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Abandoned bike becomes endangered art project

Posted by Derek Flack / June 2, 2011

Neon Bike Art Project TorontoThis is an fitting follow-up to our photo essay on Toronto's abandoned bikes last week. The Neon Bike Project is one of those little DIY street art interventions that I tend to think make the city are far more interesting place. The work of Caroline Macfarlane, a staff member at the OCADU Student Gallery, the repainted bike is a rather literal example of "re-cycling," and we've seen photos of it popping up all over Flickr.

Here's the story. While outside cleaning the gallery windows one day, Macfarlane was struck by the fact that an old Raleigh bike that was locked in front of the gallery wasn't likely to ever be ridden again. "It occurred to me that the Raleigh had never been moved from that spot for as long as I could remember," she writes on her blog. "It was a permanent fixture on the street, a gorgeous skeleton of an antique bicycle long forgotten... I began to feel sorry for it, and that's when I decided that Vanessa and I should reclaim it. The student gallery is on a rather gray, dismal strip of Dundas St; it's all cement and no trees. We would plant some flowers in bike's basket, even better, we would also paint the frame of the bike, all of it and in NEON."

Neon Bike Art project TorontoCool idea. Trusting that the bike actually is abandoned — which by all rights it seems to be — why not brighten up the street a bit? Similar "installations" like the Kensington Market garden car and the more recent tree planter revitalization project have been successful at just such a task.

Here's where it gets silly, though. After having completed the beautification of the bike, Macfarlane arrived a couple days ago to find that it had issued one of the City's infamous abandoned bike removal notices. "The funny thing is that this bike has been sitting in the same place for years, unnoticed by the city," she explains. "However, once it is brightened and made beautiful, it's got to go." A face-palm worthy moment if there ever was one.

Given that the removal notice is dated May 30th and gives a one week grace period, that leaves five days for Macfarlane to save the bike. She's asking that people write to with reasons why the neon bike should remain a part of the streetscape. Who knows? Maybe Rob Ford's love of the little guy can be leveraged here?

Neon bike art project Toronto



Kieren / June 2, 2011 at 12:29 pm
They'll just paint grey over it.
FoFF / June 2, 2011 at 12:31 pm
No, not a good idea.

Eat sh*t Caroline.

Get rid of that crap.
the lemur / June 2, 2011 at 12:35 pm
Nice idea, but there's a functioning bike going without a parking space as a result.
Luke replying to a comment from FoFF / June 2, 2011 at 12:36 pm
And that's why we can't have nice things. Positively embarrassing commentary.
Rob / June 2, 2011 at 12:36 pm
I was going to be all negative comment about how low our standards have become if spray painting a bike neon red is now considered something artistic, but I must admit, it's certainly nicer looking now than before
whatgives replying to a comment from Luke / June 2, 2011 at 12:47 pm
So someone says something you dont agree with makes its "embarassing commentary" ???

Makes sense.
yearling / June 2, 2011 at 12:52 pm
How can one not see the beauty in her project?

And this is why Toronto lacks the charm of major European cities.
balls / June 2, 2011 at 12:52 pm
I call bullshit on this bike being abandoned. I see abandoned bikes in this area....they all are missing tires, seats, handlebars. This was a bullshit excuse to "make art" and a "social commentary" at the same time.
picasso replying to a comment from yearling / June 2, 2011 at 12:56 pm
I spray painted a Tim Horton's cup.


Al / June 2, 2011 at 01:00 pm
This is the second BlogTO article attacking the city for removing abondoned bikes from bike rings. I guess no one at BlogTo has ever had a hard time finding a place to park their bike. It's hard enough to find an unoccupied ring already without people fighting to keep abandoned bikes locked to them. Put it in the window of the gallery if you want to display it. Let people park their bikes on the rings.
Rachel / June 2, 2011 at 01:04 pm
I passed this on the street and my friends and I all smiled about it. It's a nice addition, it should stay!
wad replying to a comment from Rachel / June 2, 2011 at 01:07 pm
- 1
Rachel replying to a comment from wad / June 2, 2011 at 01:13 pm
Maybe if you saw a neon bike with flowers in it on the street you'd be in a better mood...
jammie / June 2, 2011 at 01:16 pm
Man, there's always so much negativity on this website...
diego / June 2, 2011 at 01:18 pm
If spray painting bikes neon colours is what it takes for the city to remove abandoned bikes, I'm in favour of this concept.
wad replying to a comment from Rachel / June 2, 2011 at 01:21 pm
So only positive comments need apply?

Nothing else?
John / June 2, 2011 at 01:22 pm
I have to say to say that I agree with the Transportation Services notice issued. It is almost impossible to say who's bike is abandoned, and who's clunker is parked outside a restaurant for the duration of an evening, but the blatant neon symbol of abandonment was obviously a marker for the official that issued this removal notice. I don't want to comment on the principals of whatever 'artistic' statement that this piece is trying to make, but I think it would stand better as a protest to the fact that city wide abandoned bikes are taking up bicycle parking-which is by no means in excess of itself to necessitate the people who ride, and is also no incentive for new riders to become part of a alternative transportation community. I am all for gorilla style street art, but if there is protest or statement to be made, it should be on getting more bikes actually ON the roads and having the City in turn respect our biking community.
Bill / June 2, 2011 at 01:29 pm
What the hell? Who painted my bike PINK?!
JP / June 2, 2011 at 01:32 pm
That's where my bike is.... Geez, I have been looking for that thing forever
Jim / June 2, 2011 at 01:34 pm
Marcel Duchamp it ain't, as far as found-art sculptures go. If she really wants it, there's no reason why it has to be context-specific, she can hacksaw the lock and take it home. Frame it and hang it on the wall. If the artist is taking ownership of this art project, she should apply for a permit to use the sidewalk space. If defending art is what we're about, how about the murals getting painted over? Those took more time and skill, and take up no space. Making something neon doesn't make it art.

The city should be more diligent about abandoned bikes, sure (though I don't really understand how they get abandoned. The bike goes from ride-able to not worth unlocking, suddenly?) but spraypainting a frame doesn't transform it from "bike permanently locked to post" into "art we must defend." It's a bike on a post, it should have been sawed off long ago. Changing its colour doesn't change what it is.
G / June 2, 2011 at 01:35 pm
I'm an avid cyclist, but I'm sorry, this is really ugly and an eyesore.

And it's taking up public space that could be used to park bikes that people actually use.

Good riddance.
Alex / June 2, 2011 at 01:36 pm
BlogTO's commenters really make me want to give up on this city. Why do you people take everything so seriously? Why do you hate each other so much? Jesus.
rek / June 2, 2011 at 01:48 pm
It's been there for years, but spray paint it and suddenly it's taking up precious space.
yellow / June 2, 2011 at 01:49 pm
One decorative feature of the city taking up ONE bike spot?

I'm a cycler and I don't mind walking an extra block to find a space. Stop and smell the bike flowers people.
Niall replying to a comment from Kieren / June 2, 2011 at 01:51 pm
Hilarious. And sadly true.
Ratpick / June 2, 2011 at 01:53 pm
Sorry, no support here. It's "art" all right -- grade 9 art. Needs to aim much higher.

Throw it in the scrap heap and start again.

Toronto can do better than this.

pants / June 2, 2011 at 02:03 pm
I agree with YELLOW. Out of the MILLIONS of bike spaces there are on the streets of Toronto, your worried about ONE being taken up by a funky little art project in front of a student gallery no less? With beautiful flowers in it?! Painted a beautiful pink?! Common peops, relax.
JoeParez replying to a comment from yearling / June 2, 2011 at 02:06 pm
It's never going to be a European city.

No city in North America is going to be either, and don't tell me otherwise.
mike / June 2, 2011 at 02:08 pm
John and Jim put it perfectly.
It cannot be said better.
Little Fury replying to a comment from rek / June 2, 2011 at 02:11 pm
Ding ding ding!

If the only way the city can tell that a bike has been abandoned is when someone paints it pink, the bylaw is clearly unenforceable and should be repealed.
Jan Jan / June 2, 2011 at 02:19 pm
It's only a pretty pink bike. Why are you people so angry?
Kieren / June 2, 2011 at 02:24 pm
Maybe Rob Ford can eat it for lunch. Or the suburbanites can try to make gas out of it so they can stop complaining about gas prices for a few days.
TorontosArtistCommunity / June 2, 2011 at 02:26 pm
Vandalism rules!
Eric26 / June 2, 2011 at 03:07 pm
It's pretty pathetic that this simply bylaw is only sporadically enforced. How hard is it to document something for a short period of time and then throw it in the trash?
heidi / June 2, 2011 at 03:15 pm
so how come the ghost bikes never get removed?
the lemur replying to a comment from JoeParez / June 2, 2011 at 03:20 pm
If only because European cities are generally more efficient about removing dead bikes. It's very unlikely that that bike would not have been picked up much sooner by the city in, say, Copenhagen.
rmcw / June 2, 2011 at 03:21 pm
Perhaps - nay, definitely - abandoned bikes should be dealt with better. But in all fairness, the bylaw officer probably has no way of telling whether or not this was already abandoned or was someone locking up a bike that was painted pink for the sake of locking up a bike that was painted pink. And it's not like the bike can't be salvaged - just get someone to cut the lock, and then keep the bike for posterity's sake. Do it with some other abandoned bikes, make a photography or sculpture exhibit out of it. Lord knows there aren't tons of other transient (and less obtrusive, all aesthetics aside) cases of street art.
Traveller replying to a comment from Eric26 / June 2, 2011 at 03:25 pm
That's the nature of a great many bylaws - they are only enforced through a complaint or some other means to get attention, and I suspect the bike parking is similar. I doubt the city has staff roaming the streets looking for rusty bikes all the time, but they go out when they get a complaint. There are plenty of things that are not conforming to bylaws that can be conveniently ignored if nobody minds, sort of an exemption by consensus. I'm not sure it's a bad way to do things.
Art / June 2, 2011 at 03:25 pm
Seriously it is on city property it will get moved eventually, that's life in the city. But this has inspired me to take my old toilet paint it pink and go over to royal york and leave it on rob fords front lawn.
TorontosArtistCommunity replying to a comment from Art / June 2, 2011 at 03:29 pm
It's not art in Toronto unless you use someone else's personal property as the canvas.
mike / June 2, 2011 at 04:09 pm
@eric26 because there are less than 100 by law officers (I believe there was 55 in 2009) for the entire city, and people give them a hard time every time they actually do their job (see this article and previous article about abandoned bikes)
keven replying to a comment from Jim / June 2, 2011 at 04:13 pm
"Changing its colour doesn't change what it is. "

You should tell that to painters!

Artist: "I took so my time painting this piece, it's really a reflection of our societel..."<you cut in>
You: "It's just a canvas. Changing the colour and painting on it doesn't change what it is"
Everyone: "Huh?"
Stefan replying to a comment from JoeParez / June 2, 2011 at 04:16 pm
Yeah, stupid North American cities that are located on the continent of North America!
lowrez / June 2, 2011 at 04:22 pm
This is a great project. Anyone who doesn't like it and comments about it here is a worthless piece of shit!

Welp, bye! (p.s. I'm not coming back to check replies to this, so eat it)
parkdaler replying to a comment from Luke / June 2, 2011 at 04:28 pm
Totally disappointing/childish.
realityCheck / June 2, 2011 at 04:35 pm
Without commenting on the aesthetic validity of the project, I will say that just because someone choses to label it as "art" doesn't mean that it is immune to the various bylaws and restrictions. Let's say someone wants to park a beat-up old car painted in neon pink at say, Bloor and Spadina. Labelling it "art" is not a valid defence against the vehicle getting ticketed and impounded. And it's not a valid defence in this case either. If you are going to be a guerrilla artist, then you need to be able to live with the consequences that sometimes ensue from not getting the proper permissions/approvals.
geoff / June 2, 2011 at 04:44 pm
Who cares whether or not it's "art"? Things like this brighten up our dusty, treeless streets.
michael / June 2, 2011 at 04:49 pm
Cool idea!
Eli / June 2, 2011 at 05:05 pm
What'd you do to my bike?!?!?!?
Matt replying to a comment from FoFF / June 2, 2011 at 05:38 pm
Worthless comment from a braindead troll.
B / June 2, 2011 at 05:50 pm
This looks very similar to bike memorials that are in NYC. They paint a bike white and set it up permanently near where a person died in a biking accident on the streets. That's what I assumed it was when I first saw the photo.

Thankfully this bike is a happy bike.
buncle / June 2, 2011 at 06:33 pm
Caroline - you must have seen this?!:;feature=related
Genie / June 2, 2011 at 07:02 pm
I like it, and coming across it on Dundas made me smile. I say let the city take it, then replace it with another abandoned bike (there seem to be plenty around the corner on St. Patrick).

Turn it into an art bike cycle.
Josh / June 2, 2011 at 07:36 pm
It should be removed. Its hard to find a place to lock up sometimes. This bike is taking up one spot, it should be removed. It was a neat little project, but you don't get to keep it there forever. It was fun, got a little media attention its time for it to go. Maybe the gallery can get more attention if you do something cool on or in something that you actually own. Why not paint your entire gallery front orange?
Foo replying to a comment from whatgives / June 2, 2011 at 07:45 pm
No, using the phrase "Eat sh*t Caroline" makes it "embarrassing commentary". That's what gives. Jerk.
Damien Walder replying to a comment from John / June 2, 2011 at 07:47 pm
"Whose", not "Who's'.
anonymous / June 2, 2011 at 08:17 pm
I'm really disappointed about the comments section of this post. Our city is so much better then this. Anybody not form Toronto reading these bitter, rude and ignorant posts, please do not judge our city based on what you are reading. We're really nice people!
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Stu / June 2, 2011 at 09:23 pm
Its just a bike that she doesn't own, she should be glad it had a good run and got the attention it did. Did she steal the bike? She certainly painted someone elses property
jason / June 2, 2011 at 09:28 pm
The flowers make it pretty.
Toby / June 2, 2011 at 09:50 pm
Can they use the same creativity and enthusiasm to make the gallery window something a little more interesting and exciting? Can they paint on the window in neon paint OR put some kind of artistic display in there. People love to window shop, window browse.

If you're saying "The student gallery is on a rather gray, dismal strip of Dundas St", the gallery is contributing to that gray dismal strip with our without the bike. Come on gang, lets add some excitement to the student gallery store front!!!
Jebz / June 2, 2011 at 10:16 pm
Dear Transportation Services, and Right of way Managers,

I am a Toronto citizen who would not like to see the neon bike, city beautification, instillation project on Dundas Street removed. Quite frankly the bike is not in my way, but a part of my way. Seeing the neon bike on my casual, but frequent walking commute brings a smile to my face. As the city begins to demand more and more money through taxes for its specific plans, that are pushing community art and habitat projects aside, and out from city funders view, you should be thanking Caroline Macfarlane instead of removing her project. The city did not have to pay for the beautiful public piece. This is a gift, and should be considered as one, by the City of Toronto.

Thank you,

dave replying to a comment from whatgives / June 2, 2011 at 11:16 pm
yes. telling someone to eat sh*t is embarrassingly juvenile.
LydiavonS replying to a comment from Al / June 2, 2011 at 11:26 pm
Seems to me that this would be an idea place to "raft" - that is to lock up next to it, with no danger of locking the owner in.
As someone said above, it is charming - my vote would be to leave it be. If we have too many of them, however, the charm would dissipate. Anyone remember the dreadful moose?

Paul / June 3, 2011 at 12:23 am
get out of there already! looks like shit!
Steve replying to a comment from Paul / June 3, 2011 at 01:31 am
get out of here already, you are shit (paul)!
paul / June 3, 2011 at 01:43 am
Noooopeeeee. It looks like a bike in a ghetto!!!reeeeeeemoooveee it!!
mike / June 3, 2011 at 07:35 am
Remember Toronto, if you destroy someone else's property all you have to do is call it art and mention Rob Ford, and blogto and its commenters will spring to your defence. Heck, just post a picture of it and they'll probably call it art and mention Rob Ford for you.

Clearly no law is higher than art, and if anyone calls you out on it, just say that no one was using it anyways! After all, if the owner isn't in sight, its yours to destroy because they abandoned it.
gadfly replying to a comment from mike / June 3, 2011 at 09:11 am
Best post I've read in a long time, Mike!
becki / June 3, 2011 at 09:11 am
love it!
mike in parkdale replying to a comment from the lemur / June 3, 2011 at 09:12 am
"Nice idea, but there's a functioning bike going without a parking space as a result."

not really. The parking space didn't get taken away 'as a result' of this idea. The parking space was taken by someone who abandoned the bike years ago, and not the paintjob.

and really - if I saw a painted bike like the one above, complete with a painted U-Lock, I'd just lock my bike to it - it's not like someone's coming to move it.
Welshgrrl / June 3, 2011 at 10:30 am
Serious question, not trolling I promise ... gadfly, why do you live in Toronto? Is there anything that you in fact *like* about this city?
keven replying to a comment from mike / June 3, 2011 at 11:01 am
...Okay I'll bite (troll). Who's property is the bike exactly? Perhaps this will help?
the lemur replying to a comment from mike in parkdale / June 3, 2011 at 11:03 am
Fine, then we need a better policy on abandoned bikes to start with. Then if someone wants to make art out of an old bike, they can find/buy an old bike, paint it and put it somewhere where it won't be in the way.
Matt / June 3, 2011 at 11:21 am
Once it was just a bike and nobody was talking about it. Then it got painted and that made some people upset and made others smile. Then it was put on the internet and a whole bunch of people who weren't talking about it before it was painted started talking about it. That's when the haters got their hate on.
mike / June 3, 2011 at 11:57 am
@keven I'm sorry troll, but I don't know the owner of every bike in toronto. There are quite a few and I stopped memorizing the owner of every bike I saw on the street when I reached 9000. Maybe a psychic could help with your enquiry?
mike / June 3, 2011 at 12:06 pm
What keven et al. Don't seem to understand is there are 2 parties that have claim to the bike. The bike's owner, and the owner of the post to which it is locked. Any other party altering the bike in any way are vandals. I simply cannot fathom what makes you people think you have the right to touch someone else's property, let alone destroy it.

What disgusts me most isn't the vandalism, I even agree with the idea of either beautifying or removing these eyesores. What disgusts me is the self-righteousness as if god himself came down and gave you permission to destroy something that doesn't belong to you, and the way people act as ifthe city is in the wrong for enforcing its laws.

I don't think anyone except foff is actually upset that the bike was painted, they're upset at the attitude of people who think that they're giving a gift to the world by vandalizing private (the bike) and public (the post) property.
keven replying to a comment from mike / June 3, 2011 at 12:12 pm
What part of "abandoned" can you not get through your thick skull exactly?
Tim / June 3, 2011 at 12:24 pm
Ohh my god people don't like it!!!!

You'll never get 100% of people to agree with you. Discussion is good.

Remember 51% approval is considered a landslide in politics. If you can get half the people to agree with you thats good.

We're allowed to be negative and positive on this issue.

Remove the friggin bike!!!
bleh / June 3, 2011 at 02:10 pm
Frankly, it seems that this bike served its purpose quite well. Nobody gave 2 craps about it a few days ago and suddenly everyone and their mother has an opinion about it.
mike / June 3, 2011 at 02:30 pm
@keven who gave you the right to decide what's abandoned and what's not? What part of "it's not yours, don't touch it" can't you get through your own skull? I learned to keep my hands to myself and ask permission before touching other's property in daycare when I was 3 years old, sounds like you need a refresher course.
stefanie / June 4, 2011 at 08:09 am
This is not art, its a bike, with a horrible paint job, prohibiting the use of a functional piece of city property. Get rid please.
stefanie replying to a comment from JoeParez / June 4, 2011 at 08:12 am
Europe is a dirty whore house, why on earth would we want to be anything like an European city?
the lemur replying to a comment from stefanie / June 4, 2011 at 11:15 am
Riiiiight, because a (sic) European city chosen at random is the same as any other European city, just as all North American cities are exactly alike. And other cities couldn't possibly have figured out how to keep themselves cleaner, tidier and more visually appealing than ours. Nothing to be learned, nuh-uh.
d replying to a comment from G / June 4, 2011 at 04:52 pm
That's exactly what I was thinking.
the lemur replying to a comment from gadfly / June 5, 2011 at 01:52 am
It's a bike, gadfly, and one of the rusty old kind you especially like to hate. WTF do you care what happens to it?

We're in for a long and boring mayoralty if we keep resorting to pointless arguments about whether something that isn't destined to be purely functional (anymore) and seems to be mainly decorative is or is not art and whether what happens surrounding it is either indicative of the supposed tyranny of art over taxpayer populism or some kind of mayoral agenda.

Somewhere between this bike becoming rusty all over and possibly abandoned, the city's policy on such things and one person's idea on what to do with it lies the potential for better municipal service <b>and</b> an opportunity for people to get creative without other people feeling inconvenienced and/or offended at supposedly being asked to assign 'art' status to something.

I think it's pretty telling that various passing cops approved of the process. And that the city's failure to deal with this particular abandoned bike was highlighted, although that was probably not the intention.

I passed it while it was being primered (it just looked like light green paint at that point) and I figured it was just someone trying to enliven her own bike, maybe make it distinctive enough not to get stolen. But not a comment on the city or a way of forcing 'art' on people who don't like hearing the word.

I figure we can have an effective way of dealing with abandoned property (including buildings, which are a much bigger deal, especially for those living near them) AND allow for people to pursue their own creative ideas. Maybe this one should be somewhere else. But it seems people would rather bitch about what it is and what it represents than think about the implications and the possibilities.
stefanie replying to a comment from the lemur / June 5, 2011 at 01:57 am
lemur, you are super boring and you talk to much.
stefanie replying to a comment from stefanie / June 5, 2011 at 01:58 am
the lemur replying to a comment from stefanie / June 5, 2011 at 07:58 am
Oh no! I got told off by a slackjawed halfwit! Boy, I really got schooled there.
Sean replying to a comment from stefanie / June 5, 2011 at 11:55 am
Europe is a dirty whore house?

Have you ever been to Europe?

Have you ever been to a whore house?
Johnny Cash 2.0 / June 6, 2011 at 09:04 am
If this bike was a tune-up away from being road-worthy, I'd say that this "beautification" was pretty wasteful. And hell, half the bike post was painted pink too... the artist should thank her lucky stars she wasn't charged with vandalism.
Johnny Cash 2.0 replying to a comment from Jack / June 6, 2011 at 09:06 am
Thanks Jack, you da man!
The Legend / June 6, 2011 at 05:10 pm
What makes this art? If I piss on the sidewalk and the pavement gets darker, is that art? There is nothing creative here. She just spray painted a bike. That's like saying when you paint the walls in your house you have created art. Need I go on? Shite, shite, shite. Get rid of it.
Darren / June 8, 2011 at 08:31 am
Is everyone cool if I paint the bike all black tonight? I'm going to paint it black, as a statement its a shadow of a bike that once was
Joshie / June 8, 2011 at 09:47 pm
Going, Going, GONE! THIS was once a hot topic. What a difference a week makes...
Joshie / June 8, 2011 at 09:57 pm
I'll take it!!! I could definately use the bike to ride to work. Unlock the bitch!! The Beast is back!!!

David / June 8, 2011 at 11:47 pm
I'm interested in the difference between "storing" and "parking."
Rob replying to a comment from stefanie / September 23, 2011 at 10:03 am
Europe is a dirty whore house, why on earth would we want to be anything like an European city?
First off Stefanie is a stalker who ramdomly posts on alot of things. In her usual ignorant way.Just type in her name and you can see. First she would know all about whore house cause she is one. She is with another womans man. So why she chooses to be so ignorant and annoying comes from sleeping with another womans man. She is a cold hearted woman with nothing more to do than leave rude posts about things she knows nothing about. While her man is home with his woman and there kids. She needs to grove up. Get a job and get a life. Toronto is diverafied and unique.As with all citys there is always something to complain about.Stefanie needs to be ignored and go crawl in her hole and die.
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