Aram Bartholl has salvaged rental bikes and scooters from the Spree River—and is now exhibiting them as material relics of the platform economy in Berlin
It takes a second to recognise these two-wheeled artefacts for what they really are: electric scooters and cheap rental bikes that are usually scattered around the city, their poisonous colours vying for our attention. The greenish layer of mud and algae coating them gives them the look of historical relics. Currently on view in the Journey into a Living Being exhibition at Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien, they could almost be objects from a fictional history, treasures recovered from Damien Hirst’s 2017 Wreck of the Unbelievable.
They have, in fact, merely been fished out of the Spree after being thrown in by people in a destructive rage. Perhaps out of frustration with the uncomfortable rickety wheels, or anger at how invasive the electric scooters have become, spreading through the city on a pretext of more environmentally friendly transportation. Artist Aram Bartholl has dredged them up again. In the brightly lit exhibition space, the bikes and scooters, now home to innumerable small crabs and worms, reveal themselves to be material outgrowths of platform capitalism dominated by web providers like Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon.
The scores of scooter and bicycle suppliers in major international cities are currently faced with tough competition. Damage to the stock, which is treated with so much less care than private possessions, kicked, broken, thrown into rivers and canals, is factored into turnover calculations. The e-scooters in particular, with their resource-intensive lithium-ion batteries, lay bare the fact that sustainable, shared private transport turns out to have been an empty promise. Digital capitalism also produces huge piles of rubbish.
As a post-internet artist, Bartholl explores how the logic of the internet and the new economy is changing consumer behaviour and self-perception, and deconstructing our concept of privacy. Bicycles from companies like Nextbike, Mobike, and Lidl were featured in Bartholl’s 2017 work Your parcel has been delivered (to your neighbour). At that time, he collected them from public areas around the city, stacking them into a huge pile to create a sculpture in the private space of a gallery.
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