Paul Groot 1 Jan 2004

Gourmet Cycling Lady

Long live the burqua

About the longing for a Gourmet Cycling Lady clad in a Burqua. In five parts and a multicultural postscriptum.

Bearing the exquisite anachronistically tinted title Ladies Gourmet Bicycling, Debra Solomon's exhibition in the Mediamatic Supermarket provided the visitor with a home trainer/ bicycle and with a showroom filled with exquisitely designed fashion, inspired by the european bicycling subculture. While accompanied by larger than life portraits of women doing their daily rounds in this attire, the mediamatic supermarket temporarily seemed to be a bastion of bicycling subculture.

However, it soon became clear that the project, which was partly formulated in beautiful lost english terminology, which certainly is no part of the McDonald's English of the new world order of president Bush, was different than it seemed. Because what is shown here at this avant-garde place was not created by a fashion designer or a bicycle company, but by an artist. By Debra Solomon, a dutch woman, but originally from California and former cyberspacie, whom in the last years has developed a very precise avant-garde signature. And who now creates a somewhat banal first impression, which later became a notably intriguing fashion trend.

The vulgarity of everyday bicycle races

The installation in the Mediamatic Supermarket seem like the first step to sports fame. Here the first step was taken towards a revaluation, a super aesthetification of the bicycler and her natural surroundings. When we think of cycling we generally think of that vulgar man's world, the banal cyclist's world of the sons of Belgian mineworkers, that of Italian or Spanish farmers, whom for years have formed the entourage of that one American superstar, the one who so masculinely conquered the cancer he carried in his testicles. The ambitious, competitive, continuously eyeballing each other, poor bicyclists on the road whom are not much better than by gamblers or others manipulated by some armed force.

A sort of criterion was held at the Mediamatic Super Salon on the 6th of April, which had been organized especially for the exhibition. Which was a few rounds around a couple of blocks, all fantastically fake, meant as a concession to the masculine atmosphere of competition. That most of the participants were male, and that the criterion eventually ended in the painful fall of one of the female participants, was certainly an omen. It became clear that the ambition of trying to measure up to that masculine vulgar world should be avoided. That is why Solomon is wrong when she gives the exhibition the motto it takes a strong man to be a strong woman. For that moment is when unreal things start mixing into her project. The essence of these unreal things having been explained just before by Arie Altena in a small lecture during the Salon. The story of the media and the bicycle races, of the almost one hundred and fifty year old history of the male butts that create the telegenic spectacle that goes with the regular bicycle competition agenda. An agenda that is filled with vulgarity, secret agreements and especially everyday drugs. The intercourse between mass media, read television, and the cycling itself turns a modern race into a blunt parody of some sort of military campaign, where the mobile phone is the protagonist and the biggest blabbermouths have the best chances. Therefore, let us get rid of these circus races, of these traffic endangering bicycle race tourists, the agitated reporters of the ruined by commercial ambition Tour de Frances and Giros d'Italia! Begone the tough race stories which only find meaning at a keg in a bar!

The Vermeer Girls in a Victorian Atmosphere


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At Debra Solomon's it is partially about the rehabilitation of the bicycle, about cyclist's clothing, about the stimulants and also the bicyclist himself. The cyclist's apparel, the shirts and the shorts, all made to serve the body of the biker and cyclist. This is the aestheticism of the bicycle that suddenly reintroduced the grandeur of the first bicycles in history. The banality of the bicycle has suddenly found (also in the light of future supermodels) an almost artistic domestic surrounding. Here one does not cycle in the company of one's own friends from the club, nor in ethereal competition, but only in the company of oneself.

With Solomon, cycling is more than we think that it is. Her introduction leaves little room for doubt: this is an artistic escape project, where the bicycle is also used for something completely different than transport. She presents the bicycle as an invention created by her herself, as if we are now at a presentation of a new means of transport, and with such self evidence, that in our fascination for this gadget we completely overlook the fact that for her, it is about something completely different. While we observe this invention full of surprise, How could you come up with that, propelling yourself on two wheels and not falling over! Solomon uses the introduction of the bicycle as an artistic crowbar to introduce a new fashion. Not a narrow introduction of confection, but much something much wider, a reintroduction of an era into our civilization. The rehabilitation of an era that was sent into apparent exile last century, the era of queen Victoria. Suddenly the cyclist's atmosphere is above all a sudden flight to the etiquette of a time so full of prejudice and repulsion, an area that modern art still tries to avoid. Or tried to avoid. At least, the last century has, with the exception of a few not to be taken seriously retrospective views, turned away from that dark period and focused on the future of the next century. And then suddenly this Victorian oriented Ladies Gourmet Cycling shows up. With so much gusto that you just have to surrender.

Who could have ever imagined, the thought of the Victorian woman, who has been poster boarded as the most ridiculous western personality of the past century, has been reinstituted by Solomon in one go and portrayed as an ideal. Not in the long dresses, not even in the posture of the suffragette, which is what kept the image of the victorian woman so alive, but in the form of a woman who falls between the charm of the girls of Vermeer and Godard, and of the Pre-Raphaelites. During the opening of the show we saw them working. These girls, thrust into cyclist's apparel, seemed to have wandered straight off the canvasses of Vermeer and the Pre-Raphaelites. The training of masculine cycling is so barbaric in comparison to the intimacy of the embroidering girls who do the true artistic work! Because they do more than embroidery alone. The symbolic side effects outshine even their own work. These girls represent exactly what is important to Solomon: an equipe of ladies, stylish in their cycling outfits, working on their picnic blankets that will soon become wrap around skirts you can easily wear while cycling. Her piece-de-resistance was of course the entirely idiosyncratically designed yellow jersey , a bodice modeled after a bicycle top which in this case was not exclusively for the winner of the Tour de France. It carries, very gallantly floating in the subtle lighting, without further ado, her ideologic message. Especially the details, which surpass the tight streamline of the contemporary cyclist fashion, have a beautiful element of old fashioned gallantry.

Solomon understands it all very well: even though in her photos tough girls are portrayed that want to impress while on the hometrainer, her real heroines are the seamstresses who, while sewing, add the sparkle to her show. Here the shadow of our postmodern era cherishes the sheen of what matters to her: a rehabilitation of the Victorian world image. Because beware, Solomon is engaged in both time spans as an expert through experience. Her true ambition is to lay these times over each other and so to create a new image.

Diet and pills


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Apparently everyone agrees that in cycling, the drugs are elementary. Solomon also formulates that clearly and precisely. In her medicine cabinet the modern necessities of a Dutch-Californian woman are bound together in untranslatable terms to the nineteenth century chic, and the twenty first century sport terminology is bound to a language virtuous retro ambition. Victorian, but adapted to modern day standards. I have checked, and this endorphin experience, that Solomon spends so much of the attention of her artistic program on, is obviously the image of the postmodern artistic pill jar. I am not a dietist, but the attention Solomon spends on the right drinks, vitamins and power pills seems balanced and necessary, because without pills and green there will be no sports achievement. But let us not dwell on the excess of the official cyclist atmosphere here. Not a handful of pills from the pillbox of the professional cyclist, the EPS, but a responsible choice, and Solomon (who was an employee of the artistic cooking ensemble Supperclub) knows all about those. Here the diet follows the raw food diet and of course the diet of low glycaemic index food to alter our experience of endorphins to induce a consciousness altering experience. Anyone who knows better is free to speak now, but what Solomon means is that on a well followed diet, you can get high. As I think that she thinks that the Victorian women also knew exactly how to have psychedelic experiences while behaving so utterly reasonable.

But these prerequisites have yet another character. Because what we see here are also regular disclosures from the secret medicine cabinet of Solomon's Polish ancestors and dietary advice from people who were enchanted by the British Victorian civilization. Stimuli that automatically lead to the imagery of Paris somewhere in the nineteenth century when the bicycle first appears in the Luxembourg park. Flabbergasted by the miracle taking place, and hardly aware of the neighbor on the next bench being just as surprised, who will later, as Alfred Jarry, recreate this wonder bicycle as an artistic symbol, the bicycle enters the collective memory of the Solomon family by means of an ancestor. And perhaps it was the writer Marcel Proust who was sitting just yonder, precisely then conceiving the trip to The Hague where one of the main characters from his main novel series Swann, will start understanding Vermeer as the ideal painter. (Swann, can one imagine a more beautiful Victorian name than that of the great admirer of the painting of Vermeer? And, to exceed Gazelle, is Swann not the ideal bicycle brand?) Later, when the Solomon family ends up in California, the family secret will be passed on, to eventually become an artistic process in this Ladies Gourmet Cycling Project .

The bicycle and cycling

The bicycle is back from a one and a half century parcours, back to its starting point as Victorian gadget: back in the park, back in mother nature, back in the hands of an elite. From the race back to the match in the living room, from the mud in the criterion back to the colorful boudoir. And all that, and now nothing can surprise you anymore, for an intellectual-spiritual activity.

For the semi-hometrainer that was mounted at Mediamatic, Solomon even selected a reading diet. Under the front wheel of her hometrainer she placed a few books from her own library, important family volumes, which included the family's Walden by Thoreau. And am I mistaken, or did I also see America's nature poet R.W. Emerson? This is her gift to the Netherlands, where everything is small and limited, none of that liberal thinking about nature and the cosmos. She shares her American heritage with us, that amazing feeling of nature, that applauded by Thoreau and Emerson wandering through natural space, with all the poetic and joyful sounds. This is the context in which we should understand the bicycle. Solomon wants to share that nature experience, so much is evident. At the MediamaticSuperSalon, for the occasion of the exhibition, Todd Matsumoto cycled himself nearly to death while he explored the possibilities of virtual bicycling on the T1900 i-Magic trainer. On his virtual reality trainer Matsumoto kept one eye on the monitor to have himself as his own opponent. Sweating profusely, he raced after himself, and managed to cycle to the finish of his short trajectory in record time. But if we can actually get in contact with the nineteenth century nature narcissism while bicycling is still a question. You do your bicycle exercises and when necessary let your ambitions be carried on by your computer, but it all of course has to lead to the lost nineteenth century glamor that you can find back while confronting yourself. Because that is how to achieve the ultimate level of narcissism, to glance over your shoulder, not at the monitor but casually at the mirror next to you, or at the reflecting shop windows. A diffident gaze that should indeed be intellectual, to be able to see other horizons winking in the distance. The bicycle as an object that brings together. The recognition of the intellectual narcissism of Thoreau and Emerson, where a nineteenth century masculine triumphalism is still compared to a reserved feminine awareness.

A multicultural PS: The Burqua


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The Ladies are back and shining in the clothes and atmosphere Solomon gave them. The spirits of Vermeer, Swann and the ladies from Queen Victoria's surroundings generate an image of a new person, with or without bicycle. But as I write this, a photograph of Maurice Boyer from the NRC newspaper of the 26th of April adorns my table, in which a girl wrapped in a black burqua signs a petition against banning this facial coverage in public schools. Her clothing shows the same precision and refiner that the Vermeer-girls of Solomon did. At the same time it creates the tension of something unreal: a young girl that literally finds a return to the Victorian era, driven by the multi cultural shock. Solomon plays an artistically necessary game, and so does this girl. Only Solomon knows it, and this girl is oblivious of any double bottom. For those who know the twentieth century artistic avant-garde ideology and modern art, this image has as much gruesome as fragile beauty. At this point one of the strongest tests twentieth century art went through, this test being the black square by Malevich, which in art has had an artistic-religious meaning for so long, loses all its meaning to this girl signaling with her raised hand. Her icon appears to have a far more surprising power than ever was given to Malevich's work.

I am looking forward to another project in which Solomon and this girl present themselves together. Long live the students dressed in Burqua, and long live the Gourmet Cycling Lady, cutting edge in her boudoir!

translated by Nadya Peek