I was a Novigrad newcomer until last month (and embarrassingly must confess to thinking it was a town in Russia rather than Croatia) however was utterly charmed by the Istrian town. Old Venetian city walls from the 13th century enclose a space littered with historic bell-towers, churches, a colourful harbour, and narrow streets decorated with bright umbrellas and other artworks! I was also fortunate enough to be visiting during the 8th International Festival of Visual Arts, breathing additional life and activity into this small but progressive town. This years’ theme was ‘Let there be… bicycle’ to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the invention of bikes and incorporated modern and contemporary art, a photography exhibition, performances, film screenings, workshops and other activities emanating from the Museum Lapidarium – the nucleus and organiser of the festival. Outside the museum you were greeted by a large-scale installation by Italian artist Marco Milia, created from interconnected blue plastic circles. Its site-specific nature, lack of clear boundaries and circular rhythms forced viewers to interact with the space differently; kids explored, locals and tourists were absorbed, and the sun and wind played with it throughout each day and evening. The museum building itself was animated with sculptures of cyclists hunched over their bikes created by Croatian artist Vasko Lipovac, Braco Dimitrijevic’s bicycle themed artwork ‘Tryptichos Post Historicus’ decorated a nearby window, and a selection of vintage photographs of cyclists was displayed in the Gallery around the corner. As night fell, festival activity stepped up a gear as films were projected in the main square, performance art took place in small parks and on street corners, and visitors were able to both watch or help with a workshop led by London’s Bamboo Bicycle Club to build a rideable bike out of bamboo from start to finish in just three days. With both a permanent archaeological collection and changing programme of contemporary art exhibitions, I left eager to return to Novigrad and see what future exhibitions hold.
I’d describe myself as a fledgling cyclist yet have already been the unhappy recipient of a Penalty Notice for Disorder and a £60 fine courtesy of the Royal Parks Police on my way to work one morning, so was eager to educate myself more about the UK’s fastest growing method of urban transport at the ‘Cycle Revolution’ exhibition. Visitors are greeted by Ben Wilson’s steel sculpture created from bike frames in the museum atrium, and tyre tracks then lead you up the stairs to the exhibition floor itself. Once there the show is separated into different “tribes” – ‘High Performers’, ‘Thrill Seekers’, ‘Urban Riders’, ‘Cargo Bikers’, ‘Frame Builders’ and a look into the ‘Future of Cycling’. Numerous iconic bikes including Bradley Wiggins’ 2015 Hour Record bike and 2014 World Championship Time Trial bikes, Chris Hoy’s 2012 Olympic Track bike and the earliest Brompton prototype in existence are all handsomely displayed. However what I found more interesting were the personal stories of London’s 155,000 inhabitants who now cycle to work every day including the ultimate urban cyclist Lucy Granville, heavily pregnant and still using her bike to navigate her way across the city! Similarly the ‘Future of Cycling’ provided insights into urban planners global responses to the growing needs of 21st century cyclists as well as showcasing pioneering new bikes; notably Bamboo Bicycle Club’s innovative and sleek matt black 2015 Road Bike created from sustainable bamboo and joined using flax fibre and an eco-epoxy resin. This bike could have equally sat amongst the other British ‘Frame Builders’ as the Club teaches people to build their own bespoke frames rather than mass producing bikes. This is the Design Museums’ final exhibition at their current Shad Thames location, and it has certainly clicked into gear and ended on a high.
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