INTERVIEW: Jade Sweeting | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Jade Sweeting, Zip Study III (Perfecto by Schott), 2023, silver gelatin print. Courtesy of the artist

Biker culture isn’t for everyone, but Jade Sweeting seeks to shine a light on her motorcycling community in her debut solo exhibition, in the hopes that the same joy she feels on the back of her trusty chopper can be felt by anyone else if they so choose.

It’s not just any motorbikes – it’s chopper bikes and culture – which means you build the bikes yourself. We’re talking Easy Rider, Harley-Davisons, custom bikes…it’s quite a niche thing in the UK. We’re still in the minority of motorcycle cultures amongst your sport bikes, super bikes, or standard stock bikes, but I think it’s definitely growing. What’s going on in style and fashion now kind of relates to a lot of biker culture back in the day, which is quite funny. Long beards, tattoos, and leather were underground. Not many people would have them because it meant that you might not get a job.”

For Jade, a growing appreciation of motorbikes (whichever you prefer) is no bad thing. As with any collaborative community, there’s very much a feeling of “the more the merrier,” especially when a community can span across an entire continent.

Within chopper communities, it’s about engineering. You’re building something. These bikes we build are beautiful pieces of art. The body paint, working out every little bit of the engines, learning from each other and your pals and helping each other out. If someone’s broken down on the motorway, you put out a shout online to see who’s about, and there’ll be someone – one of your chopper pals that might live on the other side of the country – who’ll come to help out. We might all only meet up once a year, or you might not see some of your pals for three years because they’re living in Europe, but they’ve still got your back.”

These bikes we build are beautiful pieces of art

When it comes to encapsulating the community that welcomed Jade from the very beginning into their ranks, one might expect 900 Miles (from Home) to document the noble steeds that carry her friends and family on their ambitious missions across hell and high water. But instead, Jade has focussed on an aspect which she finds much more personal, intimate and oddly alluring for her first solo run.

Originally I was thinking about this exhibition as how can I incorporate what turns me on about the motorbike. What is it that I love and as an artist how can I make it different to what I usually see in stuff about motorbikes. It’s just a lot of shots of motorbikes. For me there’s something about the leather jackets. I’ve always been fascinated by subcultures and fashion within subcultures, punk and whatnot. The jackets are like a second skin when you’re on your motorbike. It’s your protection, but it’s the identity within each different jacket. They all might look the same to everybody. But you’ll know your jacket…It’s quite intimate.”

Don’t think of Sons of Anarchy and outlaw gang patches – something which bona fide bikers find laughably cliched. Think worn leathers, second skins, microscopic wear and tear that make each article unique to its rider, undetectable to all except the owner. 900 Miles (from Home) is an exhibition about motorcycles for sure, but it’s as much about the people who ride them, their journeys and experiences, as it is the saddle they call home.

Jade Sweeting exhibits 900 Miles (from Home) at Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland from Saturday 16th September-Sunday 21st January 2024.

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