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i fell off my bike

Isobel Knowles
i fell off my bike


Alright I admit it. I do get impatient with the current plague of cyclists on the roads. But unlike Magda Szubanski’s recent remarks about taking them out with car doors, I don’t feel compelled to do them any harm. Which is why Isobel Knowles’ I fell off my bike is such a wonderfully cathartic work. You can sit back and enjoy the spectacle of a bunch of smugly complacent bike boys and girls hit the deck in a carnival of lovingly rendered accidents. I fell off my bike can be read as an allegory of ill will, a guiltless ‘schadenfreude’ directed at the lycra set. By the fourth rotation of the video I was experiencing the deliciously guilty pleasure of anticipating the disaster to come, especially for the complacent dandy, with his blithe “look at me I’m riding with no hands” demeanor, preening without a care in the world. Or so he thought.

The first impression of the work is its resonance with Knowles’ familiar themes of innocence, the everyday and vulnerability. Stylistically the characters look like fuzzy felt semblances of human characters with not a lot of specific detail. This impression changes, however, the more you watch it. The short work cleverly exploits repeated viewing as it plays on the notion of the ‘cycle’ through a series of microvignettes of different characters (young women, two boys dinking) as they eventually encounter the specific cause of their prang (a stroppy possum crossing the road, cracks, drain grates). The specific mishap of each individual rider is presented as a self-contained sequence and then repeated. An astute shot-counter-shot perspective of their view of the road and our view of them, heightens the sense of speed and imminent catastrophe. Close ups on the site of the malfunction (seat, chain or wheel) concentrates the tension and the brittle faith these people place in their technology. In the final cycle of the animation, the specific impact of each rider is isolated and violently juxtaposed into a compressed audio-visual montage of collision.

There is something satirically nasty about the persistent emphasis on and repetition of the bone crunching moment of pain. It’s like a parody of the blood lust tacitly gestured to in Funniest Home Video, without the canned laughter and obnoxious commentary. In this the sound design by Finn Robertson is such a wonderfully visceral feature of the work. It captures the speed, force and granularity of the ride, sonically cataloguing the conditions of an apparent normality that could go awry at any moment. Knowles uses slow motion to good effect here to render the horror of realisation on the cyclists’ faces as to what this information really means. The experience of this sonic trauma at Federation Square was surprisingly effective, with no concession made in the amplification for the Chardonnay sipping revelers spilling out of bars to enjoy the sun. Had they bothered to look up at the screen, they would have seen the abrupt and compelling change in the protagonists whose faces now reveal a previously unseen detail (alarmed eyes, gaping mouths). In this moment of pain, as teeth are ground down by bitumen, the cardboard cutouts suddenly resemble people. It was at this moment that an actual cyclist walked past me with their bike.

I fell off my bike, animation Isobel Knowles, sound design Finn Robertson; Next Wave Time Lapse Screening Program, Federation Square, Melbourne every Thursday during October 2009.
Darren Tofts

The Next Wave Time Lapse programme continues to screen work by young emerging artists every Thursday 5.30-6.30pm until May 2010.

Isobel Knowles

Isobel Knowles

Last year I was riding my bike at night in the city down a hill when I hit a pothole and went over the handlebars landing with full force onto my mouth and nose, grinding my two front teeth into the surface of the road.

This was the fourth time I have sailed over the handlebars and the sensation is beginning to be horribly familiar. The way the time stretches and the way the moment is replayed again and again in my head afterwards. The feeling of flight with imminent pain.

During the weeks after my accident I heard a great many stories of other bicycle accidents. Each brought the same feeling of empathetic imagined pain.

Somebody once told me that pain leaves no memory, that you can remember that something was painful and imagine the pain but that you cannot feel the pain again. But I think this imagined, anticipated pain can put your body through the same reaction, the same tension, as the actual pain.

In fact, animating this film gave me the same reaction as hearing the stories in the first place. When I do character animation my body feels like it is going through each position that I pose my character in. To create the pose I want I am usually imagining how a real body works and for that my muscles get a glimpse of the sensation of that movement. But in extended slow motion. So making this film was quite intense at times.

The stories I used are all true stories adapted for the animation. I needed a consistent background to make the film coherent (and simpler for me) but I wanted it to still be a real place. So I set the accidents on the bike path that runs the length of St Georges Rd. Riding along this bike path always reminds me of being in a computer game because of its repeating pattern of trees.

I was told many more stories than I chose to include but they had to meet certain criteria – that they could be possible on the bike path and that no other vehicles or people were involved. I decided against blood because I wanted it to be more about the experience of having the accident rather than the injury, but I couldn't resist showing the teeth grinding into the road.

With I Fell Off My Bike I was really trying to make a visceral experience. Something to induce a physical response. A film for the body rather than the mind.

Future Screenings

Speakeasy cinema, 1000 £ Bend, 1 Nov 8pm
Bicycle Film Festival, Human Powered Cycles, Thornbury, 13-14 Nov 6pm,