Johan Muyle (Belgium)

The Black Sheep

A human skeleton sits on a bicycle that has wheels but no tyres. Its back faces the handlebars, a dangerous position indeed.

Two trees, 35 metres apart, are linked to each other by means of an angled steel cable connected below the crown of each tree. This is a work by the Liege artist Johan Muyle, who came up with the idea for this pedestal so that a sculpture could move up and down between the trees high in the air. Johan Muyle is not well-known in Flanders, since that he has rarely exhibited there, but he is still one of the most representative Belgian artists working today and has earned international respect thanks to many exhibitions abroad.

Muyle’s sculpture in the Middelheim Museum is an assemblage, a process that the artist has been employing for 30 years. A human skeleton sits on a bicycle which has wheels but no tyres, its back to the handlebars, a dangerous position indeed. The skeleton is topped with a completely black head, which appears to be a mould of Muyle’s own head, while the leg bones are attached to the pedals. The arm bones are spread out wide, as if the skeleton is trying to stay balanced. It is all an illusion, of course, and the bike and rider remain stable thanks to the counterweight attached to a long rod beneath the bicycle. There is also a rope hanging down to the ground, and by pulling the rope the viewer can move the bike. The bicycle and its rider slide along the cable, while the spokes of the wheels flash in the sunlight. The skeleton’s legs pedal gamely along, its knee joints supple, and occasionally a bell rings in its chest cavity, as if its frightened heart is beating.

Johan Muyle (b. 1956) lives and works in Liege and Brussels.