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In Harvard Square, Nat Reed’s “Bikes Move Us” Conveys New Meanings from Old Forms

At Behind VA Shadows Project’s three-window art space, an artist and bicycle enthusiast transforms discarded relics of simple transportation into fascinatingly impractical objects that look onto the street.

Review by Sonia Richter

Suspended sculptures hanging behind a window.

Installation view of “Bikes Move Us,” on view at the 25/8 artspace, a Behind VA Shadows Project in Harvard Square. On view through September 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Nat Reed.

Interdisciplinary artist Nat Reed’s “Bikes Move Us” is built to be stumbled upon. Housed in the public 25/8 artspace at the intersection of Mass Ave and Linden Street just outside of Harvard Square, the exhibit’s sculptures twist and turn clumsily, as machines do. Its pieces look at home on the public street, like discarded bike parts often are. There is nothing sentimental about the show—yet somehow it achieves just that, provoking a certain nostalgia for the oh-so-familiar visage of a bicycle, transformed into seven unique works.

Nat Reed’s passion for bikes began with a vintage blue road bike she bought off Craigslist. What started as a need for transportation spiraled into an obsession with the bike as an object “made of triangles, circles, and lines.” In “Bikes Move Us,” she seeks to curb the assumption that “discarded” and “useless” go hand in hand. As she writes in her artist statement: “We move bikes so that bikes move us; but what happens when we no longer move the bike? Curious and unable to part with forgotten bicycles, I wanted to see what more we could gain from the use of a bike after it is no longer usable in its intended nature.” In Reed’s world, chairs are built from bike frames, helmets function as overly-protective lampshades, and perfect circles are drawn by simple machines rather than human hands. The artist reimagines discarded relics of simple transportation, transforming them into fascinatingly impractical Chindōgu-inspired objects.

Image of "Cheep thrills" and "Tinker table" by Nat Reed

(left) Nat Reed, Cheep thrills. Sycamore, bicycle wheel, masking tape, fan motor. (right) Nat Reed, Tinker table. body of a moped, wood, steel rod.

Cheep Thrills is perhaps the most out of place yet interesting piece in the exhibit—in ways reminiscent of Duchamp’s first readymade. It brings an unexpected component to the mix: a sycamore bust with blank eyes and an eerie expression. The shell of a fan motor serves as its helmet, topped with a bike wheel that sways naturally overhead, all mimicking a bizarre pinwheel hat. Words scribbled in masking tape on the forehead read: “I’ll never be cool until I take off my helmet.” This and other pieces like Lightbulbs are susceptible to breaking seem to comment on the irony of human fragility. While humans are nearly always “susceptible to breaking,” we often resist safety precautions for the sake of our equally fragile egos.

Passing the exhibit’s three windows, I am enchanted by the use of a bike frame as the body of a horse in Fake Horse, as well as a precarious Tinker Table crafted from the body of a moped.  Reed’s love for the form of the bicycle is palpable on this dimly lit street—it results in a captivating blend of the functional and the aesthetic that encourages the onlooker to view discarded objects in a new light. I’ll be sad to see it leave Harvard Square this weekend.

Image of artist Nat Reed in front of "Bikes Move Us" installation

Nat Reed stands in front of “Bikes Move Us,” on view at Behind VA Shadows Project’s 25/8 artspace in Harvard Square through September 9, 2023. Courtesy of Nat Reed.

If you find yourself in Cambridge, make sure to stop by and experience “Bikes Move Us” for yourself in the coming days. Curated by Yolanda He Yang, the exhibit is part of the Behind VA Shadows project, which looks to provide a platform for museum workers and their work. The exhibit will be up until September 9, when its closing will be celebrated with a block party from 4-8 pm. Featuring performances from local artists Olivia Sisay and Ross Kiah as well as food and art vendors, the event will be the perfect opportunity to toast to the end of another beautiful Boston summer, and of course, to bikes.  

Image of passersby looking at "Bikes Move Us" installation

Passersby stop to look at “Bikes Move Us,” on view at Behind VA Shadows Project’s 25/8 artspace in Harvard Square through September 9, 2023. Courtesy of Nat Reed.

Bikes Move Us” is on view at Behind VA Shadows Project’s 25/8 artspace in Harvard Square through September 9, 2023. Celebrate the show and meet the artist at a block party in Harvard Square on September 9 from 4-8 pm, featuring live music, local food and art vendors, dancing, and (most importantly) bikes.


Sonia Richter


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