San Francisco-based muralist Mona Caron, whose work graces walls across California and throughout the world, has designed a limited-edition custom art bike for the California Bicycle Coalition. Caron’s first mural, the famous Duboce Bikeway Mural, has adorned that bike path since 1998, when the bikeway was unveiled as the city’s first bike path closed to car traffic. Since then, her “artivism” has taken her all over the world, where she has explored weeds as metaphors for social transformation, engaging with the climate justice movement.
The bicycle Caron has created for CalBike, limited to 50 bicycles, features dandelions and scattered seeds on a Public bicycle. The bicycle is currently just finishing up production; stay tuned for photos of this lovely bike, and details about how to get one of these limited edition works of art, in the November CalBike Report.
We spoke with Caron last week, to discuss her design and her passion for the bicycle.
Mona at work on a mural for the 3rd World Bicycle Forum in Curitiba, Brazil. (Photos provided by Mona Caron)
CalBike: Why did you choose to use the dandelion on this art bike?
Mona Caron: I like to use botanical metaphors to describe other things, especially the dynamics of social transformation. The botanical metaphor absolutely applies to the bicycle movement. I remember in the early days of Critical Mass, when I was very involved with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, we were seeing more and more bicyclists appearing on the streets of San Francisco. It felt like this simple idea, a simple act anyone could do, was quietly spreading like seeds, and germinating city-wide.
Each social bike ride in the early days was like blowing the seeds of a dandelion puff: I swear, after each ride we'd notice more bike riders in the city. Like a dandelion seed, a single bicyclist in the city is a fragile, small, lightweight, quiet thing; but many people choosing to ride bikes can germinate powerful, paradigm-shifting changes.
Taken individually, each decision to ride a bike doesn’t seem like a big deal, but collectively it can really fundamentally change a city, change our assumptions about public space, our sense of possibility of what a convivial, human-scale city could look like. Just like a dandelion cracks the concrete, bicycling could change our society.
The Duboce Bikeway Mural by Mona Caron. (Photo by Lars Howlett)
CalBike: Your first mural, the Duboce Bikeway Mural, is well-known to anyone who rides a bike in San Francisco. How do you see your work as fitting in with the bike advocacy movement?
Caron: When I started riding a bike and became friends with SF's bike advocates and instigators, I started designing posters to try and entice more people to ride bikes and join social rides. I drew some in a fake-antique psychedelic art-nouveau style, as if urban bicycling was a time-honored thing, and some of my images got picked up and reused all over the world as the Critical Mass movement spread from SF to hundreds of cities worldwide. My bike-related artwork has been featured in publications of and about the bike movement on four continents.
More recently, I’ve been working on my mural and stop-motion animation project WEEDS, and I’ve been making artwork for the climate justice movement, where I’ve also used the dandelion metaphor. The idea is to sow resistance and spread alternatives, in a gentle but powerful way, just like these wild plants do in urban environments.
I attended and gave presentations at several World Bicycle Forums in recent years. In Porto Alegre, Brazil, we painted a dandelion mural, then rode around town disseminating its seeds, painting each seed puff carrying a tiny little bicicletinha, a little bicycle. We stenciled these little bicycle-seeds all over the city on allies' walls, to spread the idea.
Mona’s dandelion seeds graphics at People’s Climate March in New York. (Photo provided by Mona Caron)
WEEDS series by Mona Caron: dandelion mural in Mendrisio, Switzerland. (Photo provided by Mona Caron)
CalBike: You’ve mentioned the dandelion as a symbol of hope.
Caron: Yes, hope in the sense of a visualization of the dynamics of change. You know, It's kind of hard to imagine some sudden big revolution changing the world and solving all our problems, and I doubt the changes we need will ever come that way, nor magically delivered by some illuminated politician we elect. Rather, I see things can and will shift through an increasing multitude of small-scale but widespread life-affirming acts, finding the cracks in the system and pushing them open, like dandelions do.
Sometimes our harsh reality feels like cement: it seems to be something so permanent, so hard, seemingly unchangeable. And yet all it takes is a little fissure, and somebody somewhere planting something different in it, doing something alternative, to start its breakdown. Because anything we do, you can bet we are not the only ones doing it. And if it is something life-affirming, and you spread it around, many will join in. So when you get on your bicycle, you know you're riding with a collective force that will bring more oxygen to this world, literally and metaphorically.
I designed this bike to be a reminder of that.
WEEDS series by Mona Caron: dandelion in San Francisco. (Photo provided by Mona Caron)