Rider Spoke

Artist: Blast Theory
Location: Sydney, Australia
Year of completion: 2009
Researcher: Karen Olson

Combining theater with game play, mobile technology, and cycling, Rider Spoke invites the audience to ride bicycles equipped with a handheld computer through the streets of a city, to reflect on their own lives, and to hear the stories of others.

It begins with participants arriving at a venue, bringing their own bikes or borrowing them. Following a short introduction and a safety briefing, each cyclist heads out into the streets with a handheld computer mounted on the handlebars and an earphone providing verbal instructions and questions. Using wi-fi for detecting location, the screen of the device guides the cyclist and shows nearby “hiding places.”

Once a cyclist finds a hiding place—a spot previously undiscovered by any other player—the device flashes an alert and the cyclist is asked a question. The cyclist then records an answer to the question, which can be listened to at a later stage by other riders. The cyclist continues, finding hiding places of other riders where they can stop and listen to other answers to the same questions.

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Rider Spoke was conceived by Brighton, UK–based artists Matt Adams, Ju Row Farr and Nick Tandavanitj, who make up the arts group Blast Theory. Their projects—which use interactive media to create groundbreaking new forms of performance and interactive art that mixes audiences across the internet, live performance, and digital broadcasting—offer inquiry into social and political issues and into performance in the age of personal communication.

In the case of Rider Spoke, the artists, who are all cyclists, wanted to explore the private/public divide. “We’re seeing a collapse of the boundary between private and public,” says Adams. So they designed the project to give participants the opportunity to explore those boundaries through having cyclists be on their own and engaged in a public activity. The experience is underlined by having participants on bicycles, where they are amongst others in the city yet separate from pedestrians and road traffic.

First presented in 2007 at London Barbican, Rider Spoke has toured the world for seven years and an archive of over 20,000 recordings has been collected. In 2009 it was presented in Sydney as part of the British Council's Creative Cities program in East Asia. There, participants and critics loved the unexpectedness of it.

“Rider Spoke is such a gloriously enlivening piece of theatre,” wrote Lucy Powell in Metro. “It manages to embrace the remorseless rush of the city while insisting on the individual’s ability to pierce it with quiet reflection.”

“As soon as it was over, I wanted more,” wrote William Wiles in ICON. “We are truly fortunate in this century, in the wired and anonymous city, to have rediscovered aboriginal notions of songlines and dreamtime, to explore with the aid of mobile technology a new form of strangely low-tech play. Rider Spoke was magical.”

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency