You don’t have to be a cycling enthusiast to appreciate the enormity and beauty of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s creation on display in Toronto this month.
Forever Bicycles is a larger-than-life sculpture of 3,144 interlocked steel bicycles bathed in blue and pink light. It’s not the first time the piece has been seen in public–it debuted in Taipei with 1,200 bikes in 2011–but this version is far bigger and is installed in an outdoor public space, with bikes stacked 30-feet high in the city’s Nathan Phillips Square.
The name of the piece comes from the bikes that make up its construction. Yong Jiu, according to the installation’s web page, can be translated as “forever” and is also the “foremost bicycle brand” in China. The labyrinthine structure, the site explains, is meant to symbolize the changing social environment in China and around the globe.
Ai Weiwei is more qualified to comment on this topic than most. An outspoken activist pressing China on democracy and human rights issues, many of his pieces have a political element to them–in 2011, his arrest and three-month detention by the Chinese government spurred an international backlash.
To get a sense of what went into the piece, watch filmmaker Ryan Emond’s time lapse video of the construction, commissioned by the City of Toronto. “As I was filming, I wanted to make sure I showed how the small parts of the overall structure were so important. To do this, I highlighted the individual tools during the slow motion segment of the video–they were surprisingly modest; basically just a wrench, some bolts, and a lot of tedious and skillful work,” Emond writes.