The One-off machine of Bernard Joisten

Drawing dots on a Honda motorcycle, Bernard Joisten, artist and image mechanics.

These days Custom Motorcycles are being built by the dozen and the desire to stand out from the crowd has never been so strong. The Sunday biker demands its share of originality, he refuses to be seen riding a soulless machine. Stock is out of style. Yet, the new mechanical frames often look as similar as two shadows in the winter. Singularity is only ever just an idea. The world is full of people with peculiar aspirations and interests, lost in the crowd. When these strange bodies finally gravitate towards the same passion, the old marginals suddenly see their own reflection in the new system they created. Invariably, originality takes a hit. Same ingredients, same kitchen; the taste, well… identical in all plates. Industrial design generates undifferentiated products. How can we change shapes by adding meaning? Beyond aesthetics, ornament or technical improvement, the answer may be in the desire to access another level of consciousness, by matching shapes that look alike to create the image of an object that does not yet exist, or by using the shape in itself as an experiment.

Motorcycle Boy meets the artist Bernard Joisten to talk about his relation to the machine and the shifting of shape and design.

©Bernard Joisten
©Bernard Joisten

Custom paint jobs and artworks can modify the prime function of an object. A fairing is no longer a wind deflector, but becomes a strange pop mask of a tribe from the future. Similarly, an ornamental pattern changes dramatically the perception we have of a Honda by Whitehouse. Repeating dots break the traditional linear appearance of the vehicle to suggest the sensation of movement, a perceived experience rather than mere observation.

Motorcycle Boy: To passionate bikers and art lovers curious to know more about you, what would you say?

Bernard Joisten: I am simply an artist. This is still the most convenient generic term. Specifically to the motorcycle enthusiasts, I can say that I like industrial design, which is something very noticeable on some particular bikes. But not only. There are also dazzling trains, fascinating “concept cars”, planes “to die for” (metaphorically speaking, of course)…

How important is the machine in your creative world?

The machine could epitomize a form of seduction, because of the graphic complexity of its parts,  and the chrome… But even IT environments are interesting in a way. In computers, the technology is hidden, as opposed to the mechanics of a motorcycle engine. Even though, it can still convey an uncanny feeling, coming from its computational speed and the data interactions … Nothing like the bike for sure, it’s just another kind of machine. The bike as a machine is more like a body, an organic vision of technology.

©Bernard Joisten
©Bernard Joisten
©Bernard Joisten
©Bernard Joisten

We know Whitehouse Japan because of its fairing replicas inspired by George Miller’s Mad Max. Was it the reason for your choice to entrust them with the paint work on the Honda Merry Go Round and the masks series?

I was looking for a fairing company in Tokyo. All my contacts led me towards Whitehouse, a company I had never heard of before. The first time I went looking for it, the taxi did not find the place. We were asking people for direction, it was pouring rain. Finally, feeling a bit guilty, the taxi stopped his meter and we kept searching for a little while. Until it was too late, anyway. We came back the following week with a better weather, it went smooth as silk. Dozens of customized scooters parked by the strorefront, superb. I provided some sketches. I felt really confident when I saw their work. They had just finished a very organic motorcycle with a skeleton structure as a tank, it was parked in front of the workshop. Something a little eery, kind of a Batman thing.

Merry Go Round ©Bernard Joisten
Merry Go Round ©Bernard Joisten
Merry Go Round ©Bernard Joisten
Merry Go Round ©Bernard Joisten
Merry Go Round ©Bernard Joisten
Merry Go Round ©Bernard Joisten

The dot pattern adorning the Honda by Joisten is repeated on the leather suit of its rider. Are you seeing the pilot and his machine as a single entity?

The idea was the repetition of this same pattern on every support, every surface. I had not thought of this man/machine blending metaphor, but it sounds right. In my mind, it was a propagating effect, a contamination. Ultimately, in a showroom, it could have been extended to the walls … And maybe a serial music as a soundtrack … It was both about playing with the “Customization” codes and going somewhere else. The motorcycle perception is often about the lines, mirroring the idea of trajectory, of speed. That’s why I used the dots, to create a more diffuse sense, more about “vibration”, “repetition” than movement.

The bike as a symbol. What does it represent for you?

Speed, power, style, independence, sex, danger. By the way, this may be the reason why scooters are so successful in Japan; because they look like tamed, domesticated motorcycles. So, you still can get some sense of style in a scooter, but only in Japan. In Tokyo and Kyoto, science fiction seems to have induced these curvy, organic machines, full of tinged opulent sensuality and bulging their polycarbonate casings-enclosed muscles. On one side, these fluo/fun high-tech graphic and playful machines, on the other side, these more macabre shapes, smooth and silent, playing in a realm plunged into darkness. These industrial design elements can also be noticed in architecture. The Japanese city is a fairly homogeneous composition crossed by strong fiction streams.

The bike as a sensation. What does it evoke to you?

I am not very experienced. I do not have the license so all my motorcycle episodes happened “on the back seat”. No reason to ignore the sensations. You experience what’s around differently. The wind, the balance, the closeness with the scenery… I guess a biker gets used to it. For me, it still is a bit special.

What are your favorite references in the motorcycle culture?

Easy Rider, Mad Max. For literature, nothing comes to mind. But, with music, I’d go for some Hard Rock. Wagner also, for the emotion and the “heroic feeling.”

What is your personal connection to the bike?

Aesthetic, visual. It’s a seduction that materializes in the design. Either with spectacular and stunning Custom bikes, or with a particular brand and model, like the latest BMW, very dynamic, sharp and high-tech, which I think is quite an achievement in attempting to revive a legend. On the other hand, I also love some more “vintage” production, as the Honda 750 Four and the flat twin Beemer. It’s a shame they’re not in production anymore, there should be a reissue. It would be a huge success, like Adidas with the Stan Smith … Then, there’s Harley, all of them. Harley deserves a specific chapter, for it represents the universal bike.

Moto Bleue ©Bernard Joisten
Moto Bleue ©Bernard Joisten

What is your ultimate road trip memory?

The high speed, the wind under a bridge in Paris. It was on my way to the Museum of Modern Art for the preparation of the exhibition “L’Hiver de l’Amour” (Winter of Love, in 1994).

The greatest quality of a biker?

Style.

In a world without engines, what would be your vehicle?

Rollerblades?…

Thank you, Bernard Joisten.

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