Elbow Grease, 2021

Celsius Projects, Malmö. 

photos by Lena Bergendahl

In a book of proverbs from the 1880s entitled ‘The Salt Cellars’ by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, elbow grease is seen as a more effective solution to polishing furniture and silverware, claiming “elbow grease makes wealth increase.” The author elaborates: “elbow polish, or elbow grease, is a fine article in a household, and beats boar’s grease and goose grease into fits.”

In a new series of works the two identities of a bicycle mechanic and an artist are merged together. The works are made out of rags that have been collected from the bicycle workshop where the artist is employed as a mechanic. Before they end up in the bike workshop they might have first been used in the hotel industry. To many people hotels represent holiday and work, relaxation and sleep, toil and sweat, shower and sex. The towels meet all possible types of people. They are washed and folded, used and thrown onto the bathroom floor, over and over again.

 

When they are too worn-out for hotel-use they are torn into smaller pieces and sold to the bike shop as a batch of vacuum-packed rags. While in the bike shop they attract a variety of substances such as bicycle oils, lubricants, detergents, dirt, coffee, blood, and anything else that abounds. An oily and dirty bike chain is dragged through a rag and wiped off a little. A blade finds a finger and a rag dries the blood before a coffee cup topples over a workbench.

 

Before the towels become rags and the rags become works, they live their lives in someone’s home or hotel. In a home these people are often the same people, wiping the same bodies over many years. In a hotel the situation is different, the towels collect debris from all kinds of bodies. The towels are of course washed over and over, removing at least most of these body remnants but some of it must remain. Some fragments of all these bodies must survive the washing. Consider all these particles mingling in the towels. We all meet there in a way. What if it was

possible to extract this information in order to get an overview of all the people that have used a specific towel?   

 

A bike travels to many places, it is a tool for movement and transportation. It picks up dirt along the way, collecting it over time like a bee collecting pollen from flowers far and wide. The bees gather pollen from different places and this collection is combined to create honey. The rags in a bike shop are like that honey, perhaps not as delicious or as valuable, but they collect the dirt and grease from different bikes and different places. Presenting a sort of unreadable archive or a map of the bike’s geographical movements. At the same time as these rags become documents of places, they also become documents of time. Much of what is on the rags is grease, different kinds of grease from different parts of the bikes. From wheel hubs, bottom brackets, to headsets. Some of these greases can be really old. Perhaps a rare wheel hub from the 1920s that has never been opened or serviced comes into the shop. The rags can end up wiping grease from hand-built parts that have been rolling in the streets and dirt roads for a hundred years.

 

Over time, the rags have found different uses and purposes until they have almost been squeezed of all their use-value. However, the life of the rags continues. Though the artist’s interaction with the rags in the bike workshop and in the studio is limited to a momentary interference, this interaction steers the rags into a new chain of possible events.