Write of Way 

For the “Bicycle Stories” exhibit at Artspace Gallery, Richmond authors and artists unite for a kinetic collaboration.

click to enlarge Teacher Suzanne Reamy took 30 stories from her adolescent students at Richmond Young Writers and worked with local artists to illustrate them.

Scott Elmquist

Teacher Suzanne Reamy took 30 stories from her adolescent students at Richmond Young Writers and worked with local artists to illustrate them.

When Suzanne Reamy brings writers and illustrators together for a bicycle-themed exhibit, things get weird, but in a good way.

Reamy says she wanted to take advantage of bike-race fever and explore the everyday side of pedal power. Instead, she got voodoo hoodoo — and we aren’t talking about the popular line of mountain bikes called Voodoo Hoodoo.

“I prefer to call it synchronicity,” she says, standing in the middle of Artspace Gallery while a crowd swarms around her. People soon break off into pairs, and the pairing is, well, serendipitous. Or maybe just call it the power of artistic attraction.

Reamy took 30 bike-related stories from her adolescent students at Richmond Young Writers, and then presented the unattributed works to 30 local artists. Feeling drawn to particular stories, many of the illustrators later learned that they already knew the kids or their parents in some way.

“Imagine being that age and having a serious artist create something based on your work,” Reamy says about the exhibit, “Bicycle Stories.” “And then throw in some synchronicity, which makes it really interesting.”

Alyssa McMurdy, 10, says her collaboration feels special. Her art partner, it turns out, also occasionally works with her father in real estate and home inspection.

“I thought, no way is it the same guy, but it is,” artist Sandy Basham says.

Basham already has some ideas for “A Trip to Walmart,” a surrealist tale by McMurdy in which pumpkins ride on tandem bikes. One of the pumpkins is based on McMurdy’s father. “I’d like to work with found objects,” Basham says, holding a seat that she might weld onto a steam-punk tandem bike.

Then there’s Santa Sergio De Haven, who chose Odessa Hott’s story about an abandoned bike that writes letters to its past owner. Upon their meeting, De Haven suddenly recalled seeing Hott perform at Ashland Coffee and Tea several years ago. It was like being reunited with that long lost bike, De Haven suggests. The list of coincidences goes on.

Collaborations aren’t new to Reamy, who produced a play for Firehouse Theatre and an exhibit called “Fairy Tale Remix,” which re-imagined the familiar children’s genre.

She’s also worked in Jungian dream groups. Carl Jung was a student of Sigmund Freud’s, and he steered psychoanalysis into the uncharted territory of the collective unconscious. Freud wanted dream interpretation to remain an individual affair. Jung decided to explore the dream symbols that held power for an entire nation or race.

Pop culture embraced Jung — “Synchronicity” by the Police, for example — and Reamy applies Jung’s theories to artistic collaborations. With “Bicycle Stories,” she hopes to coax out the images that are latent in a young person’s imagination.

Chatting with the young writers at Artspace, you realize that they have no particular images in mind. They’re more interested in their stories’ flow and general direction, not what the characters might look like. By working with a visual artist, they realize unconscious dimensions of their stories. Meanwhile, the illustrators get to explore the nature of inspiration.

Take “Fix It,” a realist short story by Makayla Talley, who’s 14. The story’s protagonist is a petty thief who decides to repair one of his ill-gotten gains, a bicycle.

Bizhan Khodabandeh, a bespectacled, 34-year-old comic artist, likes the story’s repetition because it meshes well with the comic strip form. The story sounds a little like the myth of Sisyphus or the movie “Groundhog Day.”

“I envision him as this older guy, who’s fed up with his habits and decides to repair the bike for a kid,” Khodabandeh says. He turns with eyebrows raised, and Talley nods.

“He can be anyone,” she says. “Whoever reads this story is going to have a different vision.”

Reamy, who’s a lifelong devotee of persuasive images, couldn’t be more pleased. She’s a former graphic designer with Williams & Sherrill, and recalls feeling inspired by the 2013 Bicycle Film Fest at the Byrd Theatre.

“Having seen a number of really crazy, creative shorts, I knew the theme of bicycle stories could be really fertile,” she says. 

To Reamy, the synergy created by the artist and author’s interaction makes for a successful collaboration. “The process of seeing how others interact with your work changes how you yourself see it,” she says.

When the bike race descends on Richmond, check out “Bicycle Stories” for a fresh and kinetic pedalpalooza.

“Bicycle Stories” will run from Sept. 18 to Oct. 18 at Artspace Gallery, 0 E. Fourth St.


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