Vanessa Renwick Portrait
By Stephen Irving
Cyclists in Portland will be familiar with Vanessa Renwick’s recent art installation, the Zoobomb Pyle. For the last eight years, Zoobomb has been taking place every Sunday night in Portland and it’s all about fast speeds and downhill fun.
Vanessa Renwick – of the Oregon Department of Kick Ass – and friend Brian Borello, were selected by the City of Portland to design a piece of public art that also serves as a rack for the mini bikes Zoobombers use to bomb down hills. Renwick and Bordello designed a hill-shaped plinth with an 18-foot curvy rod and tire-sized metal rings that the bikes can be piled on. The cherry on top is a gold-leafed mini bike glistening in the sky. The project was a lot of fun for Renwick, and she enjoys going by it now and seeing it in use. In her words: “The mini looks sweet atop all the candy-colored kids’ bikes chained up below!”
Always striving to inspire, Renwick aims to expand minds through film, video and installation art. Her work is iconoclastic and reflective of her interest in place, space and borders of all kinds. She credits her Uptown Chicago upbringing for this. “I am really into the way places look, both natural and man-made,” Renwick said. As a child, “I had both the incredible Lake Michigan as well as all of the stupendous architecture around me.” She would later explore Chicago’s built environment in detail. “That was a great perk of being a bike messenger; I got to go into all of those buildings.”
Renwick has completed other bicycle-inspired artwork as well, such as a video installation entitled The Yodeling Lesson. Exhibit patrons must ride a 1940s Schwinn to power a video projection of Xtra Tuf ’zine writer Moe Bowstern riding a bicycle up Mississippi Hill in Portland and then bombing down the hill in the nude with no hands. If you stop pedaling, the video stops immediately.
Renwick has been a cyclist since childhood. “I have been riding since my mother taught me to ride a Schwinn when I was five years old.” In her senior year of high school, Renwick became a bike messenger in Chicago and, on her Sears Free Spirit ten-speed, felt like she could outride almost anyone. “This was back in the days of payphones and clipboards. It was a very blue-collar job. I was the freakiest, being a girl. I remember three months after I gave birth to our son, Damek, his dad and I went in for an interview to split a job bike messengering for Seiko. I ended up breastfeeding during the interview. They hired us. Damek is now a bike mechanic.”
Currently, Renwick rides a 1999 LeMond Tourmalet covered in stickers and two old red Schwinn single-speeds – 1940s and 1950s era. “The ’40s one gets used for The Yodeling Lesson installation mostly,” she explained. “I used to ride that tank a lot. I would like to get some sort of cargo option, so my older dog Jack could come along for some rides. My younger dog Fox likes running alongside.”
Vanessa Renwick is currently wrapping up an Artist in Residency position in Caldera, Oregon and is anticipating a busy year of exhibitions and creativity. “I am working on completing a new DVD compilation of my films which will be called North South East West: All Over the Map with Vanessa Renwick. When that is done I will head out on the road for a lot of months and go on tour,” she notes. “Keep an eye out in 2011 for me and my work coming your way!”
Oregon Department of Kick Ass: odoka.org