Karrie Jacobs


January 29, 2008

Ghost Bikes

Photo from 350, intervencion urbana by Fernanado Traverso.

On my recent visit to Santa Fe, I checked out an exhibition called The Disappeared at the contemporary art center SITE. It was a group show of South and Central American artists commemorating the lives of those who were kidnapped and murdered by the military dictatorships that took power from the 1950s through the 1980s. As you might expect, it was a somber show.

I was particularly struck by the work of Argentine artist Fernando Traverso who, in his hometown of Rosario, created a memorial for the 350 disappeared resistance workers by stenciling ghost images of their abandoned bicycles all over the city. Such a simple gesture, but when multiplied 350 times, I imagine that it’s more powerful than a more formal memorial, the kind that’s carved in stone or cast in bronze.

Maybe Traverso’s bicycles got to me because the symbol, the ghost bicycle, is familiar. It’s much like the way bicycle activists here in New York and around the world commemorate the deaths of bicyclists killed by motorists. While I wouldn’t equate the targeted victims of Argentina’s dirty war to the accidental victims of New York’s aggressive street culture, both sorts of ghost bikes are eloquent statements on the imbalance of power.

P.S. Speaking of imbalanced power, check out the latest on the Atlantic Yards project: Ratner meets the credit crunch, yesterday and today.