bikes in a multitude of swarms supported the thousands taking acts of civil disobedience on foot. Mobile bike barricades protected activists trying to breach the UN security perimeter, swarms played cat and mouse drawing police away from the action (a decoy that seemed to involve ratios of 12 cops and one van for each cyclist) and the sound swarm took over a motorway. It was the best fun we had had between our legs for a long time!

Funny enough two years later the double trouble special sound swarm version ended up (together with several of other relics of our experiments) in the London’s Victoria and Albert Museum , in a fantastic exhibition called Disobedient Objects, including a print out of how to build your own sound swarm version of the DDT.


Selected Media Coverage

Sound Swarm, a short film by Siobhan Mckeown of D.I.T Productions with sound by Filastine following the bike block and its sister project Swarm, Flow, Flood

Pockets of Resistance documentary feature film directed by Ralf Christensen, follows creative activists and joins peaceful micro-revolutions across the world, including the Lab at the COP15.

Artists to use public money to fund Copenhagan summit protest, Bristol-based project may use installation made from old bikes and funded by Arts Council to blockade streets in Copenhagen. Article in the The Guardian newspaper about the Arnolfini workshops and exhibition. 23.10.2009

Bike Bloc Stories: a personal journey through the adventures in Copenhagen by Gavin Grindon in Groundswell #1, 2010.

Art Activism and Climate Change, the crisis in Copenhagen article by Gavin Grindon in Arts Monthly, Feb.2010.