Kenneth Dow

rm555c

rm555c, 2018 performance and sculpture

A ride from Shanghai to Ürümqi on a self made scooter. Dow documented the 4000km trip by strapping a camera to their chest.

During their exchange in Shanghai, Dow witnessed a remarkable DIY e-bike culture. E-bikes are most popular among working class people, since they don't require licenses or much money to maintain. Eradicating the use for cars and long walks to public transport stations, e-bikes were like a hack of the transportation industry. E-bikes were commonly modified beyond recognition to fit their owners’ requirements. Dow was interested in this low-tech practice and decided to build their own scooter.

2018 was a bizarre year to jump in on the e-bike craze. China had recently enacted their 5-year plan for renewable energy, which followed Euro 3’s green standards. The plan was designed to fight against transportation that emitted carbon dioxide – two stroke motors scooters, motorcycles cars. The people found an alternative through e-bikes, which didn’t require licenses, inspections or insurance.

Once two stroke motors were gone, a new problem arose. With minimal restrictions e-bikes had resulted in an increasing number of accidents. So, then the government sought to restrict the alternative to the alternative. This was put into practice by whitelisting brands, setting up checkpoints at inbound junctions and towing illegal bikes.

Dow began to question the legitimacy of these restrictions. How much of it was to decrease accidents and how much was to curb working class people hacking the transportation system? Tech companies gatekeep more and more each year, making Dow suspect the plan was designed to discourage DIY building culture.

Dow put these questions to the test by riding their scooter across China. Using a courier bike frame as their base, they built the bike from the frame up and powered the engine with secondhand Nissan Leaf batteries. After three months of building, they were ready to ride. Over 33 days, they rode from Shanghai to Ürümqi, only stopping to rest in road-side motels.

Dow concluded that their greatest concern while riding wasn’t the bike or other drivers, but the authorities. Understanding that the problem wasn’t material, but a question of power.

In retrospect, challenging the scooter’s capacity was an advent of Dow’s experience with gender. The scooter, representing the malleability of the body, suggested how Dow would construct their body, image, and identity.